Lost in revolution

The Angels of ZimbabweThe Angels of Zimbabwe by Peter de Lissovoy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Joe, a conspicuously tall young white American, hitchhikes into white-ruled Rhodesia in the early stages of the 1964-1979 "bush war" against supremacist Ian Smith's Rhodesian Front, his passion for liberty and his reckless crossing of color-lines gets him deeper into confusion and ultimately heartbreak. Hoping to help the black African liberation fighters create the free, black African nation they call Zimbabwe, Joe gets himself hired as a very junior journalist for the daily Clarion — whose editor tolerates his ironies because he's an amusing Yank — and using his position and the paper's resources, he gets to observe closely the routines of both blacks and whites in the small, rigidly segregated capital Salisbury (now Harare) — in the town center, the blacks-only bus station, the whites-only spaces but with black servants in stores and offices, the rundown black townships, police violence against black women protesters with their babies strapped to their backs, and a surprisingly multiracial garden party on a country estate. The portraits of ZANU youth activists, aspiring black journalist Shakespeare Forboni, his buddy the little auto mechanic Moses Chivera and the dour, bitter and determined revolutionary Frankie Mundie suggest the range of personality types struggling for a liberation that meant something different to each of them; among the whites, most memorable are the Clarion editor Mr. Wein, a cautious but canny "liberal," the absolutely apolitical but generally good guy sports journalist, and — most tellingly — an older, formerly influential settler who remembers pioneer days and still clings to the hope that whites like him can make a contribution in the future black republic. The ending is an undramatic fade-out with nothing resolved, either for Zimbabwe or for Joe personally, but in the meantime we have been presented a vivid panorama of that last white-racist holdout in Africa and its tensions in its last days, and some clear suggestions of the conflicts that would emerge in Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe.

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