In this semi-autobiographical novel, Head tracks the protagonist Elizabeth's struggle to emerge from the oppressive social situation in which she finds herself, and from the nightmares and hallucinations that torment her.
Elizabeth, like the author, was conceived in an out-of-wedlock union between a black man and a white woman of social standing - a union outlawed by her country of birth, South Africa. Elizabeth leaves South Africa with her young son to live in Botswana, a country that has escaped some of the worst evils of colonial domination. But in rural Botswana she is once again faced with a constricting social system as the villagers are suspicious of her urban ways and frown upon her individualistic behaviour. They also bear her ill will on racial grounds because she is light skinned like the 'Bushmen' who are a despised tribe there.
Elizabeth suffers not only social isolation but intellectual deprivation as well. One of the few people with whom she can converse as an intellectual equal is the American peace corps volunteer, Tom. During the four years in which Elizabeth is plagued by mental, social and economic challenges, it is Tom, and her own love for and obligation to her young son that help her to survive this ordeal.
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Bessie Head, long considered Botswana's foremost writer, was born in 1937 in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. Her first novel, When Rain Clouds Gather, grew out of her experience of living as a refugee in Botswana. It was followed by two further novels - Maru and A Question of Power - that would in time cement her place as one of southern Africa's most influential authors. Sadly, her early death in 1986 came just as she was starting to achieve international recognition as a writer. In 2003 she was posthumously awarded the South African Order of Ikhamanga in Gold for her 'exceptional contribution to literature and the struggle for social change, freedom and peace'.About the Author:
Bessie Head was born of mixed parentage in 1937 in South Africa. She lived with foster parents until she was 13 and then attended a mission school until she was 18, before working as a teacher and a journalist for Drum magazine. An unsuccessful marriage, together with involvement in the trial of a friend, led her to apply for a teaching post in Botswana. Her first novel, When Rain Clouds Gather (1969), grew out of her experience living as a refugee in Botswana, and was followed by Maru (1971) and A Question of Power (1974). In 1977 she published The Collector of Treasures, a book of short stories exploring the position of women in Africa. In 1981, Serowe: Village of the Rain Wind was published, a portrait of a village brought together from notes and interviews spanning a hundred years. Bessie Head died in Serowe, Botwsana in 1986, aged only 49.
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