Coming-of-age autobiographical novel recounts adventure-rich adolescence in late-Colonial Tanganyika
Almost 60 years ago, an asthmatic, 9-year-old English boy sat alone on a train at Dar es Salaam's station in Tanganyika (now Tanzania), wondering and worrying about his immediate future. He was bound for Kongwa School, a remote co-ed boarding school for European children located in an arid outback region, home to the Wagogo tribe, but otherwise undeveloped.
Thus begins the brilliant debut novel by Salt Spring Island writer Anthony 'Tony' Edwards. Based in large part on Edwards' own experiences and those of his classmates at Kongwa, THE SLOPE OF KONGWA HILL: A BOY'S TALE OF AFRICA is a fascinating account of the toughness, discipline, sometimes the brutality of British boarding school life, and its concurrence with the ever-present danger from living in East Africa's bundu. Fights and beatings contrast with the excitement of animal and reptile confrontations, torrential storms, locust infestation and other adventures. A terrifying encounter with a black mamba, running away into the bush, hunting for game for the school's meat supply, a narrow escape from lionesses, Boy Scout camp-outs, and a charming forbidden romance during the central character's coming-of-age, combine in a kaleidoscope of never-to-be-repeated experiences, recounted with passion and, at times, delightful humour.
"The happy and not-so-happy times are faithfully remembered and the setting of the great plains of central Tanganyika - in an era before television, cell phones, reliable electricity supply or decent transport - makes for a book that one cannot put down," writes Graeme Berry, an alumnus of that place and times.
This is an engaging story. The reader is drawn in immediately and held captive until the end of the book. It is reminiscent of Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa, but written from the perspective of a young boy instead of a woman. The writing is descriptive and concise at the same time, and it is easy to get lost in the East African countryside where Anthony Edwards spent his childhood.
When reading this book, you will need to suspend any conflicting views you may have about colonialism to appreciate the excellent writing. For example, adult servants are referred to as "boys" or "her Africans". Another example is the description of the Mau Mau rebels in Kenya. They fight against British rule, but instead of being called rebels or freedom fighters in the book, they are called terrorists.
Having said that, I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. The writing is engaging and illustrative, the voice is authentic and the work appears to be professionally edited. Readers who enjoy autobiographies, especially those set in rural areas, should take a look at The Slope of Kongwa Hill: A Boy's Tale of Africa.