Monday, February 12, 2007

Reading Across Borders Book #2
Far and Beyon'

I finished my second qualifying Reading Across Borders challenge book this weekend. Far and Beyon' is the first novel by Unity Dow, the first female High Court Judge ever appointed in Botswana. Before this position, she practiced as an activist attorney focused on legal rights for women and children. The main characters in the novel are Mara, a traditional woman who has just lost two sons to AIDS; her son Stan, who seems to be adopting the white culture and values of a benevolent schoolteacher; and her daughter Mosa, who rails against the opression of women in the traditional ways, but who also wants to stand strong as a black Botswanan woman. The book really becomes Mosa's story about halfway through.

This novel is not great literature, though the story is compelling. The writing is flat and preachy in sections, and lawyer speeches poorly disguised as conversations between a teenaged brother and sister. Still, it's worth reading for the stark yet hopeful portrait of life in Botswana, a much less rosy picture than that of Alexander McCall Smith's Mma Ramotswe novels (The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and sequels, which I've thoroughly enjoyed). Given the author's credentials, I'm sure the facts are accurate, and the situations endured by the girls and women are true-to-life. The novel is also a good companion to a wonderful YA novel, Chanda's Secrets by Allan Stratton, which tells of the debilitating shame and secrecy surrounding HIV/AIDS in Africa.

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