It is 20th April 1889. You have been transported in time and are alone in a room at Gasthof zum Pommer, an inn in Ranshofen, rural Austria except for a newly born baby. You have a minute to kill the baby; do you commit the act knowing that the cherub in front of you is Adolf Hitler?
Such a dilemma (excluding the time travel) is explored in this amazing coming of age novel from first time writer Jason Wallace regarding Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe. But there is far more to this book that the denouement which I won’t spoil for the potential reader.
Wallace emigrated to Zim in 1980 just after the Thatcher Government negotiated the transfer to black majority rule from Ian Smith’s creaking regime that had only held onto power through sanctions busting UK based companies. They had set out to defy Labour PM Harold Wilson and his attempts to broker reform and a dignified end to white only rule in the wake of UDI declared in 1966.
Arriving at boarding school Wallace has not only has to deal with the vagaries of the British Public School system displaced to the middle of Africa, but also the issue of how the new black majority rulers fit into such an establishment as black teachers and pupils begin to arrive at the exclusive establishment.
We are party to the bullying, snobbery and underlying violence of such a school plus we witness the the dislocation and sense of resentment that the former colonial masters are feeling as they see their previous way of life slipping away.
I was surprised to see this book win the prize in the Children’s Costa Book race, as the themes on offer are pretty strong. But on the other hand it heartens me that teenagers are being exposed to such existential issues and especially that they are encouraged to read about this important part of history which goes so far to explain why the richest continent on earth has the worst examples of mass poverty anywhere on the globe.