Friday, July 18, 2008

Nelson Mandela is 90 years old today.


When I read on the Orange Prize short list that The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam by Lauren Liebenberg was set in Rhodesia in the late 1970s, I knew I had to read it. Books set in central Africa are few and far between, and as I spent all my early childhood there I try to read anything and everything that is published.

The book is narrated by Nyree O’Callohan who is almost nine years old; she lives on a farm in the Vumba Mountains (to the east of Rhodesia, near the Moçambique border) which has been in her family for three generations. The Rhodesian ‘Bush War’ is on-going and Nyree’s father comes and goes as he is is mostly away with the ‘Troopies’ (Rhodesian armed forces) fighting the ‘Terrs’.

Nyree, her six year old sister Cia, her mother and her paternal grandfather, Oupa, remain on the farm together with the farm workers, domestic servants and all their families. The whole farm is surrounded, as most Rhodesian farms were in those days, by high security fences to protect them from the ‘Terrs’, and the fence is the boundary of the girls’ world.

In term time, they attend a small local school for children from all the farms in the area, but during the holidays they can roam freely all over the farm, hunting for fairies, observing Sangoma rituals, watching Chongololos curling up when poked with a stick, feeding ants to ant-lions, putting chameleons on to brightly coloured rugs to see if they will turn scarlet or orange, and generally enjoying all the pleasures of a bush childhood.

One day Ronin, the 14 year old illegitimate son of a great-uncle arrives to live with them, and their lives slowly begin to change. Ronin is a nasty bit of work, the two girls dislike him and are wary of him, and with good reason as he is sneaky and spiteful hiding and breaking their toys whilst sucking up to their mother and Oupa. Oupa is a difficult old man, constantly bemoaning the fact that his son only has daughters to inherit the farm, he is an unreconstructed racist of the worst sort; never-the-less, he sees through Ronin and his wily ways and acts as a buffer between him and the girls until his age and dwindling mental abilities make him a problem himself.

Slowly the Bush War comes to an end as does the family’s time on the farm, and with a dark twist to their lives, and violent birth pangs, Zimbabwe is born.

It is not a happy tale, but it does accurately convey the time and place. The descriptions of the flora and fauna of Rhodesia are beautifully written, and reading the book there were moments when I was really emotional remembering my own childhood in the bush. Liebenberg uses very authentic language and has her characters use the terms ‘munt’, ‘Afs’, ‘kaffirs’ etc just as some white Rhodesians would have done at the time - which could offend some readers, however I thought it added to the very real way she creates the atmosphere of those times. The book also made me think long and hard about what ALL the people of Zimbabwe have lost in the past 25 years, and that too made me feel like weeping.

Rated 5*


Whilst parking my car the other day I noticed a 'rough-sleeper' lying on cardboard with some clothing rolled up under his head as a pillow. Next to him was a tiny pile of his belongings. He had chosen to sleep (mid-afternoon on a hot sunny day) at the top of
a flight of four or five steps leading to the padlocked entrance doors of a disused office block. On the pavement next to me as I parked were two teenage girls in school uniform (I think I know which school they attend), both neatly dressed and chatting away non-stop as teenage girls are wont to do. Suddenly, to my amazement, one of the girls broke off the conversation and tiptoed up the steps to the rough sleeper, picked up his packet of cigarettes, and tiptoed back down to join her friend. I leant through my car window and yelled at them whereupon they scarpered. Little b*tches.
It all happened so quickly that I couldn't get out of the car fast enough to chase them.
What kind of person steals from a down-and-out? Those girls had mobile phones and were sporting smart shoes, why would they even consider stealing from someone who had so little? Not of course that they should steal from anyone, rich or poor, but this really was the lowest of the low. What word describes girls like that?
It ages me to say this, but I can't imagine it happening when I was young.


If you have to provide food for a picnic, this recipe, given to me years ago by my sister, is absolutely ideal. It slices into wedges that can be held in the hand, no need for cutlery, and tastes wonderful with salads if the sun is shining, or with a mug of hot soup if it is cold and wet.
Perfect padkos. You can play around with the herbs you use, and with the number of spring onions; the only thing to watch is that you don't over bake it, as it can dry out somewhat. I made it recently for a picnic lunch with my DD's soon-to-be in-laws; lying on the grass by the River Cam, accompanied by a glass of chilled Chablis, it went down a treat.


1 quantity shortcrust pastry made with 350g flour/125g shortening

1kg raw chicken meat – I use a mixture of breast and thigh
500g good quality sausage meat
1 teaspoon mace
6 spring onions
Rind and juice of ½ lemon
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 tablespoon fresh sage – chopped small
2 tablespoons cream
Salt & Pepper

Beaten egg to glaze

Pre-heat oven to 200°C

Line a 9in pie dish with half the pastry.

Cut the chicken meat into strips and sprinkle with the mace and salt and pepper – set aside.

In a food processor whiz together the sausagemeat, herbs, spring onions, lemon rind, half the lemon juice and the cream.

Fill the pie with a layer of the sausage mix, then a layer of chicken, layer of sausage mix etc alternating and ending with a layer of the sausage mix. Sprinkle each chicken layer with some of the remaining lemon juice. Dome up well.

Cover with the remaining pastry, seal and crimp the edges of the pie, cut a hole in the centre of the lid, and glaze with beaten egg.

Bake at 200°C for 30 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 170°C and bake for a further 1 - 1¼ hours until golden brown.

Allow to go completely cold before cutting and serving.


Ash said...

Oh my goodness, I can't wait to read that book! I'm putting it in my amazon basket right now!

Nick said...

You could say the two girls were shockingly callous. But you could also say the result of their little cheap thrill was that the sleeper is less likely to get lung cancer while they're more likely. Maybe they did him a favour.

herschelian said...

Ash - I hope you will be as moved by the book as I was.
Nick - Stealing his ciggies was hardly likely to reduce his chances of getting lung cancer - frankly he's more likely to die of drink or drug related problems; but you're right, what they did was callous, mean and criminal.

Jeanne said...

I've heard about the book and it's already on my to read list - but your review has moved it up a fe notches. Love the chicken pie recipe too - it sounds delicious!

Ash said...

Bought the book and midway through it now. Really enjoying it. Did you read Blood River yet? I was so overwhelmed when I read it that I cried for days. Just at the senselessness of it all.

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