Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende reviews Zimbabwean novel This September Sun


It's World Book Day today. We bring you Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende's review of Zimbabwean novel This September Sun.  

This September Sun is a searing account of family and “the ties that bind” as told from the perspective of a young woman trying to find her place within her family, her country and her world at large. The story is set in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe and begins in dramatic fashion: “On the 18th of April 1980, my grandfather burnt the British flag. I remember because it was my sixth birthday and he ruined it.”

From this point on, Rheam reels the reader in to a heady tale of love, hate, deceit and betrayal, laughter and tears, anger and joy, destruction and renewal. Born into a family full of secrets, young Ellie quickly becomes aware of the coldness and the heavy, unarticulated emotions between her grandmother Evelyn and her grandfather Leonard. She is also aware of the tension between her mother Francie and her grandmother and is often bewildered, angered and terrified by the outburst of pure, inexplicable rage such as she witnessed from her grandmother towards her grandfather on the 18th of April, 1980. Traumatized by the divorce of her grandparents and threatened by her gran’s new love Miles, Ellie’s existence is one filled with insecurity, self doubt and unanswered questions, punctuated by occasional episodes of happiness.

Upon completing her ‘A’ levels, Ellie leaves for England, convinced that she will find herself, her place in the grand scheme of things and finally attain that state of serenity that has so far eluded her. However she soon discovers that: “It is not enough just to travel, if one wishes to change who one is. The greatest journey we go on is inward towards ourselves, rather than outwards and away. You cannot change who you are unless you know who you are and what you are capable of, and that is what I had never known and why, finally, I couldn’t move on.”

Ellie shuttles back and forth between Zimbabwe and England, a troubled young woman who is at once comforted and disturbed by how some things back home do not seem to change. Her restless spirit continues to battle with the business of finding her place and she completes a bachelor’s, a master’s and embarks on a PhD degree.

The news that her grandmother has been brutally bludgeoned to death in her home in Suburbs marks the beginning of another phase in her journey which ultimately leads her into a quagmire of secrets and revelations that help to answer some of the questions along her journey to finding herself. Her grandmother’s diaries hold the missing pieces to a very complex puzzle, one which her family had protected her from as an only child. She learns who her grandmother Evelyn really is, how she came to what was then Southern Rhodesia in 1946 and how she ended up married to Leonard, her grandfather. She unravels the mystery around the death of her uncle Jeremy and how this singular event irrevocably changed the family dynamics from what it was to what she was born into.
Rheam’s brilliance lies in her ability to weave what seem like two completely different stories into a seamless work of art that is both evocative and entertaining. The story is told in beautiful prose, peppered with old world verse and philosophical musings. Her characters are sometimes funny, foolish, tragic, selfish and downright irritating. All are bound together masterfully in the messy business of living, and searching, adjusting and moving forward. In the hands of a lesser writer, this powerful story would have been lacklustre and tedious to read. However it is told by a true craftswoman, whose style, tempo and artistry in her use of language is outstanding and therefore the story simply shines.

This September Sun was published in Zimbabwe in 2009 by ’amaBooks. The novel won Best First Book at the Zimbabwe Book Publishers Association awards in 2010 and has been selected as a set book for ZIMSEC ‘A’ level Literature in English until 2017.


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