Tanzania is a big country with a rich and interesting history, 42 tribes, was made up of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, and it has a British past. I was sure there would be no problems finding a book written by a native African Tanzanian set in Tanzania. Turns out I was wrong. Tanzania has a strong oral history when it comes to storytelling, but not much of a written one. I ended up getting hold of one book, Desertion by Abdulrazak Gurnah, and that is the one I read.
It is a book about an extremely common subject in Africa; leaving behind the days of colonialism to become independent. Rashid is the youngest of three siblings being brought up in Zanzibar in the 1950s. The book begins with an Englishman collapsing outside of a mosque north of Mombasa in Kenya, and a local shopkeeper and his family nurses him back to health.
The other part of the book is about Rashid studying in England, and about his family with all their troubles back home. Rashid writes frequently to his family. Rashid never sees his family again, and they go through many tragedies during the turmoil of transition in the times of independence. The two stories are intertwined due to two forbidden love affairs fifty years apart.
There is a lot of nostalgia in the book. There is a longing for the days long gone, nostalgia for the days of growing up as a Muslim in a small community. Another important theme, and one that is at least as common, could even be the most common theme in books, love, especially love gone wrong.
I find there are several similarities with Rashid and the author, so i wonder how autobiographical this book is. It is not a true story, but many things in it are close to what has happened to the author himself. It was a bit hard for me to get into the book, and I feel more connected to the latter part of the book. I do recommend it to most readers, since it is not easy to find books like this, set in this region. It is a quick read, and once again makes me wonder about how love is not always accepted by others, not even today.