SECOND OPINION: A Child Called Happiness by Stephan Collishaw

Review published on June 8, 2018.

I don’t know what’s in the water this year but the number of African-themed books that have come my way so far continues to grow. It must mean something but I don’t know what. Yet!

The latest from Stephan Collishaw is set in Zimbabwe. Unfamiliar with Mr. Collishaw’s work my first impression was that he must be a native Zimbabwean or at the very least have strong family ties or links of some kind he writes so convincingly of the country, its people, its culture and its politics.

The story begins intriguingly enough with our female protagonist, Natalie, finding a newborn baby near her uncle’s farmstead. What follows appears to be two parallel stories, present day Natalie, and another from an, as yet, unknown protagonist detailing his family history from the days of his grandfather, Tafara, over a hundred years ago. Initially I found this extremely irritating!! I got sucked into one narrative and wanted it to continue but I was then forced into the parallel narrative where the same thing happened. But it is as these two stories unfold that you begin to see the links and start to understand what this perceptive writer is attempting here.

Zimbabwe has a colourful history, to put it mildly. I am not a political animal by any means since it seems to me that politics causes more problems than it ever actually solves but what this book attempts is to show two sides. How the sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons. And how loss is experienced on a variety of levels and how a group or an individual deal with those losses.

The history of a country is complex and no credible writer would attempt to offer a definitive archive. What Stephan Collishaw has done here is to take one small pocket and suggest through fiction how it might have been. How white minority rule came to an end and human rights violations threatened the equilibrium of blacks and white alike. But also how throughout any political regime there are people simply trying to live their lives, fulfil their dreams and right their wrongs with no wider agenda. The news reports seldom shows us these people but a work of fiction does and in the hands of an intelligent, succinct writer such as this the humanity shines thorough all of the political machinations leaving us with people, trying to do what they believe in, trying to do what they believe is right.

I found the writing pleasing, the work of a true storyteller. The two stories unfold and the realisation of the ultimate link between the two was a moment to be relished. And the two stories became one almost imperceptibly. The characters are well drawn, nobody, bar one, really comes cross as ’the bad guy’ and even the lesser characters are endowed with their own voices rather just being there as merely functional for the story.

Returning to my earlier impression that this writer was somehow linked to Zimbabwe my perfunctory googling showed that nothing could be further from the reality!! If Wikipedia is accurate he is from Nottingham. Which makes this novel even more impressive. Thank you Legend Press for the opportunity to experience this wonderful writer.

Gill Chedgey 4/4

A Child Called Happiness by Stephan Collishaw
Legend Press 9781787198814 pbk May 2018

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Author meets Reviewer: Stephan Collishaw meets Gill Chedgey

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