I am delighted to give This September Sun a glowing review. Bryony Rheam was born in Kadoma, Zimbabwe, and this novel, although not autobiographical, has surely been inspired by her childhood memories. This September Sun richly deserved its success in winning the Zimbabwean Best First Book Award in 2010.
From the first chapter onwards, this novel is beautifully crafted. There is drama, an absorbing journey taken by a convincing set of characters and a satisfactory ending which is realistic rather than fairy tale. The cast grows slowly, allowing the reader time to get to know the characters a few at a time before more appear, rather than wishing for a cast list to remind one of who’s who.
Bryony Rheam expresses herself wonderfully throughout the novel: ‘In Africa, rain takes the place of snow in instilling a feeling of Christmas cosiness.’ She describes dreams vividly and uses the description of insignificant things (such as the curtains in the office of the headmistress) as a refreshing counterpoint to a more dramatic plot line.
Most of the action takes place in Zimbabwe: beginning after independence was declared from Britain in 1980, then looping back to 1946 to follow Evelyn’s journey from England to Zimbabwe and the life she found there. The author describes the Zimbabwean culture (the heat, the daily routine, the fauna and flora) and the gradual changes in Zimbabwean society. She contrasts these things with British and American culture in nostalgic references to Enid Blyton, and TV programmes such as The Muppet Show and The A-Team. Ellie, the co-narrator of the story, goes to university in England which broadens the viewpoint, showing how white Zimbabweans viewed themselves and how their changing homeland appeared to them from afar.
This is a feast for the senses. Snippets of songs run throughout the narrative. There is perfume, descriptions of baking, and the ‘air smells like newly ironed cotton sheets.’ The beauty of the African bush, the African night and seasons are described briefly but with great love.
Although Ellie protests that she doesn’t ‘want to write the memoirs of [her] African childhood’, that is what she ends up doing. She uses her grandmother’s diaries and letters to unlock the secrets of past events. These constitute a confession of adult guilt over childish innocence abused and lead to the lifting of burdens, the discovery of the power to survive, and the conviction that the dead are at peace. After ‘a childhood riddled with lies and secrets’ and a lifetime of feeling dislocated from everything Ellie discovers that: ‘The answer was in life, in living.’
A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.
Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatâd Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.
‘This September Sun’ is now also available as an e-book, through Parthian Books and the Welsh Books Council http://www.gwales.com/bibliographic/?isbn=9781908946249