Sunday, October 11, 2009

Douglas Rogers' "The Last Resort"

Douglas Rogers is a Zimbabwe-born journalist and travel writer. He has written for the Los Angeles Times, Travel & Leisure, the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph. He lives in Brooklyn.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to The Last Resort: A Memoir of Zimbabwe, his first book, and reported the following:
Page 99, from the chapter, "The Refugees:"

And yet by 2004 she was still there, untouched.

She reckoned it was because of her guns. Which was when, she said, she made her fatal mistake.

‘You know what I did? I decided to give my farm to the government.

I was so tired by then. I had been working hard all my life. At that time they were killing white farmers. My son Bredell told me: “Ma, don’t keep the farm for me. Sell it, enjoy your later years.” He was never a farmer. He’s mechanical. He lives in Michigan, there in America, working with engines. These young people don’t want to farm any more like the old days.

And so I decided: before they kill me, let me offer it to them because I am old.’

She went to the Ministry of Lands in Harare and cut a deal. In exchange for her giving her farm to them they would allow her to harvest her final crop and pack her belongings unmolested. They agreed to protect her. She would leave by early in the new year.

Her voice grew softer, graver as she spoke now, her eyes watery blue pools.

‘And of course they broke their word,’ she whispered. ‘They broke their word …’

Unita was attacked in her home just before midnight a week before Christmas. A truckload of militia arrived, locked her and Frans in a bedroom and began to ransack the house. They were held captive for a day and a half. A black friend of Unita’s came to plead with the gang leader, a ZANU-PF official from the local rural council. The leader gave Unita three more days to pack everything.

That Monday, 150 settlers arrived at her home and began offloading chickens and goats on her lawn, while she frantically tried to gather forty years of her life. When the sun fell and she was still not packed the leader came to her. ‘He had a stick. He stood there like Hitler, tapping that stick on my floor: “Out! Out! Out! I want you out before dark!”

‘I fell down at his feet. I said, “Please, I can’t. I am tired. Please, just let me sleep, let me sleep on the carpet here tonight, I am so tired.” And he said: “You are out. Tonight!”’

Tears were rolling down her face as she spoke. She was whispering…

On Page 99 I am in the middle of a conversation with an elderly white Zimbabwean farmer named Unita Herrer, who lost her cattle farm during the land invasions in Zimbabwe in 2005/6 and, like many other white farmers in eastern Zimbabwe, found sanctuary on my parents’ land.

In terms of the Page 99 Test, I would say it scores a convincing 80%.

The book tells the story of how my parents have somehow managed to hold onto their game farm and backpacker lodge during the past ten years of violent land invasions in Zimbabwe by, in turns, operating it as a bordello, a marijuana plantation, a sanctuary for political activists on the run from death squads, and a safe haven for evicted white farmers. Questions of family, land, race, security and survival are central to the story, and this page has all that.

It’s also very much a character-based story, full of heroic, brave, strange, funny, and eccentric people. Unita is all these and more, without doubt one of the most original characters I have ever met.

Where the page doesn’t quite reflect the tone of the book is that this a terribly sad scene, and although the book has sadness and tragedy, it’s actually a dark comedy. This page has darkness, but you probably won't laugh.
Learn more about the book and author at Douglas Rogers' website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue