The Cry of the Go-Away Bird by Andrea Eames
|The Cry of the Go-Away Bird by Andrea Eames|
|Genre: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Charlotte Colwill|
|Summary: A well crafted, but imperfect, novel of a fraught Zimbabwean childhood.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: February 2011|
|Publisher: Harvill Secker|
|External links: Author's website|
'The Cry of the Go-Away Bird' is the debut novel from Andrea Eames. It revolves around Elise, a white Zimbabwean girl living through her teens on the eve of the Mugabe-sponsored farm invasions at the beginning of this century. The author herself grew up in Zimbabwe before moving to New Zealand with her family at the age of seventeen and there is a strong sense of memoir and personal experience in the novel, which has both positive and negative effects on the narrative.
The main character is drawn very effectively. The natural anxieties felt when emerging into an adult world are uncannily accurate, and allow the reader to relate to Elise and her family as their experiences later become more extreme. However, sometimes the story is so personal that it verges on one-sided. There is more variety, and a more complex array of emotions and motivations among the white characters than the black ones. The black characters are unfathomable and often sinister. Perhaps this is how Elise really sees them, but the novel could have perhaps painted a more complex picture for the reader of the spectrum of attitudes surrounding these massive social upheavals.
Eames makes various attempts to describe the fragile nature of race relations in post-independence Zimbabwe. Often she succeeds admirably, as when Elise's parents invite a black farm-worker and his wife over for dinner in an effort to make friends. The awkwardness felt by all is palpable and it is a fine piece of writing. Eames clearly has a talent for describing a society in microcosm. There are examples of Eames' considerable powers of observation elsewhere in the book too. Of the 'Bush War' (or War of Independence) it is said, The war felt like a death in the family - someone whose name was never mentioned, who was cut out of photographs. Of Mugabe, Elise says, He was like a hated Headmaster, overbearing and incompetent, towards whom you felt a kind of loyalty. This metaphor demonstrates that Eames is certainly able to express complicated emotions in a clear and artful manner.
There are, however, times in the novel when the writing fails in this respect. Sentences such as We were Whites, and nothing else and The air between us was a different colour, are clumsy and blunt, and have a taste of bitterness that the story does not benefit from.
The action in the novel is heavily weighted towards the last half, when the actual farm invasions and killings of farmers are taking place. In these pages the book does become compelling. Eames successfully renders the panicked atmosphere of a rapidly crumbling way of life, and the events feel both real and shocking.
Overall, though well written, the novel is trying to tell too many stories in too many ways. Elise's story is cut-off by the dramatic political events occurring, but those events appear as from nowhere and lack real context. The book is still worth reading for a glimpse into this interesting and unfamiliar world, but there may be better novels to come from Andrea Eames.
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