Volume 10 Number 4.
Author Leon Whiteson and his protagonist, Paul Kahn, bear a striking resemblance to each other. Both are Bulawayo-born white Rhodesians of Russian-Jewish extraction; both are successful architects who have lived abroad for many years. On returning to their birthplace in 1973, both seem to feel greater emotional sympathy for the African nationalists' struggle to recreate their own independent Zimbabwe than for their friends' and families' desire to maintain their privileged status quo under Ian Smith's illegal regime. Breathing his own life, as it were, into his fictional hero, Whiteson has created a real and likeable character. He has also painted a delightfully authentic portrait of Bulawayo in the early 1970s.
The novel's main action, and often exciting action it is, arises from Kahn's decision, shortly after his arrival in Bulawayo, to offer his services as a saboteur to the ZAPU guerilla forces led by Josiah Nkunzi (i.e. Joshua Nkomo in thin and unnecessary disguise). Kahn is assigned to blow up a major telecommunications centre; this he manages to carry off successfully. Later he assists with a further act of sabotage in which two white political leaders lose their lives. His rather careless planning leads to his discovery; he flees to Botswana with friend and foe in pursuit.
It is never satisfactorily made clear, however, exactly why Kahn should have chosen to become a "terr" or terrorist, as the whites refer to the guerilla fighters. His vaguely expressed nationalistic sympathies and his explicit desire to engage in "one simple, unambiguous act," are inadequate to explain his courageous, though foolhardy, actions. Greater political consciousness, commitment, and carefulness would have seemed mandatory. If he should consider any further acts of sabotage, we would advise him not to discuss his plans in public, especially not in an African caf6. There, as a white man, he would too obviously be a focus of attention.
Hardly a "Canadian" novel, though Whiteson now lives in Toronto where he writes a weekly column for the Star, White Snake still should be of interest to anyone wishing to know more about human feelings and failings in Rhodesia as it struggled to become Zimbabwe.
Madeline Grant, Toronto, ON.
1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995
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