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Rainbow's End: A Memoir of Childhood, War and an African Farm
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Rainbow's End: A Memoir of Childhood, War and an African Farm

4.5 6
by Lauren St John

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This is a story about a paradise lost. . . . About an African dream that began with a murder . . .

In 1978, in the final, bloodiest phase of the Rhodesian civil war, eleven-year-old Lauren St John moves with her family to Rainbow's End, a wild, beautiful farm and game reserve set on the banks of a slowflowing river. The house has been the scene of a


This is a story about a paradise lost. . . . About an African dream that began with a murder . . .

In 1978, in the final, bloodiest phase of the Rhodesian civil war, eleven-year-old Lauren St John moves with her family to Rainbow's End, a wild, beautiful farm and game reserve set on the banks of a slowflowing river. The house has been the scene of a horrific attack by guerrillas, and when Lauren's family settles there, a chain of events is set in motion that will change her life irrevocably.

Rainbow's End captures the overwhelming beauty and extraordinary danger of life in the African bush. Lauren's childhood reads like a girl's own adventure story. At the height of the war, Lauren rides through the wilderness on her horse, Morning Star, encountering lions, crocodiles, snakes, vicious ostriches, and mad cows. Many of the animals are pets, including Miss Piggy and Bacon and an elegant giraffe named Jenny. The constant threat of ruthless guerrillas prowling the land underscores everything, making each day more dangerous, vivid, and prized than the last.

After Independence, Lauren comes to the bitter realization that she'd been on the wrong side of the civil war. While she and her family believed that they were fighting for democracy over Communism, others saw the war as black against white. And when Robert Mugabe comes into power, he oversees the torture and persecution of thousands of members of an opposing tribe and goes on to become one of Africa's legendary dictators. The ending of this beautiful memoir is a fist to the stomach as Lauren realizes that she can be British or American, but she cannot be African. She can love it — be willing to die for it — but she cannot claim Africa because she is white.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Rainbow's End is a lyrical, haunting story of family, love, and loss in a land as dangerous as it is beautiful." — Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle

"Striding tall through Lauren St John's gorgeously written memoir is her father, and chapter after chapter their relationship is untangled and celebrated. Joy and a hunger for life infuse this book — whether St John is writing about the harrowing years of Rhodesia's civil war, her childhood adventures in the bush, or the breaking apart of her family. Rainbow's End is a most generous and wise book." — Lisa Fugard, author of Skinner's Drift

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St. John grew up in 1970s Zimbabwe, then called Rhodesia, in a setting she describes as a paradise. Her family lived on a farm surrounded by exotic plants and a game preserve filled with impala, giraffe, ostrich, and monkeys. But all was not calm and peaceful. Rhodesia was under attack by Marxist terrorists who crossed the border from neighboring countries, and white-owned farms were their prime targets.

Consequently, fear was a part of the fabric of her life. A security gate surrounded the house, and when St. John's father passed through it after dark, her family waited, terrified that he'd be ambushed and killed. In fact, St. John's own bedroom had once been occupied by a classmate of hers who was killed in the house.

Many years later St. John would gain a new understanding of the atrocities she'd known as a child. "The war of freedom against the Communist terrorists was actually someone else's war of freedom," she writes. "We were the terrorists. Our heroes were not heroes at all, they were evil racists. Only black people were allowed to be heroes." The shock of this knowledge stripped St. John of her identity as an African.

Writing about her family both during the war and after, in Rainbow's End she depicts with crystalline clarity the wide boundaries of childhood innocence, and the bitter aftertaste of adult disillusionment. (Summer 2007 Selection)
Publishers Weekly
Set against the backdrop of the Rhodesian civil war, St. John's memoir (after 2003's Hardcore Troubadour) of growing up on a farm and game preserve in the 1970s deftly conjures up the smells and sounds of the African bush and the era's climate of unashamed racism and feverish patriotism. In April 1975, after a sojourn in South Africa, St. John and her family returned to Rhodesia: her South African--born father, Errol, longed to defend his adopted homeland from the nationalist threat. When not away "fighting black terrorists," he managed a farm called Rainbow's End, where four previous tenants, including the author's classmate, were murdered by guerrillas. In exuberant prose, St. John, who was born in 1966, conveys a 12-year-old's wonder of roaming her own private game park, but the child's voice darkens when she notices the "maroon punctuation mark of dried blood" on her bedroom wall. Scenes evoking the land's great beauty dissolve into unsettling images of slaughter, and St. John faces her family's politics as she matures. Though St. John's memoir is not as tight or pitch-perfect as Alexandra Fuller's Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, she bears witness to a remarkable story. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Journalist St. John (Hardcore Troubadour, 2003, etc.) remembers growing up on a Rhodesian farm in the twilight of colonial Africa. Her recollections of a mid-1970s girlhood have the engaging intimacy of Anne of Green Gables, counterpointed by the drumbeats of war in the background. Daily living was stressful for white farmers who saw the native majority's freedom struggle as a terrorist nightmare. The author's overprotective mother and workaholic father, a part-time soldier in the Rhodesian military forces, worked doggedly to secure Rainbow's End Farm against an apocalypse that was, in retrospect, inevitable. Yet St. John nostalgically evokes her deep attachments to a bevy of animal companions, including a warthog named Beauty and an eight-foot python, and beautifully describes the harrowing birth during an epic African rainstorm of the stallion colt she'd wished for her entire life. Such timeless events can make politics seem trivial, if only for a moment. But less than ten pages after the colt's arrival, the author is telling us about the .38 revolver she was given to keep in the car in case of an ambush. Her father also explained to her that landmines could be hidden under cow dung. St. John took refuge by mentally fleeing the whole situation whenever possible. Nonetheless, she was sensitive to-and portrays here in revealing detail-the nuances of manners and protocols practiced between whites and Africans, particularly as they slowly began to unravel in the ratcheting tension. Ultimately, her parents' marriage unraveled as well. The family's departure from Rainbow's End when the author was 17 gives the book its heartbreaking denouement. "In war and sometimes in marriage," St. Johnreflects, "you start out on the right side, then history moves on and you're on the wrong side."Articulates a dream and a love of Africa that makes Zimbabwe's fate under Robert Mugabe seem all the more crueler.

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Most people left Rhodesia to get away from the War. We came back for it.

It was April 1975. One year after moving to South Africa to start a new life, we were in a car crammed with possessions and we were barreling once more into the indigo haze, into the thorny, blond bush, somewhere beyond which our next new life was waiting. Dad had a Peter Stuyvesant out in the air, twisting smoke, the twin gray lines of the strip road were tapering crazily into the horizon, and he was saying, categorically: "Two things got me down about Cape Town. One was the weather and the other was people telling me I'd run away from the War. I couldn't stand people saying I'd run away from the War."

Which was ironic because it wasn't even his war.

It had become his war only because in 1960 he happened to see a recruitment ad for the Rhodesian Army the same week he received his National Service papers in his home town of Uitenhage, South Africa, and he'd thought to himself: A chance to see another country! What a pleasure! Even though he was only eighteen and it would mean fighting for someone else's cause. And even though his family had been putting down roots in the Eastern Cape ever since their ship, buffeted by ice storms on the Thames in England and ocean winds in the Bay of Biscay, had docked at Algoa Bay with the 1820 Settlers. By the seventies the Rhodesian War had become Dad's war because he'd spilled blood for it and also because he'd married Mom, whose great-grandfather had been an associate of Cecil John Rhodes, who "discovered" Rhodesia. Her ancestry was full of stories about pioneering uncles walking barefoot from Durban to Bulawayo, more than a thousand miles, to save their shoes.

Mom always said that Dad was Rhodesian from the moment he set foot in the country and saw how beautiful it was. Not that South Africa wasn't. In almost every way it was more blessed with visual splendor, more rich in natural resources, and unlike its landlocked northern neighbor, it had the ocean, steaming up to the coast in a smoking white rush. But something about the landscape of Rhodesia spoke to him. He liked its unshowy loveliness. He liked the way of life, and he liked the people, who for the most part didn't think there were many worse crimes than getting above yourself. Above all, he liked the sensation that poured through him as he crossed the Great Green Greasy Limpopo -- "this incredible sense of being free." It stayed with him even after he stepped hot and sticky from the train in Bulawayo, aged eighteen, and saw the smart peaked caps of the RLI (Rhodesian Light Infantry) officers, who waited with crocodile smiles and soft, welcoming voices to greet the new recruits. He thought of Rhodesia as the Promised Land, and he'd brought me up to do the same.

Now we were Rhodesian to our souls.

Heat and dust boiled in through our car windows and the leathery smell of cattle and something else -- something that forced its way into your nostrils like a dissident spirit and set nervy adrenaline jangling through your veins. Something as old as Africa, like the loamy earth or the sweat of the Africans walking along the roadside, backs as stiff as cats', their heads loaded with sky-scraping stacks of mielie-meal, crates of chickens, or economy-size Sunflower oil tins slopping water. They passed in an arc of Viewfinder snapshots.

"How come their heads don't get sore?"

"Their heads are very hard," Mom said. "Shhh, keep your voice down. You'll wake Lisa."

She took off her tortoiseshell sunglasses, pursed her lips in the vanity mirror, and reapplied lipstick in anticipation of the journey's end. I leaned over the wicker carry-cot and smoothed the downy hair of my sister, thinking that, though she'd cried so hard for so long that some days it seemed a miracle she found time to draw breath, she still resembled a Pears' Baby Competition winner. But her skin was thin and clammy. I noticed with alarm that my own arm was as blue-white as hers and snatched it away lest my mother see it and comment. "Are you anemic?" grown-ups were always asking me. "Have you been ill?"

A black sign flashed by: GADZEMA.

If there was a town about, it wasn't apparent.

We flew over a narrow bridge and ramped up the other side. Dad had one eye on his watch, and he drove without troubling the brakes, never once slowing for pedestrians or cyclists. Their only warning was a last-minute toot, at which point they'd jerk into life, see they were about to join the kaleidoscope of twitching butterflies on the grille of the car, and fling themselves sideways, trying desperately to maintain their towering loads.


"Errol, please slow down," Mom entreated. "You're going to kill someone."

"For goodness' sake, you people, I'm not going to hit them. What do you take me for? But why must they walk in the middle of the road?"

He bore down on a bicycle. My fingers dug into the seat, trying to stop the car by sheer willpower.

Mom said: "I don't understand why you're driving like a maniac. If we're five minutes late, it won't be the end of the world."

I didn't have to be in the front seat to know that Dad's blue eyes would be turning Cape-of-Good-Hope-in-a-squall gray, and he said through his teeth: "Any minute now, I'm really going to lose my temper. No ways am I going to be late. No ways."

I twisted around. The cyclist was skidding uncontrolled down the gravel incline, bare toes splayed, scrabbling for a foothold. His back was rigid with indignation. He wobbled to a halt on the edge of the bush and turned his head to glare at us, but by then he was just a speck against the green and gold, and the red dust spun up and erased him.

I faced the wavering strips again, but the atmosphere in the car had changed and I was no longer looking or listening. On my lap were my favorite books, their covers faded and scarred. A dozen times over the past year I'd pressed my palm against their pages and wished that the lives of the characters, the pea-soup fogs on smuggler-crowded moors, the starlit beds of heather and bracken, the wild gallops over mountains and deserts, would flow into my fingertips by osmosis. Now I would no longer have to. Now I had the promise of a horse of my own and life on a farm, all in the middle of a war with terrorists.

I widened my window and leaned out into the charged, leathery air. Please, God, I thought, let me be someone who has adventures.

Copyright © 2007 by Lauren St John

Meet the Author

Lauren St John was born in Gatooma, Rhodesia, now Kadoma, Zimbabwe, in December 1966. After studying journalism in Africa, she moved to London, where she was for many years golf correspondent to The Sunday Times. She is the author of several books on sports, the biography Hardcore Troubadour: The Life and Near Death of Steve Earle, and one children's novel, The White Giraffe.

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Rainbows End: A Memoir of Childhood War and an African Farm 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The best
Bella Calabrese More than 1 year ago
This book is really good. I love this author amd loved hearing about her life. I can relate her life story with the other books she wrote. I loved The White Giraffe series and this book makes the character come alive just like all of Lauren St. John's books.
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