Talk about Zimbabwe and what comes to one’s mind is its president, Robert Mugabe. It is difficult to believe now, but Mugabe was once widely thought of as a “great, great man; a man who gave people freedom and peace”. But now he has “run this forsaken country into the ground…………..a country that is burning, yet no one will tackle the flames.”
Out of Shadows, published in April 2011 by Holiday House, begins in 1983 in newly independent Zimbabwe with Robert Mugabe as the new Prime minister. This is all new to Robert Jacklin, the narrator who has just moved into the country with his parents. His father, a good but ineffective man is due to take up a civil service job in Zimbabwe. Robert and his mother are opposed to the move. The first words of this book clearly show it.
“Go ahead and shoot, I thought, because I was thirteen and desperate and anything, absolutely anything was better than the fate to which my parents were leading me.”
His mother resorts to the bottle, and Robert is taken to Haven, a prestigious but white dominated school still coming to terms with what was happening in Zimbabwe.
Robert’s father insists that his son befriends Nelson, one of the few black pupils. The bond grows quickly, and they vow to watch out for each other like brothers. This gets Ivan’s attention who tries to win Robert to his side. Whereas Nelson is saintly, Ivan is portrayed as a racist bully who seethes that his country has been unfairly lost, and he must do whatever it takes to get it back.
The story then takes an unexpected twist. The friendship with Nelson doesn’t last. Robert soon joins Ivan’s gang, not out of selfishness but because he believed then that Ivan’s protection would help him fit in. Ivan’s anger at the new government is palpable, he forms a gang to harass black pupils, teachers and the children around the village. It is evident that Robert has more tough decisions to make, and bad choices to live with than anyone his age would. What is more frustrating is the influence Ivan has on Robert. Before long, Robert, himself, becomes the bully he used to loathe.
By the time he realizes this and leaves the group, it is rather too late. His life is threatened by the very people he thought were his good friends. The story takes another turn when Robert learns of Ivan’s final but ambitious plan of killing the Prime Minister, and he tries to stop it. Does he regret what he did then? Especially when year later Mugabe turns from prime minister, and later president, to tyrant and oppressor?
Out of Shadows is a book worth reading. The reader not only learns about the history of Zimbabwe, but also about the devastating effects of war, not least on young people.