In the early 1960s, 25 year old Veronica Cecil accompanies her husband to the Congo where he has been offered a good job with a multi-national company. Born in India during the Raj, and having lived in apartheid Rhodesia, Cecil is no stranger to racial tensions, but is nevertheless initially enthusiastic about her new life. But by the time the couple and their baby son arrive, the Congo is descending into chaos after the assassination of Lumumba, and it is not long before a brutal civil war breaks out and the family have to flee from the advancing Congolese rebel forces.
Veronica Cecil has described the Congo as “hot, claustrophobic, lawless, disturbing and beautiful”, and she conveys all these aspects in this compelling, often harrowing, memoir. Fully in command of her subject, Cecil writes with considerable mastery, never descending into melodrama however dramatic the events which she describes. I found this a powerful and absorbing read and recommend it wholeheartedly.
The book was originally published in South Africa with the title Bongo Bongo Bongo I Don’t Wanna Leave the Congo, which derives from a song originally performed by the Andrews Sisters with Danny Kaye, and which Cecil uses ironically, playing on the West’s clichéd view of life in the jungle. I suspect that few readers would understand the reference and the publishers have wisely changed the title in the UK to Drums on the Night Air: a Woman’s flight from Africa’s Heart of Darkness, a title which is far more representative of the subject matter.
This is a book which ranks alongside other such 'Heart of Darkness' books as The Poisonwood Bible and Tim Butcher’s Blood River, and will prove invaluable to anyone wishing to understand more about the situation in the Congo today.