House of Stone: The True Story of a Family Divided in War-Torn Zimbabwe


Blue mountains, golden fields, gin and tonics on the terrace—once it had seemed the most idyllic place on earth. But by August 2002, Marondera, in eastern Zimbabwe, had been turned into a bloody battleground, the center of a violent campaign. One bright morning, Nigel Hough, one of the few remaining white farmers, received the news he had been dreading. A crowd of war veterans was at his gates, demanding he hand over his homestead. The mob started a fire and dragged him to an outhouse. To his shock, the leader of...

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Blue mountains, golden fields, gin and tonics on the terrace—once it had seemed the most idyllic place on earth. But by August 2002, Marondera, in eastern Zimbabwe, had been turned into a bloody battleground, the center of a violent campaign. One bright morning, Nigel Hough, one of the few remaining white farmers, received the news he had been dreading. A crowd of war veterans was at his gates, demanding he hand over his homestead. The mob started a fire and dragged him to an outhouse. To his shock, the leader of the invaders was his family’s much-loved nanny Aqui. “Get out or we’ll kill you,” she said. “There is no place for whites in this country.”

            Christina Lamb uncovered the astonishing saga she tells in House of Stone while traveling back and forth to report clandestinely on Zimbabwe. Her powerful narrative traces the history of the brutal civil war, independence, and the Mugabe years, all through the lives of two people on opposing sides. Although born within a few miles of each other, their experience growing up could not have been more different. While Nigel played cricket and piloted his own plane, Aqui grew up in a mud hut, sleeping on the floor with her brothers and sisters. “They had cars and went shopping in South Africa. We didn’t have food and had to walk an hour each way to fetch water,” she remembers.

            House of Stone (“dzimba dza mabwe” or “Zimbabwe” in Shona) is based on a remarkable series of interviews with this white farmer and black nanny, set against the backdrop of the last British colony to become independent, and the descent into madness of Robert Mugabe, one of Africa’s most respected nationalist leaders.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A balanced portrait of emotions, ideologies, and awakenings on both sides of the racial divide."  —Kirkus Reviews

"House of Stone succeeds—in some ways better than any other recent book about Zimbabwe—in describing the trauma of a land claimed by two peoples and the bitter, lingering legacy of colonialism."  —Christian Science Monitor

"Interesting."  —Review Essays

Publishers Weekly

Two very different lives run in parallel in award-winning British journalist Lamb's riveting account of Zimbabwe's brutal civil war in the 1970s, "the elation of becoming the last British colony in Africa to win independence [in 1980]... and then the descent into madness." By alternating chapters from the perspectives of Aqui Shamvi, a poor black woman, and Nigel Hough, a wealthy white man, Lamb (The Africa House) brings both the personal and the political home to the reader. Her level tone and everyday language make the dramatic story all the more compelling. Though Aqui and Nigel are linked for a few years by her employment as his children's nanny, their lives mostly move along very separate paths as black Africans are dispossessed by the colonialist Land Acts, urban black quarters are demolished under President Robert Mugabe's orders and violent squatters occupy white-owned land. Lamb's indictment of Mugabe and his African enforcers and European enablers is complete; however, she achieves remarkable balance and demonstrates an extraordinary capacity to take the reader into the racism- and colonialism-torn worlds of two decent people, neither at home in their native land. (Sept.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Review Essays
Kirkus Reviews
A native-born white farmer and his Mashona maid reveal very different aspects of Zimbabwe's history over the past three decades. London Sunday Times foreign-affairs correspondent Lamb (The Africa House: The True Story of an English Gentleman and His African Dream, 2005, etc.) first wrote about Nigel Hough and Aqui Shamvi in 2002, when Aqui apparently led an angry mob invading his homestead and screaming abuse. (In fact, she was trying to protect the Hough family, though at the time they felt betrayed.) Based on intensive interviews with both Nigel and Aqui, Lamb's narrative traces their individual paths beginning in the 1970s, around the time that Robert Mugabe emerged as a revolutionary leader: hero to the black population (save a few of the majority Mashona's tribal enemies) and bane of the white farmers, who owned most of the good land. Their recollections clearly delineate the cultural divide as Rhodesian white minority rule was forced to capitulate to multiracial elections and Mugabe's accession as prime minister in 1980. Blacks, who had shared neither power nor privilege, had little notion of the role capital and investment played in making their nation an African showplace of high literacy rates and food surpluses. Average whites, on the other hand, hardly cared that members of a tribal society in which accruing more visible wealth than one's neighbors was considered rude, even anti-social, might view them as infected with greed. Blacks gained admission to private schools and did as well as the best white students, to Nigel's admitted surprise. Yet reconciliation had no chance, as Mugabe cemented his political monopoly by giving open blessing to farm seizures (euphemized as "landredistribution") by ad hoc "war veteran" parties that drove most whites from a now-destitute country. A balanced portrait of emotions, ideologies and awakenings on both sides of the racial divide as Mugabe's abuses pushed a "model" African nation toward the brink of ruin.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781556527920
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/1/2009
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 337,030
  • Product dimensions: 4.96 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Meet the Author

Christina Lamb

Christina Lamb is a foreign affairs correspondent for the Sunday Times and the author of The Africa House, The Sewing Circles of Herat, and Waiting for Allah.

Good To Know

In our interview, Lamb shared some fascinating anecdotes about her adventures with us:

"I always wanted to write and decided to become a journalist to have some adventures and make some money. I was 21 when I set off to live in the frontier town of Peshawar to report on the war in Afghanistan, and I had absolutely no idea what foreign correspondents needed -- or did for that matter. I could hardly carry my suitcase, which contained lots of novels including a dog-eared copy of Rudyard Kipling's Kim, a supply of wine gums, a bottle of Chanel perfume, Mahler's Fifth, and a pink felt rabbit. I will never forget getting off the Flying Coach in the old city just as the sun was setting, struggling with this oversized case, and being surrounded by rickshaws honking and people trying to sell me things, and realizing I didn't have a clue where I was going to stay."

I've always been fascinated by the first explorers and settlers in Africa who headed off with maps with great blank spaces that said things like, ‘Here be cannibals,' and I have often found myself following Livingstone's footsteps. My book The Africa House is set by the Lake of the Royal Crocodiles, where Livingstone's little dog Chitane was eaten and his porters ran off with his quinine on his ill-fated last journey. I got married in Zanzibar in the church founded by him. It was just us, and the priest's wife and a taxi driver as witnesses. Afterward, my husband, Paulo, had to sign on the marriage certificate to say whether he was monogamous, polygamous, or potentially polygamous. Fortunately he ticked the first, or it might have been an extremely short marriage."

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    1. Hometown:
      London, England and Estoril, Portugal
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 15, 1965
    2. Place of Birth:
      London, England
    1. Education:
      M.A., Politics and Philosophy, Oxford University, 1987

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  • Posted September 10, 2011

    Great book!

    This is the best book ive read to understand zimbabawe I like the way the author tells the story from two points of view- a white farmer, and his black maid. I would definitely recommend this

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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