A trek through war-torn Zimbabwe becomes an exercise in survival; Holding’s second novel (Unfeeling, 2007) is a story-within-a-story, a postmodern outlet for white guilt.
In the immediate aftermath of a civil war, there is famine. A man foraging for scraps outside a city is lassoed by three men with machetes. We learn nothing about this man, the lead character, not his age or color or background, for reasons that will only be made clear much later. His black captors lead him, roped and gagged, past dead bodies, through a burnt-out shanty town, until they loot a house and disappear with the goodies. He acquires new captors, two tough teenagers, who lead him to an older man and a pregnant woman. They harness their captive to a street vendor’s cart containing the woman and begin their unexplained journey through the bush. Food is scarce, water a luxury. Holding throws around some big words: carnage, killing fields, genocide. His percussive prose seeks to reflect the raw hurt of their ordeal. Sometimes it succeeds; more often it’s awkward and showy. Thrust into the middle of their journey is a section of diary entries written by a 31-year-old man. Like his creator, Ian is a teacher, respected by his high-school students. Unsettled by the political climate, he’s selling his house and moving to South Africa. Ian is more type than individual. That type is the “civilized” white man who draws comfort from the classics but is a heartless employer of black servants, willfully blind to their plight. The journey culminates with a final twist that attempts to add dimension to the tale.
A story most notable for the grim monotony of the character’s trek.