Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace COSTA BOOK AWARD 2010 NOMINEE

January 2010, Anderson Press
288 pages, Paperback
Review copy 

Children's, 12+ 

Life under the rule of Mugabe, (This book does have a warning saying not suitable for younger readers), boys at boarding school, bullying (physical and emotional by peers and adults), murder, alcoholism, racism, frequent strong language, true friendship and very occasional happiness

‘If I stood you in front of a man, pressed a gun into your palm and told you to squeeze the trigger, would you do it?’
‘No, sir, no way!’
‘What if I then told you we’d gone back in time and his name was Adolf Hitler? Would you do it then?’ 

Zimbabwe, 1980s
The war is over, independence has been won and Robert Mugabe has come to power offering hope, land and freedom to black Africans. It is the end of the Old Way and the start of a promising new era.
For Robert Jacklin, it’s all new: new continent, new country, new school. And very quickly he learns that for some of his classmates, the sound of guns is still loud, and their battles rage on . . . white boys who want their old country back, not this new black African government.
Boys like Ivan.
Clever, cunning Ivan.
For him, there is still one last battle to fight, and he’s taking it right to the very top.

Nayuleska's thoughts
As you can probably tell from my information list above, this isn't a happy fluffy bunny book. Robert is in Zimbabwe because his father works with the British Embassy. He goes wherever they send him. Robert never wanted to go, he wanted to stay in England. His alcoholic mother promises that if he sticks it out and still doesn't like it, they can all go back home. For various reasons that doesn't happen. 

The story is focused on Robert's time at the boarding school. It deals with issues which are common across all schools including teasing and bullying. I don't mean just saying nasty words. I mean physical bullying too. Ivan is really cruel. He hurts other boys. Other boys hurt him (and local children). There is a marginally soft side to Ivan - very marginal - which was nice to see. But mostly he is a bully. And as he grows up, he gets worse. Robert - unfortunately - ends up siding with Ivan. He sticks with him at the beginning. He even joins in on the bullying - which has a tragic end in several instances. He regrets so much as he grows up, for the guilt is always with him. There comes a point when he is still friends with Ivan, but he hangs back and finds excuses not to join in. In the end, this doesn't save him. It does save important people from being accosted by Ivan and his friends. Ivan, unfortunately, is cunning. He isn't a mindless thug. He manipulates members of staff at the school, to persuade them to do certain things so he can build up to his end goal. It's a goal which will affect him for the rest of his life, and also affect Robert. 

I can see how Robert got so caught up in trying to please Ivan. I wish he'd stopped sooner, and that he'd kept his original school friends. He has a pretty rubbish home life, with his father always being busy and his mother being incapacitated most of the day due to her drinking habit. He suffers several personal tragedies, and the consequences of these will always haunt him. I was horrified throughout a lot of the book. I need tissues in a few places because what happened was so brutal and quite surreal. I believe Ivan would have fit well in LORD OF THE FLIES (I haven't read the book, I've only heard about it). The question at the top of the summary is important because the reader is shown it at the beginning of the book, and then at the end. Initially the typical answer would be no. But, if the question is posed after lots of information on the horrors that the person will inflict, then the answer might be different. 

Final conclusion 
This is a powerful emotionally charged book, filled with a lot of horrors but it depicts life in Zimbabwe that anyone can read (rather than a dull history book). 

Check out Bone by Bone by Bone, by Tony Johnston for another read on boys from two races. 


Clover said...

I find it interesting to see a review of this one! It sounds fascinating and I'm really looking forward to reading it!

Clover said...

..Something weird happened and *I* recieved the email notification of my comment above?