Cry of the Go-Away Bird by Andrea Eames
There is something about Africa. It gets into your very skin and can never be forgotten. The magic of the chameleons, the common everyday danger of scorpions and snakes, the witch doctors, the gin & tonics, the household servants with their own world in the, out-of bounds to the white family, compound at the back of the garden. As Andrea Eames writes, ““It was like watching a movie in full colour and everywhere else feels like black and white. So it’s hard not to remember. I might forget things that happened last year but I still really vividly remember exactly what it was like in our back garden in Zimbabwe.”
Her novel The Cry of the Go-Away Bird is the story of a white family who has lived for generations in what was once Rhodesia and is now Zimbabwe. Seen through the eyes of the child, Elise, life on the farm is in some ways idyllic, but it will not last - the country is changing. As Elise matures, as hard as it is for her to understand, she sees that in the eyes of her black friends and neighbours, she has become simply one more white oppressor.
Other novels on this theme, A Blade of Grass by Lewis DeSoto and Unfeeling by Ian Holding and memoirs, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller and When a Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin, may have an intensity that this novel lacks, but the seemingly simple story told by Andrea Eames in The Cry of the Go-Away Bird has the same power to hold the reader, to bring alive the beauty and danger of Africa, and the sadness of people dedicated to the land who are forced to leave their birth place, the country they love.
In an interview, Andrea Eames says. “It’s still home. It’s the only place I feel I know by heart. And the only place where the landscape feels like it’s part of me. It’s the backdrop for all my experiences and the dreams I still have. It’s still the place that feels like my natural setting even though in some ways I am an interloper.”
Born in Zimbabwe in1985, Andrea Eames left with her parents in 2002 at the age of 17 to begin a new life in New Zealand. Life in New Zealand was dramatically different than life in Zimbabwe. There was no fear of invasion and she writes. “It was such a strange feeling being in the majority, and not standing out. In some ways, it was a huge relief to be invisible and anonymous and not have my skin proclaim all these things true or false about me. But in other ways it was quite disconcerting. It felt like we just vanished and were swallowed up into this big crowd.”
The Cry of the Go-Away Bird by Andrea Eames ends with the words, “although I was white and bred for cold, I was as African as the chittering mongoose that lives in a world of snakes….I did not think I could live anywhere else.”