A Called Happiness by Stephen Collishaw Legend Press May 17th 2018
Three days after arriving in Zimbabwe, Natalie discovers an abandoned newborn baby on a hill near her uncle’s farm. 115 years earlier, the hill was home to the Mazowe village
where Chief Tafara governed at a time of great unrest. Faced with taxation, abductions and loss of their land at the hands of the white settlers, Tafara joined forces with the neighbouring villages in what becomes the first of many uprisings. A Child Called Happiness is a story of hope, resilience and reclamation, proving that the choices made by our ancestors echo for many generations to come.
Colonialism is not always a good thing, resentments grow, and factions of the misplaced rise up against the invaders, Zimbabwe is one such country in Africa that has seen more than its fair share of troubles and that is where we find Natalia.
You knew immediately that Natalie had arrived on her Uncle’s farm to get away from from a major life event in England, an event that the author merely hints at, dropping little clues here and there until slowly the truth is revealed.
Natalie’s and her Uncles’ discovery of an abandoned baby stirs up huge inner emotions in Natalie, whilst bringing her into contact with the local villagers and a poignant and moving relationship with a young girl, Memories. Agreeing to be their new teacher you cannot but help revel in Natalie’s sheer joy as she relishes in teaching children who want to learn, but you also knew that happy times would not last for long.
And indeed they don’t and Natalie is soon embroiled in the politics of white against black, of the rights of the native Zimbabweans to take back land that is rightfully theirs. This is where the real story began and in alternating chapter Collishaw immersed me in the history of this once beautiful country.
I read with horror the story of Tafara, as he tried and failed to rise up against the whites as they took their land, restricted them to reservations, farmed the rich soil and mined the gold from their country. You could clearly feel the mounting anger and resentment of Tafara’s sons and grandsons as Collishaw slowly intertwined the two timelines, and you began to make connections between past and present characters. What impressed me about the narrative, were the conflicting emotions Collishaw stirred up. Yes, I felt huge sympathy for Tafara and his family, yes the land was rightfully theirs, but the way in which they went about attempting to reclaim what was rightfully theirs was clearly wrong. On the flip side the invocation of white rule and their methods was also wrong, yet how would you solve such a dilemma? I liked that Collishaw never bogged the story down in politics but merely hinted of Mugabwe’s dictatorial rule, letting the characters tell the story and me the reader come to my own conclusions.
What struck me more than anything was the vivid imagery of the landscape, the heat and dust of Africa, the monsoonal torrential rains, and how perfectly it fitted the mounting tensions of the story. Indeed, the story simmered slowly before building to a drama filled ending that did not disappoint.
It is a novel that I found to be thought provoking and enthralling, it’s narrative and characters vivid and evocative.
I would like to thank Imogen Harris and Legend Press for the opportunity to read and review A Child Called Happiness and for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Stephan Collishaw was brought up on a Nottingham council estate and failed all of his O-levels. His first novel The Last Girl (2003) was chosen by the Independent on Sunday as one of its Novels of the Year. His brother is the renowned artist, Mat Collishaw. Stephan now works as a teacher in Nottingham, having also lived and worked abroad in Lithuania and Mallorca.
Follow Stephan on Twitter at @scollishaw
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