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Rainbow’s End review

October 15, 2008

Publisher’s description:

This is a story about a paradise lost. . . . About an African dream that began with a murder . . .

In 1978, in the final, bloodiest phase of the Rhodesian civil war, eleven-year-old Lauren St John moves with her family to Rainbow’s End, a wild, beautiful farm and game reserve set on the banks of a slowflowing river. The house has been the scene of a horrific attack by guerrillas, and when Lauren’s family settles there, a chain of events is set in motion that will change her life irrevocably.

Rainbow’s End captures the overwhelming beauty and extraordinary danger of life in the African bush. Lauren’s childhood reads like a girl’s own adventure story. At the height of the war, Lauren rides through the wilderness on her horse, Morning Star, encountering lions, crocodiles, snakes, vicious ostriches, and mad cows. Many of the animals are pets, including Miss Piggy and Bacon and an elegant giraffe named Jenny. The constant threat of ruthless guerrillas prowling the land underscores everything, making each day more dangerous, vivid, and prized than the last.

After Independence, Lauren comes to the bitter realization that she’d been on the wrong side of the civil war. While she and her family believed that they were fighting for democracy over Communism, others saw the war as black against white. And when Robert Mugabe comes into power, he oversees the torture and persecution of thousands of members of an opposing tribe and goes on to become one of Africa’s legendary dictators. The ending of this beautiful memoir is a fist to the stomach as Lauren realizes that she can be British or American, but she cannot be African. She can love it — be willing to die for it — butshe cannot claim Africa because she is white.

Review and Grade: B+

I’m in the middle of proctoring an exam and I just finished Rainbow’s End. As I was reading it, I couldn’t figure out how I felt about it and now that I’m done, I’m more ambivalent than ever.

There is something to be said for Lauren St. John’s vivid descriptions about a world that is entirely foreign to me. I was able to picture and understand everything as though she was speaking in a very human language that appeals to us all. She was also able to portray the complexity and evolution of the many relationships more clearly than I would have thought possible. I realized when I finished that book that I could think back over earlier experiences as if they were memories with a new perspecitve as the reader grew up along with her.

I think my only problem is that the war didn’t have the drama that I expected. I never fully felt the constant fear, which I suppose she meant to do because she mentioned how accostomed to the terror they had become. I understand that the book was more about the relationships between St. John and her family, her country and her understanding of her sef. In that regard, it was very good. I think I just got bogged down in the middle because I couldn’t see where it was going. She would mention the height of the war and I was so nonplussed by it that I had trouble committing to finishing the book.

Basically, I was hooked initialy by the tragedy described that occured at Rainbow’s End. I was interested in the beginning by the fascinating descriptions of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). I hated the middle because I couldn’t see a point or direction, thus any purpose to continue reading. However, I loved the final portrayal of her dissillusionment and rapid maturation as a result that is so real and universal and described by St. John in a moving way that few authors have accomplished.

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