SWAN LUKA by Janet Berliner


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Berliner’s novel introduces older children to the culture and problems of modern Zimbabwe but leaves them with hope for the future.

Luka, an almost–13-year-old boy from a Zimbabwean village, is looking forward to his manhood ceremony and the next opportunity to visit his cousin, whose village includes both a school and a clinic. But from the book’s early pages, the government’s opposition to such American-funded amenities demonstrates the threat the villagers face from President Robert Mugabe’s soldiers. Almost as soon as the reader has had a chance to absorb the details of life in rural Zimbabwe—Luka’s daily walk to fetch water, the constant threat of drought, terms like “bakkie” and “sadza”—the soldiers arrive, killing Luka’s parents and wounding him in the leg. With the help of a Doctors Without Borders team, the boy is airlifted to a South African hospital, where he spends several weeks healing both physically and emotionally. He recovers with the help of hospital volunteer Sarah, who brings Luka home to live with her and her father. Luka and Sarah share a love of dance, and the book’s title is drawn from their discussion of Swan Lake. (Sarah is also the most prominent of the book’s several Jewish characters, another opportunity for cultural understanding.) It might be argued that the book presents an idealized view of Zimbabwe’s current crisis, as Luka ends up reunited with his surviving family member and living comfortably in South Africa instead of joining the thousands of refugees. But the book is aimed at young adults, and it does a respectable job of capturing some of the horrors of the Mugabe regime without overwhelming its young audience. The book has minor spelling and grammar errors, but the overall story is strong.

An effective novel designed to introduce young readers to a new culture.

Pub Date: Dec. 20th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1479124237
Page count: 136pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2013


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