Title: Call of the Litany Bird by Susan Gibbs
Author: Susan Gibbs
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 4 out of 5
To say I didn’t know anything about the Rhodesian Bush war is an understatement. I’m overwhelmed by African war history. Ironically, the only reason I accepted this book to review is because it’s set in Africa.
This is a memoir of a time when Zimbabwe had become Rhodesia. This particular story is about a white farmer’s family. After Susan’s first husband expired because of Cancer, she married Tim and moved to Bonisia with her 2 young kids. Bonisia is in Matabeleland which is one of the conflict zones. Susan describes living under these conditions. Day to day life was very tense and they had to worry about attacks and death and safety among other mundane things.
The white minority community was a very close knit community. As different farmers were shot dead or abducted or attacked, Susan started to re-evaluate the safety of her family, and thought about leaving the land she had come to love and raised children on.
It didn’t matter much that I wasn’t aware about the history of Zimbabwe, what I loved most was the description of the daily life on farm. She bought the African landscape to life. I loved reading about her daily routine, about her bee rearing business and so many things among others. She talks about the dry season:
Following each successive drought we swore we could see the Kalahari desert encroaching further into our territory. Tjolotjo Tribal lands, west of Nyamandhlovu, were already desolate. Overgrazed by cattle, chewed to the quick by goats, denuded of trees by tribesmen building their huts and cooking fires, it had, over the years, cleared the way for desert sand to advance over the baked earth, and famine had become a reality for tribal people. Food agencies tried to help but little reached those in real need. Government road blocks confiscated donations coming in on the blocks of lorries, selling them on to the highest bidder and Nyamandhlovu farmers reacted by opening up back tracks on their land and smuggling the grain through.
She also talks about the monsoon. I loved the sentences below. It somehow reminded me of the monsoon back home.
The lacerating heat, seemed to last forever, but one day,as we watched from the verandah, purple clouds began stacking up on the horizon, rapidly blowing closer and bringing the smell of rain on the wind. Thunder rumbled in the distance, lightning played around the sky as afternoon grew dark. And then it broke. glittering rods of rain, blocked the view, spattered mud on the walls and washed dust laden leaves. Overnight the veldt greened and the air filled with smells of wet earth and blossoms and Matabele ants, pungent and pervasive when stepped on. Just behind John’s cottage the Mpopoma river came down in spate, sluicing over the spill way into the Khami and sending torrents rushing down into the dam.
She doesn’t dwell very deeply into the politics and the history, most of the times she just tells how the bush war affected the farms and farmers in Matabeleland. She had kept a map in her house where she marked all the dead, attacked and abducted farms with different colored pins, they also had to get up in the morning and do a roll call so that they can account for everybody. It was particularly sad to see the effects all this had on her kids, especially when one day her youngest girl playfully says to a worker ‘don’t get killed on the way home’
Whether you are interested in memoirs, African history or simply Africa, this book is definitely worth reading.