A few years ago, I had the privilege of travelling through Zimbabwe (albeit as an avenue back home to South Africa). It is a place that terrifies and intrigues me. I could write for hours about how Zim became a talking point, an archetype of 21st century white African fear, a hotbed of controversy quickly ignored, treated with apathy by the international community. However, this is a book blog. Far be it for me to indulge too deeply in political banter 🙂
Nonetheless, most everyone holds an opinion on the situation in Zimbabwe and why wouldn’t they? It is the perfect combination of issues for critical thinking – the fight for post-colonial freedom, generations of denigrated Africans, the task of co-existence between the previous oppressor and the previously oppressed, the plight for peace, a despot, the true cost of equality. The list goes on. But for readers interested in Zimbabwe, one thing is guaranteed – empathetic outpouring for both sides. Perhaps this is felt somewhat more acutely by South Africans. For us, Zimbabwe became a powerful and frightening symbol of freedom gone bad. We house their refugees, we watch on as the world turns a blind eye to gross human rights violations on all sides, and we pray at night that we too will not fall into that category of African countries that went from being liberal to radical in the blink of an eye.
‘House of Stone’ came to be on my reading list simply because I loved ‘Africa House’ by the same author, but the book has etched itself on my memory for being one of the most moving stories I have ever read. It is the true story of the Houghs, who are a few of the last white farmers in Zimbabwe, and their domestic worker, Aqui. When their farm is being seized, Nigel Hough is shocked to see Aqui – the woman who helped raise their children and someone who was considered a much-loved part of the family – at the front of the crowd: “Get out or we’ll kill you. There’s no place for whites in this country.” Tracing the very different backgrounds of Nigel and Aqui in Zimbabwe, this is a book that shows how both came to be standing at the gates of the farm that day.
I have tired of books about Africa over the years – many being a replica of the next in one way or another – but ‘House of Stone’ had me weeping at the end for the sincerity of the story. The way the facts are conveyed gives us a glimpse into the lives of blacks and whites in Zimbabwe and endows the reader with a greater understanding of the place than any history book could. It is a reminder of Africa as a land that has suffered and continues to suffer as its people attempt to find equilibrium after centuries of oppression and, in spite of all that, it is more than anything a reminder that there is hope to be found even in the darkest times. It is a reminder that, despite the frailty of morality in a land fraught with problems, the kindness of the human spirit often stands out above all else.
If you are looking for a book that puts a face on what is happening in Zimbabwe, ‘House of Stone’ could not come more highly recommended. It has worked its way into my heart as a book deserving of an audience; not only for Africans, but for every member of the human race (bold, I know :))