Set in Rhodesia, on its way to becoming Zimbabwe Rhodesia, this is the story of a young girl's journey into adulthood where she finally discovers the secret of her past. She tells the story in the first person; many of the scenes described are brutal and horrifying - there is, after all, a constant backdrop of civil war - but this is not overdone. Indeed, the force of the narrative often lies in the understatement. Above all,the author manages to draw you into the mind and emotions of the protagonist and it is the rapport which you establish with her agonies and ecstasies which makes you want to find out more about what happens to her. Rather unusually, the last third of the book continues in the first person... but it is not the protagonist who is writing. This is a book which will not only entertain and move you but also underline what a traumatic recent past has led to the present day unhappy country called Zimbabwe, a country which has been expelled from the Commonwealth. One can only hope that it will one day be allowed to return.
I got this book as a free Kindle download, so I wasn't expecting it to be such a powerfully crafted story. In Motohuma the Firehead, Jennifer Munro tells a deeply layered story that almost can't be told. It's not just a story about a girl, Poppet/Motuhuma growing up in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe during the transition from White to African rule. Simply coming of age during that time of racial warfare when the Africans were taking back their country, and everyday living took place in a war zone would be a amazing enough tale. Death accompanied every sunset, homes were fortresses, and somehow life continued, badly, but it went on.
This is also a convoluted story of the consequences of human weakness, the kind of the forbidden love that happens even during wars, and how a terrible night led to terrible secrets with tragic results.
But throughout all the craziness of the times and the family tragedy, this is also a love story dedicated to Africa. Poppet grows up on a immense tobacco and grain farm, and all around her is the beauty and glory of a marvelous continent, The Land. No matter what happens in the story, The Land and its ancient traditions is always present in and around every event. It absorbs every hurt and wrong. I loved the author's ability to give such a voice to Africa itself.
When I first came across descriptions of Jennifer Munro's book, MOTOHUMA the Firehead, I was intrigued by the name, but initially turned off by the description. At first it sounded like too much of a literary chick-flick, filled with talk of feelings, romance, bonds between people (as opposed to the bonds between a man and his gun, his horse, or his knife). Not at all the sort of thing read by American engineers from the frontiers of northern California.
But, Motohuma kept stubbornly appearing on lists of books recommended for me. I assumed this was because I've been reading widely on the topic of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe for the past ten years - just an error in the programming of computer generated recommendations lists. Finally, I opened the book using Amazon's "Look Inside" feature. Just a few lines into reading Munro's description of the gangly, freckled, five year old Motohuma racing across the immense, green wetness of the front lawn of her father's Rhodesian farmhouse, zig-zagging madly to avoid the hissing, savage geese pursuing her and plopping down in triumph on the safety of the verandah and I was hooked. I hit the "Buy now with one click" button and began reading.
All of my earlier fears were fulfilled: this book contains detailed discussions of feelings, describes passionate romances, delves into the bonds that can form between people -even when circumstances place them into bizarre relationships. In spite of this, I fearlessly plunged into one of the finest books I have read in years. Munro's characters leap into life from the pages. Her settings, whether in London or Zimbabwe, come to life and make you feel that you are there. Her story even seems wildly improbable. unless you've been to places torn apart by natural or human disasters. And that, in a nutshell, is what makes this book so worth reading. When I finished and put it down, I found myself calmly reassured that no matter what challenges we face, good people will find each other and work together to eventually prevail.
If six stars were possible, that would be my rating.
Wow! Amazing! I finished reading "Motohuma the Firehead" at 5 am this morning - just couldn't put it down. Terrific! The writing is so evocative, so accurate and so emotive. Confession. This book was made even more interesting to me because I briefly knew the author when we both teenagers in Salisbury, Rhodesia. She was a 15 year old school girl - smart, beautiful, alluringly attractive, but young and almost innocent. She has certainly experienced life since then - and conveys those experiences with astounding talent. Thoroughly recommended read.
This is not just a book, it is serious literature. The author shares her intense experiences - fears, joys, beauty, ugliness, humour in detail - and the depth of contradictions it portrays about her journey in Zimbabwe (if not of life in general), it is magical and in my view, true about all who engages with Africa, whether you are African, European or Asian in origin. I loved the book - it is not a bed-time story, you need to nurture every page, but it will make you think, a lot, about your own journeys, more so if you live in Africa. My best quote from the book is "You love Africa, but does it love you back?" It tells us so much about how we experience the foreign, whatever that may be and wherever we may experience it - whether it is people who disagree with us or places that differ from us.
While I certainly enjoyed this book, having been born and grown up in Zimbabwe, and having left Zimbabwe in 1996 for South Africa, I did find the author's descriptions of Zimbabwean life in the 90's somewhat exaggeratedly bleak, which is why I gave the book a 4 not a 5 star, for example, insinuating that very little was to be found on shop shelves, or when she goes back to Zimbabwe, the passport control officer asks of her, "Why did you run away from the country of your birth? Do you hate the black government? Are you an enemy of Mugabe? Are you a racist?" In my returns back to Zim, I have never been asked such questions, & I've been treated politely/respectfully (In fact, I've been given more of the third degree at Gatwick/Heathrow passport control, - raised eyebrows with a Zimbabwean passport) and the somewhat grim description of 1993 Harare life. It was once the "land invasions" began in 2000, did the country start falling apart, and then no description of a "bleak" Zimbabwe could be exaggerated. However it was a good story, full of rich description and the contrasts between Zimbabwe farm life and London were something I identified with, being a small town Zimbabwean girl, taking me back home to the land of my birth, and then to my travels to England.
I have had this book on my Kindle for three years, and I simply don't understand why it has taken me so long to read it. It has been quite some time since I have read a book that gripped me from the first paragraph, and where I have not found my mind wandering, not being able to concentrate. This book, however, would not let me go from the very first line. Anyone who has ever lived in, or visited, Africa, will appreciate the author's wonderful prose, bring to life this country's sounds, smells and sights. I delighted in her descriptions of the country and its people, and the book would have been just good without the story line. However, the story was also interesting and believable, and the characters were brought to life as well. A very very good read, and I highly recommend it.
A beautiful read. I expected a soppy "chick novel" but very quickly found myself in terrifying dark places. I fell in love - twice!, cried real tears - I read in bed at night, my wife asked me if I was ok ! Blokes, this story is not just for the fairer sex. The story starts in Africa and a tsunami of unforgiving, unfair and incredible circumstances forces Poppet out of Africa and into the opulence and extravagance of wealthy London -then into the dark, poverty stricken, seedy places - I so needed to rescue her. The story divides itself and it's back to Africa where the dark secrets of Poppet's questionable parentage are finally answered. I was captivated and so disappointed when it all came to an end as turned the last page. WARNING this novel kept me up until 1:30 at least two mornings and interfered with reality. Use with caution.
I enjoyed the descriptions of the country and her love of the land is evident in the emotions that are felt by the characters in the book. The civil war has been shown for the horror it was and the effect on all the people and their own interpretation of their beloved country. The difficult assimilation into the life in England was felt in a very real manner and I am sure other readers who have British connections (as I do) would experience through the words of the book, the emotions of this orphan who knew nothing of her background due to the deception of her adopted father. Reading of the ndebele and shona cultures brings another dimension as many living in the cities of Zimbabwe are not aware of indigenous culture which can only be seen in its correct context by people living on the land. I look forward to reading more of Jennifer's books of similar content.
This book is wonderfully written in the true style of the author. Her character and humor comes through in every sense of the word. You can feel the starkness and beauty of Africa in every detailed description of it's topography. The author brings the humor and interaction between black and white races of the continent. Having lived in Africa and experienced all it's troubles that colonialism brought to the content, the author brings you back to those days with such a shock of reality, you feel you are living life over in every word that is written. The book was stunning and beautifully written. Could not put it down and hoped the book would never end. I laughed, I cried and I lived it through the eyes of Jenny. Kudus to you for a great book. Hope there will be more of these in the future.