African Laughter

African Laughter

Four Visits to Zimbabwe

Book - 1992
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A rich and penetrating portrait of Lessing's homeland, African Laughter recounts the visits she made to Zimbabwe in 1982, 1988, 1989, and 1992, afte r being exiled from the old Southern Rhodesia for 25 years for her opposition to the minority white government. In an original work, Lessing uses memory and reminiscence with recent experience to depict a country in the process of change.
Publisher: New York : HarperCollins, c1992
Edition: 1st U.S. ed
ISBN: 9780060168544
0060168544
Call Number: 916.89 L566a
Characteristics: xii, 442 p. : maps ; 25 cm

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DorisWaggoner
Sep 06, 2018

Born in Persia to English parents, Lessing spent a few unhappy years in England, then at five moved with her parents and younger brother to Southern Rhodesia. There she had a very happy childhood, though she knew her parents had a difficult time trying to be farmers. Her mother desperately missed the England they were never to see again, but which they tried to reproduce in the education they gave their children. Doris, especially, was brilliant and while loving her African life, knew from a young age that she was born to be both a reader and a writer. She was also extremely outspoken, a Communist from a young age. She thought Marxism would solve the problems she was aware of. In 1949, the white government exiled her, declaring her a "Prohibited Immigrant" for her views. This memoir was written during four trips to the new black-governed country of Zimbabwe, between 1982 and 1992. During the first, just two years after the civil war that brought blacks, and Robert Mugabe, to power, Lessing saw her brother for the first time since 1949. He, like almost all whites of their class, were extremely bitter over their losses. Six years later, they'd begun to make some peace with how the country was going. By 1992, however, drought and AIDS were causing considerable poverty. The title may seem inappropriate, given all this, but the Africans can, most of them, still find humor in their predicament. While the book is now outdated, it is still a salutary tale of what much of Africa is like today.

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Liber_vermis
Dec 04, 2013

As the author, Doris Lessing, died on November 17, 2013 then this travelogue cum memoir may have more significance. Lessing offers many flashbacks to her girlhood on a small farm in Southern Rhodesia prompted by her four visits to Zimbabwe in the 1980s. There is little basis for laughter in this book and a more appropriate title might have been "Now I think we all went mad" (p. 399). This compilation would have benefited from an effective editor to cut it down from 442 pages! During her visits in 1988 and 1989, Lessing participated on a "Book Team" of three female facilitators (and a male graphic artist) to tour Zimbabwe to produce a series of self-help handbooks for rural development (p. 236+). Lessing's guarded optimism for Zimbabwe under Mugabe (and her relentless putdown of Zambia) has proven mistaken with hindsight but her comments about local environment degradation and AIDS were prescient.

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Liber_vermis
Dec 04, 2013

"On a drive through some particularly dramatic mountains, this happened: in the car were the Coffee Farmer, his Assistant, and I. We were going up a steep hill. In front walked a young black woman. She was very pregnant, had a baby on her back, held a small child by the hand. ... I knew that the two men had literally not seen this woman. 'How about giving her a lift?' ... I knew we would not be giving her a lift. ... Wrangling, we drive slowly up the steep hill past the pregnant woman. ...Since then an obvious thought has added itself ...: no one was likely to give this woman a lift. Certainly not the new [black] rulers of the country, flashing about in their great cars, their motorcades. Perhaps some local missionary, or a doctor ... everywhere in the world this peasant woman, with one (or two) babies inside her, one on her back, one or two clutched by the hand, is slowly walking up a mountain, and we can be sure that few people see her." (p. 136-7)

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