The White Shadow

Written by Andrea Eames
Review by pdr lindsay-salmon

According to my library book group, readers either liked or hated The White Shadow. I can understand that. It is set in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) in the 1960s, when the freedom fighters were beginning to make their presence felt. Eames has a reputation as a literary writer, her prose is excellent, but a novel needs more than good prose to hold a reader.

Is this a story about Abel and Tinashe becoming freedom fighters? Is it about folklore, the Shona culture, mythologies and beliefs? Is it about witchcraft? Is it about brother Tinashe being told to care for his sister, Hazvinei, when his parents die of cholera? I don’t know; the focus seemed split, without a dominant strand to hold the reader’s attention. I simply felt that the characters vacillated, without hope, or a future. For them all was bleak and depressing, their lives a muddle of missed opportunities. The plot veered between Tinashe’s sexual preoccupations, his wishes to go to college, his sister’s weird behaviour, and cousin Abel wanting to become a freedom fighter. There was no single cogent plot strand to follow; it was a bit of a muddle.

The vivid descriptions of the beauties of the country were eclipsed by the passages, particularly in the last quarter of the book, involving graphic detail of the symptoms of cholera, much vomit, bloody black magic, menstrual blood, in fact just about every bodily excretion possible, including abortions. There was no conclusion, no tying up of the various strands. I’m afraid I fall into the ‘I don’t like it’ group of readers. Try it yourself and see what you think.