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The Boy Next Door: A Novel Hardcover – September 8, 2009

3.9 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Sabatini debuts with a love story set against the backdrop of Mugabe's Zimbabwe, from its independence in the 1980s to the decline of democracy in the 1990s. Lindiwe Bishop is 14 when her neighbor, 17-year-old Ian McKenzie, is charged with killing his mother. Lindiwe's shy, at the top of her class and from the first black family that settled in Bulawayo after integration. Ian is boisterous, a dropout and from the last white family remaining in the neighborhood. They only meet briefly before he is jailed, and when he's released a year and a half later they strike up a secret friendship that largely consists of Lindiwe listening to Ian talk. Their friendship endures another hiatus—this one for 10 years—when Ian goes to South Africa, and when the two reconnect, Lindiwe is a spitfire. Subplots of varying interest—the question of Ian's fidelity, whether one of Lindiwe's friends is shacking up with corrupt officials—crop up, but most lack resolution or are abandoned soon after they're raised. Sabatini's writing is fine and shows the potential in this developing talent. (Sept.)
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"Irene Sabatini's captivating first novel, The Boy Next Door, offers readers a rare and often painfully honest glimpse into life in post-independent Zimbabwe. And yet there is much light and hope and yes, love--genuine and hard-earned--in this book as well. A true pleasure."―Peter Orner, author of The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo

"Irene Sabatini's remarkable debut novel about Zimbabwe is a kaleidoscopic blend of elements encompassing everything from coming of age and first love to race, nationalism and the rapid degradation of a once-thriving country. The story is at once sprawling and intimate, political and personal.... [Sabatini] is able to convey the evolution of Lindiwe and Ian's complex relationship with brilliant nuance and depth. Her portrayal of their different but ultimately connected views on race, family and country is masterful. Like Lindiwe, Sabatini grew up in Bulawayo and was educated in Harare. Like many first novels, this story has an autobiographical feel, but one that adds authenticity and immediacy to the narrative. Sabatini's descriptions of Zimbabwe--its people, its languages, its politics, its beauty and its despair--are absolutely stunning and not to be missed."―Debra Ginsberg, Shelf Awareness

"Sabatini, who grew up in Harare and Bulawayo, offers a beautifully written first novel that explores the complexities of post-independent Zimbabwe--ever-shifting affinities of race, family, and other affiliations--through the love story of a mixed-race couple."―Booklist

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (September 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031604993X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316049931
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,847,384 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

I was born some forty years ago in Hwange, a coal ming town in south western Zimbabwe. I grew up in Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe. Bulawayo is known for its rather sleepy, laid back nature and its graceful colonial era architecture, examples of which can be found on my website www.irenesabatini.com. I spent many hours in the fabulous Public Library, down in the basement of the children's section devouring everything from Enid Blyton to Shane by Jack Schaefer, one of my favourite books. I left quiet Bulawayo for,'The Sunshine City', Harare, to attend university. Harare is all hustle and bustle, with some fantastic futuristic buildings. After university I went to Colombia where I stayed for four years working as teacher and studying for my masters. One of my biggest thrills in Colombia was catching sight of the legendary Gabriel Garcia Marquez in Cartegena. "Here, in front of me, is a real, living writer," I remember thinking. "They exist!" Soon after that, I started writing in a red notebook in this former monastery outside Bogota. The writing seemed to just spiral out of me and if I had to pick a time when I really started this journey it would be that wonderful quiet morning on a verandah so many years ago in the Colombian countryside.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is a memorable and highly assured debut novel. In a crowded market of first novels this one stands out both for its unusual setting - Zimbabwe in the years following independence in 1980 - and for its sure handling, a keenly observed story by a writer who clearly knows the world she describes and who is obviously passionate about all her characters.

Lindiwe and Ian are the protagonists, neighbouring teenagers who inhabit very different worlds, she a black Zimbabwean, he a 'Rhodie' with the attitudes of a ruling elite. A terrible event brings them to each other's attention, and through the years of post white-minority rule their relationship develops from immature curiosity to - well you'll just have to read it to find out exactly what. Suffice to say each has a profound effect on the other, as their paths cross while their country goes through increasingly troubled times.

This is described as a love story in promotion and it's certainly that. However I felt it was so much more and that simple description didn't really cover the complexity of the situation. It's love, but love in a world undergoing wider turmoil as the Mugabe government, widely approved as a model of African democracy, descends into a regime of paranoia and fear. The political situation touches the worlds of these characters but it's not central and at its heart this is certainly a novel about people and not politics.

It's to the author's great credit that she breathes life into her characters, with even comparatively minor figures fully rounded and believable. Lindiwe's family are convincingly drawn, with subtlety and at times surprising detail.
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Format: Hardcover
Breathe in. And out. Where do I begin with this review?

I received this book from Hachette Book Group; I'll start there. It sat on my bookcase for a while before I was ready to pick it up; it was intimidating and large and serious looking and I knew I needed to be ready for it. I started it, and fifty pages in I stopped and restarted it, and I'm glad I did. Restarting it allowed me to settle in with the narrative voice, it let me be fully familiar with Lindiwe and the way she uses memories to fill in the past so I can understand what makes the present so profound. The Boy Next Door is epic. It spans decades. It follows Lindiwe from adolescence through her transformation into a woman. She is fourteen when the novel starts, and her seventeen year old neighbor has been arrested for lighting his stepmother on fire. That's how the novel starts. But that's not where it stays. It follows Lindiwe and her neighbor, Ian, through post-independant Zimbabwe, through race tensions, and revolutionary riots, and love ,and loss, and danger.

Part 1 begins in the 1980's. Lindiwe is a young girl, shy, surrounded by racism and a country in transformation. Ian seems worldly to her, having been released from prison and returned to Bulawayo. They form an unlikely friendship, secret from the world. They are pulled together by an inexplicable bond that lasts through war and riots and years apart.

Part 2, the early 90's, finds Lindiwe grown into a young woman, attending school, with a future. Her childhood crush develops into something mature and deep. But there is always an overhanging sense of unease in Sabatini's writing; as though we know this happiness between Ian and Lindiwe cannot possibly last and be peaceful for the next 200 pages.
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Format: Hardcover
Could not handle the style.

I've read things using this sort of voice before - childlike, short sentences, bland, simple - but never enjoyed them as more than novelty. A child's/adolescent's voice doesn't have to be like this, and I've celebrated alternatives in things like Banks' impressive Feersum Endjinn. Indeed there's lots of decent teen fiction that catches it out there (e.g. Craig Silvey's Jasper Jones). I relished the way Gene Wolfe utilised an innocent's perspective in the glorious Knight. But here this style just killed me. Even more than Kate Grenville and Carrie Tiffany, who can be similarly detached and emotionless, but at least offer some range of sentence length, and greater depth of description. Here's a (seriously) random excerpt:
Mpiri says that the young master is sleeping in the boys kaya with him. Mphiri scratches his head and says that this is not right. The young master sleeps right on the floor without even a mattress. He sleeps on a grass mat. Maphosa says that maybe now Mpiri will see reason and go back home. Even white people are afraid of Amadhlozi, the spirits who want to avenge a grave wrongdoing. Rosanna does not believe Mphiri. A white person would never do that. She cannot even imagine them using the same toilet as Mpiri. Mapiri is just getting too old. White people need electricity....
And so it goes - on and on and on. You could imagine it as a massive telegram, with someone saying `STOP' at every full stop - which occurs about every ten words or so.
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