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The Dust Diaries [Hardcover]

Owen Sheers
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 Feb 2004
A few years ago, Owen Sheers stumbled upon a dusty book in his father's study by the extraordinary Arthur Cripps, part-time lyric poet and full-time unorthodox missionary, who served in Rhodesia for 50 years from 1902. Sheer's discovery prompts a quest into colonial Africa at the turn of the century, by way of war, a doomed love affair and friction with authorities. His personal journey into the contemporary heart of darkness that is Mugabe's Zimbabwe finds more than Cripps' legacy - Sheers finds a land characterized by terror and fear and blighted by the land reform policies that Cripps himself anticipated.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 310 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; 1st edition (5 Feb 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571210163
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571210169
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 13.8 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 678,035 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Owen Sheers, already picked out as poetry's bright hope by poet laureate Andrew Motion, reveals with The Dust Diaries that he is also a dab hand at biography, travel writing and fiction--all in one gripping book. A stray comment from his grandmother one summer afternoon whets his interest in her uncle--a poet called Arthur Shearly Cripps--and the more Sheers finds out, the more Cripps and his life intrigues him. Gradually, a fragmentary portrait emerges of this distant relative who left England for Southern Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe) where he lived as a missionary until his death.

Given the assumption of guilt against missionaries of the era, readers may well be surprised to find themselves warming to Cripps. He was clearly a thorn in the side of both the colonial administration and the Anglican church, constantly siding with the Africans. Yet Sheers does avoid the temptation of making him a saint. Why did this successful man leave England? The untold dust diaries of experience are what Sheers imagines as he tries to come closer to his relative. The book successfully shuffles fictionalised episodes from Cripps's life, including wartime adventure, with Sheers's visits to Zimbabwe. Sheers writes lyrically and vividly of each experience. We come to know his remarkable ancestor, the Shona people he lived with and the troubles and beauty of their land. Fittingly, it is at the all-night, all-singing, all-dancing Shearly Cripps Festival--held at Cripps's grave--that Sheers finally learns what his ancestor means to him, in a very Shona way. --Stefan Tobler


A poignant and compelling book. -- Sunday Times, 25 January 2004

A slow-burning, mesmerising book. -- Independent on Sunday, 1 February 2004

An important debut by a young author who is sure to go far. -- Literary Review, February 2004

Sheers is a vivid, sensuous writer .. the impetuousness, curiosity and zest of the narrative are compelling. -- The Times, 24 January 2004

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
I read this book whilst on leave for 2 weeks and have nothing but praise for it. The writing is liquid and the characters are defined and developed so brilliantly, it's a real pleasure to read. It is a fairly long book, but it's one worth persevering with.
I shed a tear or two towards the end, which surprised me as much as it did the author in the part of the book I was reading!
To provide you with a synopsis is tough as the book combines so many genres, being as it is part biography, part travel book, part history, part page turner, part autobiography etc etc.
In a nutshell, Owen Sheers finds an old book in his father's study that details the life and work of Arthur Shearly Cripps. Owen's intrigued that one of his ancestors was a poet too and decides to investigate to find out more.
Sheers then combines an account of the investigation whilst imagining the life and times of Shearly Cripps... By the close of the book you feel that you've gained a real feel for both Arthur and Owen and a real respect for Father Cripps and the African people he befriended.
Looking forward to the next novel from this already acclaimed poet.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not really a beach read 10 Aug 2010
I bought this book as a holiday read but its not really a page turner, although the author does try to create a bit of suspense by only unfolding the full story right near the end.
Having been brought up in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe I was quite interested in some of the early origins of the country and this book gave some of that insight, especially the period of the early 1900's whne it was moving from a tribal community to one dominated by European norms of land ownership and trade.

I think this along with books such as Mukiwa, The Crocodile eats the Sun and Don't lets go to the Dogs Tonight give some sense of what it was like to be a European growing up in an African country.

A good read...but a lot more cerebral than a beach book.
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars DIDN'T GATHER ANY DUST IN MY HANDS... 15 Oct 2003
By A Customer
One to fox the Faber marketing department, perhaps - defiantly planted in the middle of a triangle whose three points are The Novel, Biography and Travel Writing - this is a great book, and all the more exciting for breaking out of any category you try and put it in.
Sheers is fortunate to have uncovered as interesting an ancestor as Arthur Cripps, a poet and radical missionary to Zimbabwe in the early years of the 20th century. The beauty of The Dust Diaries, though, is that he's extrapolated and expanded the sketchy information previously available about Cripps into a spell-binding narrative. By turns celebratory and mourning - awash with fury, brimful of joy - The Dust Diaries is a necessary book about Zimbabwe, its history and its present. A book about one individual whose extraordinary influence, there and then, will resonate powerfully here and now, about Sheers himself, and about us - and how we find ourselves, and place ourselves, in our world.
The film rights must be on the table by now. Read this, before they turn it into a film.
This reader - the happy owner of an uncorrected proof copy (sorry, Faber) - was entranced. Really pleased to be among the first to read it. Ace.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written 21 July 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I read this book on a holiday which allowed me to read it word for word and take in the description of the scenery and to take in the characters. It was a beautifully written book that brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion - not necessarily because it was sad but I found it so incredibly touching. A wonderful book and well worth reading.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful 1 Feb 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
An excellent book. I read this after Owen Sheers 'Resistance' and was certainly not disappointed.
The Dust Diaries is an excellent 'take' on a journey of discovery and a great exposure of life in the African bush in the early 1900's and slightly beyond.
One of the best reads in years....totally recommended.
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