Sahwira: An African Friendship

Overview

Set in the volatile Rhodesia of the 1960s, this dramatic story, narrated from alternating viewpoints, tells of an interracial friendship tested.

Like his best friend, Blessing — a Shona boy whose father is his church’s pastor — twelve-year-old Evan, a white American, lives on a Methodist mission in what is now Zimbabwe. Blessing attends the mission school for black Africans, while Evan goes to a whites-only boys’ school in town. As Martin Luther King Jr. marches a world away, ...

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Overview

Set in the volatile Rhodesia of the 1960s, this dramatic story, narrated from alternating viewpoints, tells of an interracial friendship tested.

Like his best friend, Blessing — a Shona boy whose father is his church’s pastor — twelve-year-old Evan, a white American, lives on a Methodist mission in what is now Zimbabwe. Blessing attends the mission school for black Africans, while Evan goes to a whites-only boys’ school in town. As Martin Luther King Jr. marches a world away, local headlines announce the murder of a white farmer by African independence fighters. Evan’s school friends immediately side with the whites, the headmaster turns them into cadets in training, and soon incendiary handbills are circulating. As tensions mount both on and off the mission, Evan is forced to choose. But how can he know how farreaching his choice will be?

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Barbara L. Talcroft
Twelve-year-old Evan's best friend is Blessing, son of the African pastor at the Methodist mission where Evan's father teaches. In 1964, tensions between the white ruling class and patriotic Africans are already running high in Rhodesia (formerly Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe). This well-written novel explores the increasingly fragile relationship between the boys, as a white farmer is murdered, while the mission's close community valiantly attempts to maintain its commitment to non-violence. Despite peaceful conditions at the mission, evidence of wider inequality begins to rankle as Blessing wonders why Evan can go to movies in town while blacks are barred, and contrasts his mission school for Africans with Evan's private, all-white academy. As some of the older boys become hostile (some even drift away to join guerilla fighters), and two local men are arrested, life begins to change for both friends in puzzling and terrifying ways. Where does Evan's loyalty lie? The authors maintain suspense throughout the book, though the absolving conclusion seems too easy and abrupt, especially since the Authors' Note reveals that racial violence escalated and Africans did not achieve equality until 1979. Readers will, however, find both Evan and Blessing engaging enough to care what will happen to them in the future. Since Matzigkeit has lived in Africa (both he and Marsden are children of missionaries), they have established a convincing sense of place with intriguing details of plants, animals, language, and daily life, further clarified for readers in the useful glossary. Reviewer: Barbara L. Talcroft
VOYA - Jonatha Basye
Evan and Blessing share a special friendship. Their backgrounds are completely different, yet they manage to find common ground. They are sahwira, dear friends who are closer than relatives. Evan's family works and lives on a Methodist mission in Southern Rhodesia. Blessing's father serves as the parish minister. Everyone on the mission wishes to live in peace, but their wishes cannot stop the violence that spills into their safe haven. The Africans wish to take back control of their country, and groups of independence fighters begin to wreck havoc on white citizens. Evan and Blessing are caught in the turmoil, and the limits of their friendship are pushed beyond its boundaries. The basis of Marsden and Matzigkeit's novel comes from the liberation wars that took place in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) during the late 1960s. The writers include an author's note that discusses the historical facts of the novel. They also provide a glossary that defines the tribal words and phrases that are used in the story. Marsden and Matzigkeit are writing about social unrest, but the heart of this story belongs to Evan and Blessing. Their friendship endures even though their country is at war. This novel would be appropriate for middle and junior high students. Older readers may find the characters and writing a bit immature. Reviewer: Jonatha Basye
Kirkus Reviews
An unlikely friendship between an African boy and white American is tested during the buildup to the Rhodesian civil war in Marsden's collaboration with her cousin. Evan, 12, finds his life uprooted when his missionary parents relocate to Rhodesia. But his apprehensions fade after he forms a close bond with Blessing, a Shona, whose father is the mission's pastor. From the outset, Blessing's loyalty to his friend is clear: "Even if Evan were taking him into a pit of hungry lions, Blessing would have gone. He considered Evan his sahwira, a friend closer than a brother." What inspires this deep commitment, however, remains unclear. Their lopsided friendship seems to consist of Evan issuing a series of bossy commands, his remarks "declared" and "ordered." As tensions between black Africans and white settlers flare around them, the boys grow increasingly unsure of their roles in the conflict-and their friendship. Terms like "communist" and "treason" are used freely, setting up a sophisticated ideological battle for young readers with insubstantial knowledge of the event; a concluding author's note provides some background. (glossary) (Historical fiction. 9-13)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780763635756
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication date: 4/14/2009
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 1,364,108
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 670L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Carolyn Marsden is the acclaimed author of many books for young readers. While herparents were missionaries in Mexico, her cousin (and coauthor) Philip Matzigkeit’s parents were missionaries in Rhodesia. She lives in La Jolla, California.

Philip Matzigkeit grew up in rural Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). He lives in La Jolla, California and is an instructor at San Diego State University.

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Read an Excerpt

Purple Trumpets

Tucking his thumbs in his pockets like a cowboy, Evan swaggered toward the jacaranda tree blooming with trumpet-shaped flowers.

Cyril, who sat under the tree eating lunch, called out, "Howdy, partner. How ya doin'?"

"Lekker," Evan answered, stepping closer. "I mean, swell." He swatted a mosquito on his forearm, splatting his palm with a drop of blood.

"And what's our Yank up to today?" Cyril asked.

"Roundin' up a few moo-cows." Evan did his best to imitate a Texas drawl.
Cyril laughed, then pretended to swing a lasso toward Evan. "Got ya! Sit down, Cowboy!"

Evan stationed himself upwind of the dreadful yeasty smell of Cyril's Marmite sandwich. The new mosquito bite itched. Before opening his biscuit tin with the picture of the Scottie dog on the outside, he scratched the bite until it reddened.

Cream-colored school buildings enclosed the rectangle of lawn on three sides. The fourth side was open to the rugby and cricket fields. Eating his ham-and-cheese sandwich, Evan gazed beyond the fields to the wild bush of the savanna scrub and the forests of small msasa trees. The shrill screech of Christmas beetles filled the yellow air.

An afternoon storm was already brewing, wrapping everything in a damp blanket of heat. In the distance, lightning flashed. Clouds like bruised purple plums crowned the tops of the mountains. Would the rain arrive before lunch break ended?

Leaning down on one elbow, his sandy hair falling across his eyes, Cyril said, "My grandmum sent me a miniature sailboat from England. Maybe you can come over and help me sail it."

"That'd be fun," Evan said. "Maybe after school someday."

But a toy boat was nothing compared with the real raft that he and Blessing had found abandoned in the high grass up by the Mission pond. That discovery had occupied his thoughts since last Saturday.

Yet he wouldn't mention the raft to Cyril. It was best to keep school life and Mission life separate.

"Maybe this Saturday," pressed Cyril.

"Maybe." But Evan had already promised Saturday to Blessing. Blessing and the raft.

Johan and Graham sauntered across the grass and plopped themselves down on the carpet of fallen purple flowers. Opening their biscuit tins, they unwrapped more Marmite sandwiches and bit in with gusto.

Evan scooted away, trying not to be obvious. He wished a breeze would blow away that awful Marmite smell. He lifted a miniature purple trumpet flower from his thermos cup. "Damn! A flower fell in my milk!"He flung it -drops of milk flying -at Johan.

Johan ducked just in time. He took one last bite of his sandwich, then hurled it at Evan.

Evan cried, "Oh, no! A Marmite bomb!"

"The war is on!" Cyril declared. He held a trumpet flower to his lips, making bugle sounds.

Graham picked up another flower and trumpeted along with Cyril. And then, stretching his arms full length, he pretended to hold a real trumpet.

"Here's to our Rhodesian army," said Cyril, lifting his plaid thermos.

Johan joined in with a rat-a-tat drumroll on his sandwich box.

"Rhodies against kaffirs!" yelled Cyril. "Army, army, army!"

"Our army will show those kaffirs not to make trouble!" declared Graham.

Evan shut his biscuit tin. He hated it when the boys talked this way. On the Mission, whites and Africans lived in harmony together.

The storm clouds were rolling in, and the breeze stiffened. Jacaranda flowers fell like purple shadows.

"Without our know-how, those munts would starve. And they think they can take it all away from us," said Graham. Because of his Scottish ancestors, every inch of his skin was covered with freckles. Sometimes the boys called him Scottie or Scottie Graham.

Johan suddenly turned to Evan. "I hear your kaffirs in America are troublemakers too."

"Depends on what you call trouble," Evan replied.

"Ha!" said Johan. "It's all trouble." Johan's family came from South Africa. His hair was so blond it was almost white.

"Kaffirs want to take over the world," Graham said.

"Like the Commies," added Cyril.

Johan said, "That Commie Martin Luther Fink is getting the American kaffirs all stirred up."

"It's not Fink," Evan said. "And he's not a Commie."

Evan had watched the riots in newsreels at the movie theater in Umtali. In black and white, he'd seen the clash of Negroes and police in Birmingham, the clubs, the fire hoses, the snarling dogs. He'd seen how bravely the Reverend King was fighting for justice.

"Rain's coming," said Johan. "Run for it!"

The sky broke open, sending everyone dashing for cover.

After school Dad picked Evan up in the plum-colored station wagon, rusty from many rainy seasons. The Africans called it the car that tried to be red.

Dad wore glasses with flesh-colored rims that matched his skin. Whenever Mom was working at the Mission tuckshop, selling warm sodas and tinned meats, Dad picked Evan up.

As Dad pulled out of the circular drive, Evan ran his finger through the dust on the door's armrest, saying, "My friends say mean things about Africans."

"Ignore them. No one knows much at age twelve. Besides"- he glanced over -"you're lucky to have Blessing as a friend. None of them is so lucky."
Evan nodded.

Back in the States, Dad had been a teacher. Here on the Mission, he trained the Africans to teach. Because he spent time around students, Dad always had solutions to school problems.

Dad drove past the plastered houses and neat gardens of the suburbs, then crossed the road leading to Cyril's house. Giant tulip trees edged the road, their leaves a rich, dark green, their flowers fiery orange cups.

Someday soon, Evan would go to Cyril's to sail the little boat. Afterward, they'd take a dip in Cyril's sky-blue pool. Maybe they'd even sleep overnight in the canvas tent.

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