Jan 26, 2015

Far from Home, Book Review

Written by Na’ima .B. Robert ~ Published by Frances Lincoln Limited (2011)
Reviewed by Amina Edota

Presently living far away from where I lived and called home for all of my adult years, the title of this book appealed to me in many ways. Not sure what to expect exactly but interested in the Zimbabwean setting, being African myself, I looked forward to reading it. I was somewhat mentally geared for the story of a teenager growing up in a traditional African setting and eventually experiencing a family separation. I ordered the book from Amazon website, saved it for a golden reading opportunity and devoured it while on a train journey from London to Scotland.

A short but gripping scene opened the book, leading to a lot of unanswered questions and lending mystery to the story plot. The main character was fourteen year old Tariro living in Rhodesia; the pre-independence Zimbabwe and narrating her story which steadily unfolded, leading eventually to the events of the independence then post-independence era.

The lifestyle coupled with events in this young girl’s life were captured through a lens of vivid description of the environment, customs and traditions, family life and mind of a young ‘care free’ child. Although deriving from completely different contexts and timeline, I found some of the personal issues and struggles faced by Tariro in Rhodesia of 1964 not dissimilar to those faced by young people in the UK today, from my experience as a mentor working with young people.

A rich African heritage and culture was captured; from the shared family meals to traditional stories and creative games of the children and young people, by the firelight. The pleasures of bathing in the river and savouring of goat meat stew, prepared from freshly slaughtered goat meat to the spirit of community love and unity. I found some of the traditions amazing but hilarious, such as the initial prospective call to a girl’s family about marriage (p. 22).

As sweet childhood innocence, hope and dreams turned into the terrors of war, tragedies and broken dreams, an intricate pattern is weaved connecting generations and lives of the two main characters – Tariro in part 1 and Katie in part 2. The chapters were titled making it easy to follow the development of the story, starting with chapter one of part 1 ‘the baobab’s daughter’ to the last chapter of part 2 – ‘History’.

The foreign words lent originality to the story and characters. There was a certain familiarity with repeated words as the story progressed plus challenge in trying to decode the meanings of words based on how they appeared in the sentence. Words such as ‘varungu’, ‘murungu’ and ‘chimurenga’ became familiar as I read along.

The emotions of the characters were so real that I could easily connect with them, as they traversed the planes of honour, pride, pain, joy and freedom all enveloped in secrets and struggles. The story climaxed to an end in quite an unexpected way.

Having read two books written by the author, ‘From my sister’s lips’ and ‘From Somalia with love’, this book ('Far from home') was a shift from her usual style that I was familiar with. Nevertheless, as an educationist, I believe it will serve as a useful educational resource with cultural, historical and political relevance especially to the young people. Muslim parents can also make a connection with some valuable lessons, which can be used as tools for building their children’s Islamic identity. This is by way of linking Islamically with some of the strong traditional aspects of some of the characters in their effort to maintain a cultural identity and uphold ties with their roots.

The timeline section at the end of the book was very useful; it gave clarity about events in the story and allows the reader to understand the possible social and political climate surrounding those events. It will add to the flavour of reading if readers come across the timeline before they begin the story so that it serves as a reference throughout.

Similarly, as I love to explore a book before reading by skimming and scanning, a table of chapters would be useful as well as a list of foreign words at the back with their meanings. I would recommend the book to young people (older age group) and adults.

Did this review make you excited about reading the book?  Post your comments below and let us know:)


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