4 out of 4 stars
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Between Two Rivers by Tina Beattie takes us to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the second half of the twentieth century. It is still under the control of the whites, but Ian Smith's regime is shaken. Africans are not allowed to get a proper education. Working Africans can't even bring their families to the cities. There are segregation, injustice, and misery. But the world of white people is corrupted by lies, violence, and hatred.
Morag Cowan, a young medical student, takes a break from her studies and comes to Africa from the post-WWII Scotland "to make a difference." She's a self-proclaimed "atheist Jew and Marxist." She starts working as a medical assistant to Dr. Jim Sinclair. Morag befriends his daughter, Jenny, and meets her housekeeper, Beatrice. Jenny is a talented pianist who threw away all the opportunities she deserved to marry Bruce, a former hunter and safari guide. Bruce beats and rapes her as she lies to herself that there is still love in their relationship. Beatrice is a strong Shona woman. She takes care of Jenny and even protects her when needed. But she is haunted by the ancestral spirit, Mbuya. This spirit tells her the truth she's not ready to accept.
Meanwhile, twenty years pass by. Morag dates David. He is a good friend, but he is also secretly in love with Jenny. Morag feels a growing danger in the air. She decides to leave Rhodesia when an unexpected meeting with a young Catholic priest, Benedict O'Connor, changes the course of her life.
I liked the characters masterfully crafted by the author. Jenny is a perfect example of a domestic violence victim. She suffers enormously but always finds excuses for her abuser. The author slowly guides us to the explanation of her irrational behavior. There's an ocean of pain in Jenny's life, and only a brave and sympathetic reader would dive into it. The development of Morag's character is brilliant. She comes to Africa like a young idealist. Eventually, she learns to look away when something horrible or wrong happens. But Morag is too honest with herself to continue living like this. So she decides to face the challenges openly. Her example is heartening. There is also a beautiful romance described in the book. Overall, the book is an emotional read that has a mystery explained at the very end and even a paranormal element. Also, the book raises the hard questions about the acceptable boundaries of the freedom fight. I would add that the author's love for African people is palpable.
I disliked that Beatrice's part was so short and scarce. I would prefer to have a deeper look into the disasters that plagued Rhodesia and Beatrice's struggles from her perspective. We can say that Beatrice's character is "larger than life." At the same time, this character blends into the background, becoming secondary.
Nevertheless, I don't think that the mentioned flaw is serious enough to reduce a star. So it is my greatest pleasure to give this outstanding book 4 out of 4 stars. Any lesser rating wouldn't be appropriate because I found only one minor punctuation error, concluding that the book was professionally edited.
I recommend this book to fans of historical fiction, psychological prose, romance novels, and the genre of family drama. It would appeal to those interested in the themes of social injustice, women's rights, and the fight against racism. The book is for a mature audience as it has scenes of violence, some strong expressions, and examples of the racial slur peculiar to Rhodesia. The book touches on the religious topics to outline the spirits prevailing in Rhodesia in that period of history. In my opinion, they are rather descriptive by nature and could not be seen as offensive to anyone.
Between Two Rivers
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