4 out of 4 stars
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The Slope of Kongwa Hil - A Boy's Tale of Africa is the autobiographical novel by Anthony Edwards. The year is 1948, and Mr. Edwards' family are expats from Britain who relocate to Tanganyika (now Tanzania) in East Africa. The book is divided into three parts: "The Foreigner", "One of the Boys" and "Growing Up". Each part details significant stages of Mr. Edwards' boarding school years at Kongwa School from age 9 to 14.
As a boy Mr. Edwards has a cool relationship with his parents, only seeing them on school holidays. Without including spoilers, Mr. Edwards' boarding school experience includes taking daily malaria prophylaxis, having Boy Scout adventures and being in constant fear of getting beaten with the kiboko (a thick, cane-like whip made from hippo skin). There is a Lord of the Flies element to the story, in that boarders have a great amount of independence, they develop their own societal hierarchy in a school with no physical boundary, and wildlife and boys wander freely.
Told in the first person from the author's perspective, 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 Mr. Anthony spends 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. If you keep in mind that the tale is about the author's life in the midst of British colonial Africa, and that the author is a product of that history, you can truly enjoy this coming-of-age novel.
Although there is a glossary of terms at the end of the book, one thing I would like to see is a translation of Swahili phrases and conversations within the context in which they are said. There is one part where Tony's friend Hazel translates her conversation with the Masai for those present, but more translations would add to the enjoyment of the book.
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.
The Slope of Kongwa Hill
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