A quietly eloquent tale of the clash between past and present in rural Zimbabwe—from a British author who's made three documentary films about women in Africa. Four women representing four generations tell their stories in a part of the world where hunger is commonplace, male dominance a given, and the new ways of farming, healing, and living are increasingly conflicting with age-old traditions. Young (eponymously named) Beauty has bucked tradition by marrying a man of her own choosing in the distant farm compound to which she's fled to escape the attentions of a local schoolteacher who raped her. Here, chosen by the white farmer's wife to take a health- education course and run the farm clinic, Beauty is exposed not only to modern medicine but also to the horrible effects of malnutrition—food is often scarce, drinking water contaminated, and diarrhea endemic. The compound, like her native village, is a hotbed of jealousy and superstition as envious neighbors accuse one another of witchcraft. Meanwhile, Miriam, Beauty's mother, and a well-regarded healer, takes up the story. As a skeptical attendee of a modern midwife course, she nonetheless fears that her traditional methods were responsible for the death of a nephew—a death for which she is shunned by the villagers. And caught between Beauty and Miriam is cousin Esther, pregnant for the fourth time, and requiring each time surgical delivery, who refuses to be sterilized because children would keep her ``spirit and memory alive when she died.'' The story ends as Beauty, back home to give birth as tradition demands, is attended by Miriam, who uses her old arts to bring granddaughter Tendai (who has a Barthian tendency to offer ex utero comments) into the world. The cycle and inheritance continue. Despite a subtext of concern for contemporary realities, mercifully clothed in graceful and evocative prose: a vivid portrait of rural life in Africa.
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