My earlier book report posting was about Nadine Gordimer’s “The Lying Years”, a wonderful book from the early 1950s, a coming of age story set in and around Johannesburg. This report is on another book by a native African about Africa, but a very different book on a very different topic. Equally enjoyable.
“The Last Resort”, by journalist Douglas Rogers, was published in 2009, almost 60 years after the Gordimer book. The setting is not South Africa, but Zimbabwe, its neighbor to the north. Rogers was born and raised in Zimbabwe, but left the country and came to the United States. His parents remained in Zimbabwe.
His father was a lawyer who, unusual perhaps for the time and place, had many black African clients. His mother, whose family came to Africa as early as 1820, wanted to be an actress. But, after his parents bought their first farm, she became a farmer. And it appears that their farm prospered, but after his father closed up his law practice, his parents sold their farm and bought another land and house, which they turned into a lodge and restaurant serving the backpackers and other travelers prevalent in Zimbabwe twenty years ago.
The hotel did well enough, but the country changed. Emerging from British colonial rule in 1980, for the first decade or so of independence, Zimbabwe appeared to be a success story. But President Robert Mugabe began to wield his power differently as time went on, targeting the country’s extensive white population, including confiscating white farmland with the purpose of redistributing it to the landless black masses, the confiscations not handled bureaucratically, but rather with brutality and immediacy, leading to much loss of life.
Somehow, throughout this tumult, his parents’ lodge was never confiscated (although several times they thought it might be) and they more or less were able to escape the violence that plagued so many friends and family members. They stuck it out.
The tourist business fell, no one was left to support the restaurant which for a while became (to the surprise of Rogers’ parents and to the greater surprise of Rogers) a brothel, and the cabins became the home (for varying periods of time) of whites who had lost their property, of politicians who wound up on the wrong side, and others who did not quite fit in with the new Zimbabwe. Yet his parents stayed on.
The book mixes the story of his family with that of the country. And, in fact, there are some personal connections. Rogers’ father’s native clientele included several people who became prominent in the government and in the military and they helped to protect his parents; were it not for this, they would most likely have been dispossessed and perhaps murdered. But his parents did not fight the regime per se – they were not collaborators, but they rolled with the punches and laid low.
What an interesting perspective the book brings to looking at Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. And it’s not a pretty picture – pitting black against white, inviting lawlessness and killing, taking property without compensation, combined with complete economic collapse. A country able grow more than enough food to export cannot feed itself. Places reached 30 years ago by good roads, now out of reach. Unbelievable inflation – pervasive black market. You know the story…….
But it takes more than an interesting story to make a good book. It takes good writing. And that Douglas Rogers has in spades. He also has a sense of humor and lets you laugh at the ridiculous circumstances which surrounded his parents’ lives without feeling that you are being disrespectful to them. In fact, they come out very well in the book – a little nuts to have lived as they have, perhaps, but very well.
Very highly recommended.