An Australia-based African writer and political analyst’s memoir of a peripatetic life spent moving among countries and continents.
During her childhood in the 1970s, Zambia-born Msimang was “schooled in radical Africanist discourse.” The daughter of refugees fighting for a free South Africa, her earliest memories centered around other exiles tied to the African National Congress. Most Zambians embraced the presence of refugees, but some deemed them “rule-breakers and layabouts.” In 1981, the family moved to Kenya after Msimang’s father took a job working for a United Nations agency. A few years later, they moved to Canada, where they would finally have a chance to shed their status as refugees and seek “opportunities that accompan[ied] the terrain of citizenship and belonging.” But in white-dominated Ottawa, the family “stuck out” in ways they had not in either Zambia or Kenya. As one of just a few African families, they became subject to cross-cultural misunderstandings and targets of both overt and covert racism. Just as the teenage Msimang began to feel comfortable in her new environment, the family returned to Nairobi, where they lived an upper-middle-class lifestyle that separated them from ordinary Kenyans. In the early 1990s and not long after Nelson Mandela was freed from prison, Msimang was accepted to Macalester College in Minnesota. There, she became steeped in black radicalism and began a painful affair with a charming but “unemployed, and unemployable” black American that ended not long after the pair moved to California. The author returned to the newly liberated South Africa, where, to her surprise, she fell in love with and married a white Australian and eventually became one of many young blacks to feel betrayed by the dream of a more just and democratic society. Eloquent and affecting, Msimang’s book explores the nature of belonging as it chronicles a perpetual outsider’s quest for the meaning of home.
A candidly intimate tale of a journey toward self-identity.