Historic Books Analysed

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By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK Last Saturday academic writer, Brian Harlech-Jones, spoke about his historic writings on Namibia as part of a series, Meet the Writers, presented at the Book Den in the capital. His two books, A New Thing, published in 1997 and To Dream Again, published in 2002, were discussed at the event. A New Thing is a record of events of 1989-90 in Namibia, the period during which United Nations Security Council Resolution 435 was implemented, leading to independence in March 1990. The foreword to the book describes it as ‘an informed record, placing events in wider context’ and as ‘a permanent record of much that might otherwise be difficult to collect together in one place, or that might fade in memories as time passes’. The book should be essential reading for all who have a professional interest in Namibian history, politics and society, and should be of particular interest to those who would like to be better informed about the events that have played a central role in shaping modern Namibia. In the second book, To Dream Again, from his position as newspaper editor in a mythical country in southern Africa, Kerem carefully traces the contours of his own past. With humour and passion he brings to life the full cast of the African struggle: from his parents, steeped in traditional values, to the engaging priest who knows more than he lets on, the corrupt new officials, and his British girlfriend. Harlech-Jones’ To Dream Again has only recently been published (May 2002). It may be assessed as the most accomplished Namibian novel to date. owever fictitious the settings in Harlech-Jones’ new fiction may be, it is a work of social realism. The author manages to retain the interest of the reader throughout with the story of Kerem; even more than in A Small Space, in which readability becomes the novel’s trademark. Kerem is a black child growing up in Keretani, a fictional southern African country, in the decades before independence. The novel traces the path of the protagonist from rural village to primary school and thence to prestigious high school on a scholarship in the capital, Fort Marnay. We follow Kerem’s ongoing friendship with Father Arbuthnoir, the white priest; his close relationship to his parents and their death in a landmine explosion; his growing concretisation and involvement in the liberation struggle as a student; his years of exile in London after suffering detention at the hands of the KNF (Keretani National Front, the liberation movement and subsequent ruling party); his relationships with Rita (the white British girlfriend) and with Sanomi (his childhood sweetheart); his eventual return to the independent Keretani. Kerem’s story is skilfully interwoven and contrasted with that of Nozam, his age-mate and class-mate who comes from the same rural highlands village of Totudi. The author’s primary concern is not so much with the social landscape as with the reaction of his two main characters, Kerem and Nozam, to that landscape and how and why they develop in such different ways. The novel is strong on plot, the characters are rounded, the tone is often satirical, the imagery vivid and the dialogue convincing. Jones has managed to achieve both simplicity and fluency in this novel which deals with social and political change in themes very familiar to the African novel – struggle, exile, liberation, return, disillusionment and corruption – as well as the more general concerns of childhood, friendship, education and integrity.