26th Jan 2011
The Cry of the Go-Away Bird by Andrea Eames
This superb debut novel is set mostly during the land-reform programmes in Zimbabwe in the early Noughties, where black Africans were encouraged by the corrupt government of Robert Mugabe to take over the white-owned farms, often by force.
The Cry of the Go-Away Bird is a powerful coming-of-age novel that deserves a huge audience; this is a story that should be read.
Elise is a second generation British-Zimbabwean, and has never considered herself anything but African. Growing up on a country farm with her mother and her black maid, Beauty, her life changes when her mother re-marries Steve and they move to another farm near Harare, the ‘Sunshine City‘.
Elise is having enough troubles already when the violence starts; bullied at school, getting her period and falling in love for the first time are all par for the course, but then the tension starts to mount in Zimbabwe.
As more and more of her friends are forced to flee the country we see a disintegration of order and a rising state of panic beautifully unfolded through the simple, naïve eyes of a thirteen-year-old girl.
Like many coming-of-age novels, Eames has managed to create a character neither that likeable nor aspirational, but defiantly relatable. Elise’s relationship with her mother is particularly well done; when she shouts “Beauty is my real mother” at her during an argument you flinch, but know full well you’ve definitely done worse (or at least, I have!).
This book explores so many different themes, but all so simply and evocatively it’s hard as a reviewer to express my admiration enough. Looking at what makes someone “from” a place, and how different races relate to each other is subtly explored, but in such a way as to really make an impact on the reader; showing how ridiculous racism is, and how people’s attitudes can change overnight depending on circumstance.
What I loved the most was how Eames has created different characters to represent the different aspects of post-colonialist thought: Elise’s step-father Steve is ex-army and racist in his attitude towards black people and in his language, though he would never describe himself as such.
In contrast, Mr Cooper, the farm manager, speaks fluent Shona, refuses to give up his Zimbabwean passport and is, essentially, African. Both Steve and Mr Cooper do not want to leave Zimbabwe; both claim it as their country, but both with very different underlying attitudes in doing so.
The violence depicted in this book is horrific, but necessary in understanding to horror of the time. I was the same age as Elise in the book at the time and knew nothing of what was happening in Zimbabwe.
This book is incredibly important as it expresses the horror and fear of people hated because of their race in a clear and accessible way; it took me a day to read, because I could not put it down and was nose-to-spine throughout, and I would recommended it both to anyone who loves good fiction, as well as to emerging readers.
It’d make a cracking book club read too. In fact, I’d recommend this book to everybody, and it’s going to be one I’m ranting about for a while. Published by Harvill Secker on the 10th of February, pre-order it now for £9.09. This deserves to be huge.