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Five great books set in ZIMBABWE

9th August 2019

Zimbabwe is the latest country for us to visit in our ‘Great books set in…’ series. Five great books set in Zimbabwe.

The white man is not indigenous to Africa. Africa is for Africans. Zimbabwe is for Zimbabweans‘ – Robert Mugabe

The Blockade Runners by Peter Vollmer

It is 1965. Ian Smith unilaterally declares Rhodesia independent under white minority rule.

The UN declares an embargo, bestowing Her Majesty’s government whatever means of enforcement necessary. With no country recognising Rhodesia, they are desperate for trade.

David Tusk, a former Air Force pilot and now a successful accountant at the only non British-controlled bank in South Africa, is ‘asked’ by his superiors to help break the embargo. He pairs with the stunning Gisela Mentz, an East German-born Rhodesian, who is also ex-Stasi.

From London to Amsterdam to Paris, Frankfurt, Beirut, and the Seychelles, bloody hand-to-hand combat, car chases, bombings, and sea battles ensue as MI6 stops at nothing to prevent David and Gisela from smuggling oil, munitions, spare parts, medicine, and whatever the fledgling republic needs to soldier on.

Meanwhile, a rebellion of the Communist-backed majority is waging guerrilla warfare on white farmers. Despite their mission being over, David and Gisela must once again fight for their lives.

Will HM government be successful in their campaign to destroy an independent Rhodesia? Will the ZANU rebellion exact revenge on the white minority? Will David fall in love despite the hatred in Gisela’s heart?

Peter Vollmer’s latest novel is an exciting and breathtaking journey through the demimonde of arms dealers and smugglers during a time and place left to history.

The Dragon Lady by Louisa Treger

Opening with the shooting of Lady Virginia Courtauld in her tranquil garden in 1950s Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), The Dragon Lady tells Ginie’s extraordinary story, so called for the exotic tattoo snaking up her leg. From the glamorous Italian Riviera before the Great War to the Art Deco glory of London’s Eltham Palace in the thirties, from the secluded Scottish Highlands to sultry, segregated Rhodesia in the fifties, the narrative spans enormous cultural and social change. Lady Virginia Courtauld was a boundary-breaking, extremely colourful and unconventional character who rejected the submissive role women were expected to play.

Ostracised by society for being a foreign divorcée at the time of Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson, Ginie and her second husband Stephen Courtauld leave the confines of post-war Britain to forge a new life in Rhodesia, only to find that being progressive liberals during segregation proves mortally dangerous.

Subtly blending fact and fiction, deeply evocative of time and place in an era of great social change and threaded throughout with intrigue, this novel keeps the reader guessing from the outset who shot the Dragon Lady and why.

The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah

The story you have asked me to tell begins not with the ignominious ugliness of Lloyd’s death but on a long-ago day in April when the sun seared my blistered face and I was nine years old and my father and mother sold me to a strange man. I say my father and my mother, but really it was just my mother. 

Memory, the narrator of The Book of Memory, is an albino woman languishing in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe, where she has been convicted of murder. As part of her appeal her lawyer insists that she write down what happened as she remembers it. The death penalty is a mandatory sentence for murder, and Memory is, both literally and metaphorically, writing for her life. As her story unfolds, Memory reveals that she has been tried and convicted for the murder of Lloyd Hendricks, her adopted father. But who was Lloyd Hendricks? Why does Memory feel no remorse for his death? And did everything happen exactly as she remembers?

Moving between the townships of the poor and the suburbs of the rich, and between the past and the present, Memory weaves a compelling tale of love, obsession, the relentlessness of fate and the treachery of memory.

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga

A modern classic in the African literary canon and voted in the Top Ten Africa’s 100 Best Books of the 20th Century, this novel brings to the politics of decolonisation theory the energy of women’s rights.

An extraordinarily well-crafted work, this book is a work of vision. Through its deft negotiation of race, class, gender and cultural change, it dramatises the ‘nervousness’ of the ‘postcolonial’ conditions that bedevil us still.

In Tambu and the women of her family, we African women see ourselves, whether at home or displaced, doing daily battle with our changing world with a mixture of tenacity, bewilderment and grace.

The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing

Set in Rhodesia early in the 20th century, ‘The Grass is Singing’ tells the story of Dick Turner, a failed white farmer and his wife, Mary, a town girl who hates the bush and viciously abuses the black South Africans who work on their farm. But after many years, trapped by poverty, sapped by the heat of their tiny house, the lonely and frightened Mary turns to Moses, the black cook, for kindness and understanding.

A masterpiece of realism, ‘The Grass is Singing’ is a superb evocation of Africa’s majestic beauty, an intense psychological portrait of lives in confusion and, most of all, a fearless exploration of the ideology of white supremacy.

Andrew for the TripFiction Team

Which titles would you add to the list? Remember to check out the TripFiction listings for more books set in Zimbabwe and around the world. Each will transport you to some excellent fiction, travelogues or memoirs. Or you may have your own favourites you would like to add. Please leave your thoughts in the Comments box below.

Other posts in our ‘Ten/five great books set in…’ series that might interest you:

Five great books set in South Africa

Five great books set in Tunisia

Or search for books by location on our new ‘Great Books Set In’ page.

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