May 16, 2009

The Eye of the Leopard - Henning Mankell

This book appealed to me on the bookstore shelf as a story of Africa - I struggled with it at times because it is definitely not *my* story of Africa, but I think that in the end, I liked it, and may even re-read it.

It is the story of the end of colonialism in southern Africa; Zambia in this case.  The main character, Hans Olofson, had lost direction in his life in Sweden when he arrives in Zambia in 1969 for a 2 week holiday / pilgrimage.  18 years later, he is running his egg farm and living in fear for his life.

I couldn't relate with the colonial attitudes and racism that pervaded the white community in that time and place - that was not my experience of Africa.  But I know that these issues still exist in places like Zimbabwe and Kenya - you only have to read the news to hear about stories of white farmers having their land taken, and even today's BBC website has a story of a white "Kenyan Aristocrat" jailed for killing a black poacher (Link).

Other parts of the story I could relate to.  The story of Hans' arrival in Africa for the first time had me laughing out loud, mostly in recognition of his experience.  It also made me glad for two things when I got back to Tanzania this summer:  1)  I already speak the local language, and 2)  I have a friend meeting me at the airport so I won't need to navigate the taxi / hotel system!

There was also a good rant that echos my cynicism about "International Development" (quotes are intentional).  And the last chapter of the book was probably the most brilliant in the book, summarising what Hans has learned in his 19 years in Africa - that is where you see hope for the future, moving beyond the colonial model.

The book was written in 1990 in Swedish, with this English translation done just last year.  I am always a little hesitant when it comes to translations, but this one was quite easy to read.  There were a couple of words when I wondered if that was the meaning that the author had intended, but overall, I was able to forget that I was reading a translation.

I'm planning something a bit lighter for my next read...

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