"Imagine you were a nineteen-year-old black growing up in Rhodesia in the seventies. You couldn't vote or go to the same schools, restaurants, hospitals or bars as the whites. Everyone, including the law, regarded you as a second-class citizen. You could either accept your lot or stand up for yourself and join the terrs? What would you have done?" Pg. 219 of Blood Lily by Mason Cranswick
That is the question posed to a young white man long removed from the everyday racial wars in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Scott Carter couldn't understand that question until he was a middle-aged family man, living in London. He grew up privileged on a farm in Rhodesia. Now he is facing financial ruin in the wake of Lehman Brothers declaring bankruptcy. What can he do? Who can he turn to? Salvation does come from an unlikely ally. What got Scott to this point is at the heart of Blood Lily by Mason Cranswick.
Told in flashbacks, the "friendship" between a young Scott and Simba plays out during the rise of Robert Mugabe. What I know of Mugabe is very little. Just what I've seen on TV and read in newspapers. He rose to power under nefarious circumstances, and is still in power in Zimbabwe. Blood Lily, while fiction, paints a very vivid picture of the conflict in Rhodesia in the seventies. Brainwashing, torture and murder, Cranswick doesn't mince words.
Scott Carter has always had the freedom to do as he pleases, go where he pleases, because growing up white people were in a position of power. He has the freedom to explore the land, and with the animals and nature. Scott has time to appreciate the animals, especially his pet kudu, and the landscape.
Simba on the other hand, doesn't have that same freedom. Some schools, restaurants and hospitals are closed to him. He's not even truly free to socialize with Scott, the town pool is closed to black people. Scott says and thinks they are best friends, but even Scott has his limitations. While on a trip with Scott's friends, Bruce and Conway, a Danish woman takes a liking to Simba. Most of them are repulsed by her public displays of affection for Simba, despite being friendly to Simba on other occasions. Simba wants an end to segregation, something Scott cannot truly understand. Rather Scott is bored by Simba's "moods," and wishes he would focus on something else. The impression I got of Scott's character, is as long as Simba isn't in chains on a slave plantation he has nothing to complain about.
The boys grow apart, but come together again to fight against Mugabe and his followers (terrs). Simba and Scott join different branches of the military, but are brought together to fight the terrs. One side wants to take back land from the white ruling class, the other wants to keep that from happening. It seems like a bit of a contradiction on Simba's part to be fighting against Mugabe, but I guess the method in which Mugabe came to power is the problem. Simba acts as a translator and guide for Scott, Bruce and Conway. In the beginning it works, but soon there are chinks in the armor. A tragic loss and an act of betrayal haunt Scott as he eventually leaves Zimbabwe and ventures to college in England.
The storyline is very compelling, but at times I had trouble determining the timeline. One moment Scott is still in the military executing a big mission, and the next chapter he is a student in London prepping for a boxing match. I thought I missed something or did the pages get stuck together. That act of betrayal I mentioned in the last paragraph isn't revealed until later. The bulk of the novel is already a flashback, then to have a flashback within another can be confusing. Despite the time issues, I had to know what happened. I was left hanging, only making me want to finish the story more. I'm wondering what happened? What happened on that last mission? Was anyone hurt? The climax of the Blood Lily is gripping, graphic -- and most of all heartbreaking. What do you do when you think you're about to die? It's a moment when you truly know who your friends are. The last 40 pages were a hard read, but if you're a history buff pick this one up.
Rating: Give it a try
Notes: I received a copy of the book from the author's publicist in exchange for an honest review. for more information on Mason Cranswick visit: http://www.bloodlily.co.za/index.htm