HomeStandard PeopleBook review: A step into the racial shadows

Book review: A step into the racial shadows

I HAVE never really favoured works written under the historical fiction genre.

It comes across as a lazy genre where the author simply picks a setting sometimes complete with a plot, location, context and characters and simply rewrites it in their own words without having to go through the rigorous and mind-taxing phase of creation and imagination that comes naturally to but a few writers. Historical fiction poses problems of how much of history can one incorporate and what does one do with real names and true-life characters?
Out of the Shadows is set in post-independent Zimbabwe. It draws on racial struggles and tensions at Haven High School, which could be Peterhouse School. Going through the book, I almost gave up on it after the first few chapters proved the ordinary private school in Zimbabwe with children of the privileged locked away from reality behind high walls and electric fences.
But it soon proved a fair balance of history and fiction. It read well enough to be “true in a true setting”.
Out of the Shadows zooms in on the lives of seemingly innocent schoolboys. So repulsive are the racist acts for children in a high school, for me, this is not the kind of book that will leave you warm and fuzzy on the inside.
If you experienced the liberation war, you may not enjoy the book as it is a vivid reminder of times one would rather erase from remembrance. If you were “born-free”, this book too may give you pictures and thoughts too dark you’d rather not entertain. Pity I saw the “Not for younger readers” note on the book jacket after I had finished the book.
An otherwise easily-written read, Out of the Shadows focuses on Robert Jacklin, a naïve British schoolboy who does almost anything to fit into a clique at his new school and is roped in by Ivan, a wild and cruel character traumatised by war who cannot accept that it is over.
Maybe the moral plot of the story is for the reader to inspect their inner self and consider how far will they, as an individual, be willing to go for the sake of belonging and acceptance. What sacrifices will you make just not to be the odd one out and fit in? Will Jacklin join the plot to assassinate the Prime Minister Robert Mugabe for the sake of belonging? Does friendship and sworn brotherhood mean anything in the face of adversity? Jacklin’s history teacher tempts even the most innocent when he asks (paraphrased): “If I stood you in front of a man, pressed the cold metal of a gun into your palm and told you to shoot … and told you his name was Adolf Hitler … would you do it?”
A downside is how the book does not speak much of the Gukurahundi massacres and almost gives a blanket cover to the nature of the Shona against the Matebele during the period of Gukurahundi. For me it failed to show that the majority of Shona were not for the senseless massacres.
Out of the Shadow also does not give a fair assessment of Zimbabwe in the period preceding farm invasions. The small window of “economic reprieve” and even small bouts of success in certain sectors seem to be ignored to give a scenario of economic depression and social chaos. So it may not give a first time learner of Zimbabwe’s history a true picture.
Directly, it touches on the issue of land with the pertinent questions of who are the rightful owners of land? What is legal vs what is moral? How can historical imbalances be corrected?
Out of the Shadows skirts around the issues of “reverse-racism”, that is, is the resentment and stereotyping of African whites by black Africans?
In the end, I got the feel that Wallace tried to tackle an issue he finds unpalatable — racism — by masking it with light fiction.
I was not sorry after reading this book. It
made me think of my own racial attitudes and rethink my morals in relation to a situation that will not be documented. What would I do for the sake of belonging?

By Teldah Mawarire
Out of the Shadows
Author: Jason Wallace
Publisher: Andersen Press, 2010

Mawarire is a Senior Sub Editor at the Mail & Guardian.

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