In this semiautobiographical novel, Stevens (Hero of the Struggle, 2011) recounts his adventurous childhood in South Africa and Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia).
Beginning with his earliest memories as a twin in the womb, Stevens uses tongue-in-cheek humor to describe the relatively carefree childhood he enjoyed as the son of middle-class white parents in 1940s and 1950s South Africa. As the only son, Stevens enjoyed a precariously balanced peace with his twin sister, “Twiny,” and older sister, “Big Sis.” Stevens describes himself as the “model boy” living in a “model village.” He is the favorite of his mother and a bit of a ham. Stevens colorfully describes the many antics he played as a rascal child, including a trial drive of his father’s car, with wry humor and descriptive stage-setting. The family balance tipped with the birth of the author’s third sister, “Little Sis.” Stevens’ father, a miner, transferred the family to Northern Rhodesia after a work opportunity arose. In lush detail, Stevens describes the new terrain and wildlife. The nostalgic, vividly described memories of adventures in the Rhodesian bush with friends transport the reader to a time before video games and the Internet (“No computer game can simulate what we learned in the bush”). As Stevens grew to be a teenager, his rebellious spirit continued. He adopted a James Dean-like ducktail haircut and mixed with other like-minded teenagers. Meanwhile, a changing political climate and conflict brewed in Africa. The prose is at times politically incorrect; black Africans are simply called “the blacks,” and the historic struggles are but lightly acknowledged: “It may be true that a change from white minority rule was necessary, that it was the moral course to follow, but it’s also true that it really messed up my idyllic childhood.” Readers should beware of some politically incorrect, off-color humor.
A somewhat tone-deaf depiction of a white child’s picturesque childhood in mid-20th-century Northern Rhodesia.