Chinodya’s book, which won the Best Book category for the 1990 Commonwealth Writers Regional Prize, is a story about Zimbabwe’s transition from white domination to independence. The novel vividly portrays the liberation war’s effects on individuals and the scars left behind.
In Harvest of Thorns, Chinodya tells the story of how the white settlers came at first like friends to the ignorant villagers and how gradually they got their own share of the land, recruiting the children of the villagers to work for them, how they continued extending their settlement and pushing the natives out through fear, how they stole the natives cattle, enslaved their children and eventually the adults as well. It tells of war and it’s devastating and renewing effect. It tells of a people who were not afraid to fight for their freedom from white oppression and their eventual victory.
It’s a good book that gives the reader an insight into the Zimbabwean war of independence and it leaves the reader with a feeling of hope and expectations of a better tomorrow.
The story is centred on a family, the Tichafas’ and their fortunes before, during and after the war. The Tichafas’ had three children Esther, Benjamin and Peter. They were a deeply religious family who had a strict code of conduct and who opted to keep out of the politics sweeping through the country at the time.
This earned Benjamin the name ‘sell out’ amongst his peers at school and he was ridiculed and picked on at every opportunity. In order to earn acceptance amongst his peers, he decided to join a gang of boys who set fire on the community’s beer hall. When the police came to arrest him at home, his embarrassed parents were more concerned about what the neighbors thought than understanding what made him do it. This and another incident in which he accidentally cut his brother’s leg with an axe made him develop a deep hatred for both his parents and God. He went to a Missionary boarding school and when he saw the boys who were supposed to be from Christian homes engaging in various nefarious acts, he also turned bad. He joined a protest march against ‘black call up’ for war and he was again arrested with some of his colleagues and when the ‘Father’ came to effect their release he ran away and joined the guerrillas fighting in the bush.
Benjamin was in the bush for three years guarding villages from the Rhodesian army and planning attacks on white farmers who treated their workers badly. Returning home after the war, he found that though some things had changed, much still remained as before. Disillusioned that winning the war had not brought about change in the country, he came to accept that it would take time to see the fruits of liberation.
However, his return home also brought his family back together again, and with the birth of his son, he was able to hope again and picture a bright future for his child and indirectly for the country.