This September Sun by Bryony Rheam

Zimbabwe in the twentieth century underwent unprecedented turbulence, as a civil war and independence from their British rulers marginalised the white minority who had governed and prospered under imperial rule. Their history, however, can be summarised at the press of a button. In her debut novel This September Sun, ream personalises the struggle from the perspective of three generations of Rhodesians.

Following protagonist Ellie through her formative years, we are struck by the sense that there is a wider, often sinister narrative that is rarely, if ever, touched upon. Vague, shadowy references to rebel fighters are masked beneath upper-middle class indefatigability and glances toward the supposed promised land of the British Isles. The obvious cultural and political tension is circumvented by the mundane day-to-day of family life. As a child, Ellie’s acuity is as obscured as that of John Boyne’s Bruno attempting to untangle the mystery of concentration camps in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

Ellie’s journey is that of hardening and maturing to certain realities. After the brutal murder of her grandmother whom she idolised, she unearths a set of diaries which detail a number of affairs and dark family secrets; shattering her preconceptions. While a compelling idea, the narrative often becomes bogged down in petty, juvenile dialogues and obsessive self-indulgence. Too often, important events are passed over, as Ellie’s first relationship is summarised in the space of a single page, while the humdrum routine is agonisingly dwelt upon.

The diaries themselves are implausible as they continue in precisely the same prose style as the narrator, a mistake which often makes reading tedious and perplexing. Male characters are, almost without exception, either idealised in a fantasy or harshly dismissed. Even those who should hold a prominent role are marginalised as simple irritations and distractions from the plot. As a result, it becomes difficult to warm to either Ellie or her grandmother, as the diaries depict the older woman as a promiscuous traditionalist, and Ellie’s antipathy toward the man who usurped her grandfather leads her to become resentful and guarded toward all men. Of course, this technique is effective if only to convey the sense of introversion and fear prominent within the white, suburban communities who felt their circle of influence shrinking by the day.

Overall, there is an interesting dichotomy which fluctuates throughout. In this unique insight into a post-colonial country, Britain is often lauded as a homeland; a place to which white Zimbabweans may return and cultivate a better life. Practically every family member has lived within the old epicentre of imperialism at one time or another. However, there is a counter culture, conveyed by Welshman Cadwallader, who gradually becomes an integral character. For some, Zimbabwe, with all its instability and uncertainty, is a refuge from a world of subjugation and class hierarchy:

Essentially, ream rails against time wasted, whether in the fog of innocence or by obsessing over supposed greener grass. Perhaps failing to explore the terrors of poverty in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe was a glaring omission, but that is a story we all know. Rather than the sensational, she explores the fractious nature of life in decline; the often untold tale.

About The Author

I was born in Kadoma, Zimbabwe, in 1974. I spent most of my childhood in and around Bulawayo, leaving in 1993 to go to the UK. In all, I spent about seven years there, working first of all, and then going to college and university. In 2000, I spent a year in Singapore, lecturing on the University of London’s Degree Programme. A year later, I returned to Zimbabwe, where I spent the next eight years working as an English teacher. In 2008, I moved to Ndola in Zambia, where I still live with my partner, John, and our two daughters, Sian and Ellie. I’ve had a number of short stories published in various anthologies of Zimbabwean writing, and in 2009, my first novel, This September Sun, was published in Zimbabwe by amaBooks. This September Sun won the Zimbabwe Publishers Best First Book Award in 2010 and was published in the UK in March 2012 by Parthian. In May 2012, it reached number 1 on Amazon Kindle sales. I am currently working on my next novel, which I think is best described as a philosophical detective story!

Find her books at Amazon