I have to admit to having been very reluctant to start reading The Last Resort, Douglas Roger’s family-based account of the crisis in Zimbabwe (or Zimbodia, as a Sunday Times satirist calls it). By default, any white person in Zimbabwe (especially an exile), is a victim, and there are only so many victim stories one can bear to read.
It’s not that I don’t empathise with what’s happened, nor that I don’t condemn Mugabe’s misrule; it’s just that Zim books seem to follow a theme. It’s also probably a lot harder for South Africans to read such accounts, because one can imagine the same thing happening here. There’s probably too much ‘structure’ to allow it to happen, but when one looks at the worst of Malema and other ANC comrades, it is possible to negatively predict a slow slide into the abyss. For us, Zimbabwe – both as a country and topic – is very close to home.
And yet The Last Resort is different. Rogers builds his story around characters that he has developed as well as any novelist. Whether they are his parents, surprisingly cheerfully – and at times grimly – holding on to their property, or the fearsome ‘war veterans’, they are fully-formed people that rise from the engagingly-written pages.
The central characters in the book are his parents, who may be more real to me because of their ‘Southern African-ness’, but I suspect they’d be as real to a reader in Los Angeles, London or Auckland. I’m not suggesting that being white and assailed in Zimbabwe is anywhere near the experience of Jews in the Holocaust, but I couldn’t help thinking of Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, the central theme of which is that – regardless of how dire the circumstances – we have the freedom to choose our response.
Rogers doesn’t hold back on facts and figures, but because they are woven so seamlessly into a narrative of characters with whom the reader is able to empathise there is no chance of getting bored or overwhelmed by them.
Read The Last Resort, if not for the story it tells, then for the masterful way in which Rogers has told the Zimbabwe story with such humanness. And no ‘victims’.