Tuesday, July 30, 2013

African Laughter: Four Visits to Zimbabwe

1992, 1993 HarperPerennial edition
Doris Lessing
African Laughter: Four Visits to Zimbabwe
Original price $13.00, purchase price $7.95
Slightly worn paperback 

Once again, Lessing's nonfiction outdoes her fiction.  It's ironic, since she's revisiting the land of her youth, then Southern Rhodesia.  She even talks about how she can't remember the real name of "Mrs. Boothby," a woman she fictionalised.  The past layers the present, and the four visits are in '82, '88, '89, and '91, so even the then present is layered.  The book might've been strengthened by a less journaly approach, but I didn't really mind the ways she jots down whatever's on her mind-- quotes from locals, quotes from foreigners, her own observations.

As always, the thoughts on animals are probably best, although she also talks about the lives of plants and soil.  Of course, the book is mostly about the people, black and white (a few mixed), of different classes, rural and urban and in between.  She captures the heartbreak and the optimism of a country that was free again, after 90 years of colonialism.  (A quick skim at Wikipedia shows that problems of health and corruption still exist.)  She addresses sex and sexism, environmentalism and education, literacy and folk-wisdom, and much else.  

Part of revisiting her past is reuniting with her conservative brother after 30 years, finding that their memories of childhood hardly overlap.  I was jarred when I saw a passing reference to "my son," since Lessing (at least in the books I've read) seldom writes about her children, and when she does it's only the daughter.  (She actually had three, but one died in Africa.)

Lessing is now 93, her "last novel," Alfred and Emily, published in 2008.  In this five-year-old interview, 
http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1819637,00.htmlshe says, "I haven't got the the energy to write now."  She also is much more negative about (still) President Mugabe than she was in the '80s and '90s.  In reply to whether she's a contrarian, she says, "I tend to speak my mind, which is not necessarily a good idea.  I do not think I am the soul of tact."  

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