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4.0 out of 5 stars Looking at Zimbabwe from a different perspective, 1 July 2011
AK (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: African Laughter: Four Visits to Zimbabwe (Paperback)
Lessing's African Laughter brings quite a refreshing perspective to the topic of writing on Zimbabwe / Southern Rhodesia - namely that of an outsider, who at the same time possesses both in depth firsthand knowledge, and historical perspective.

Unlike most biography based books on the country, many of which have been written about, or prominently featuring the war years (Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa or Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood as examples), Lessing focuses on the birth and formative days of Zimbabwe, documenting four of her visits between 1982 and 1992. She also takes a much more positive perspective of the new country than the other writers, and fortunately writes about the period before the real 'collapse', where encouraging stories were not hard to find.

Her long term historical perspective (having grown up there before WW2 and stayed till 1956, when she was expelled for her political views) provides some unique insights, such as how the landscape, animal density and attitude towards the bush changed over time. She also takes a much harder look at the faults of the previous regime than writers growing up in the country later could do, uncovering some of their blind spots, including some completely unrealistic expectations placed upon a young country, with a completely untrained and inexperienced leadership. This is especially so, when it comes to the race relations.

On top of that, the four visits show very different stages of evolution in the country, and make for a very interesting historical chronicle of development, with both clear progress and development on some fronts, as well as accompanying slides into corruption, incompetence, etc.

Lessing does criticize certain aspects of how the country operated under Mugabe and is by no means blind to the problems but largely focuses on both the difficulties and the successes - her wanting the country to be a success often shows through in the book, which may be endearing to some readers, and frustrate others (she does seem to overlook rather a lot on occasion).

Overall, if you read only one book on the topic of Zimbabwe / Rhodesia, I would probably advise you to take Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa or Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood (or some of the later work by the same authors) but if you have a broader interest in the topic or region, Lessing's book is a wonderful complement to those, providing some really interesting additional insight.
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African Laughter: Four Visits to Zimbabwe
African Laughter: Four Visits to Zimbabwe by Doris Lessing (Paperback - 15 Nov 1993)
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