The sun eventually did set on the British empire. The process of its descent makes for some interesting reading in both novels and non-fiction books as authors explore the impact of the withdrawal of British rule on non-native families living abroad.
Author Alexandra Fuller’s latest book Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness is an account of her parents’ migration from the British Isles to east Africa and is the story of immigrants adapting to and adopting a new country and adjusting once again as British colonialism yields to self-rule. Fuller’s mother, especially, has a voice in this book as the family moves throughout east Africa’s farming communities.
The same themes of family history intertwined with recent African history are carried out in When a Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin. Godwin, a journalist now living in the United States, was raised in Rhodesia; he and his sister left the country but his parents remained even as Robert Mugabe rose to power and Rhodesia became Zimbabwe. Godwin’s description of his aged parents’ life under Mugabe’s rule is harrowing but he, as does Fuller, conveys the attachment of his parents to a country which has become inhospitable and often dangerously hostile to them.
Monique Roffey’s novel The White Woman on the Green Bicycle examines the marriage of a white couple, George and Sabine Harwood, living in Trinidad. The newlywed Harwoods arrive on the island in 1956 as George has been offered a three year employment contract. Sabine, wilting under the heat and culture shock, can’t wait to return to England but George thrives as an Englishman living in a British colony and refuses to leave. Broken promises figure in both the Harwood marriage and Trinidad’s move to independence and this Orange prize short-lister blend of fiction and fact is an interesting window into a lesser-known former British colony.