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When Rain Clouds Gather, Revised Edition…

When Rain Clouds Gather, Revised Edition (AWS African Writers Series) (original 1968; edition 2008)

by Bessie Head (Author)

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307465,762 (3.83)15
The poverty-striken village of Golema Mmidi, in the heart of rural Botswana, is a haven to the exiles gathered there. When a political refugee from South Africa joins forces with an English agricultural expert, the time-honoured subsistence farming is challenged.
Title:When Rain Clouds Gather, Revised Edition (AWS African Writers Series)
Authors:Bessie Head (Author)
Info:Longman (2008), Edition: Revised, 185 pages
Collections:Your library

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When Rain Clouds Gather by Bessie Head (1968)


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Showing 4 of 4
This book is too short. At 185 pages it’s the normal length for an African novel published in Europe in the 1960s but Head’s got more to say that she has space to say it. She constantly interrupts the narrative with exposition of local politics and the characters. I question the wisdom of this artistic choice. Allegory might have been the way to go.

That said, it’s not exactly a bad book, more a question of personal taste. I enjoyed those parts where she lets the story run and it hasn’t put me off reading A Question of Power, about which I have heard nothing but praise. ( )
  Lukerik | Jun 15, 2019 |
Bessie Head manages to saturate “When Rain Clouds Gather” with a thoroughly winning concoction of generous bitterness. Though numerous antagonists, injustices and misfortunes beset the sympathetic characters of her book, they don’t sour the atmosphere or poison the narrative—this is refreshingly different from some of the continent’s unrepentantly sourpuss authors like Achebe and Coetzee.

The balance of discontent and gratitude that carries the novel also exists within some of the more nuanced characters, such as Makhaya and Paulina. Though a few stock characters of the African village drama (like gossipy clutches of socially hostile women or the fawning chief’s toady) still wander through “When Rain Clouds Gather,” Head has made an effort to fill her fictional village with misfits, thinkers and eccentrics: the sort of characters that add depth to their surroundings.

Considering that the book’s subject matter (the combination of human energy and ideas that are necessary to transform a traditional village’s attitude towards agriculture and subsistence farming) might seem a bit dry (complete with droughts), Head’s sense of humor (also dry) is quite an asset:

“Never mind if the rain was no longer what it used to be in the good old days when the rivers ran the whole year round and dams were always full. You just could not see beyond tradition and its safety to the amazing truth you were starving—and that tough little plants existed that were easy to grow and well able to stand up to rigorous conditions and could provide you with food.”

“Inside the fat, overstuffed body was a spirit that fiercely resisted intense, demanding, vicious people.”
Or, “It was as though a whole society had connived at producing a race of degenerate men by stressing their superiority in the law and overlooking how it affected them as individuals.”

I’ll be reading more of Bessie Head because of her ability to produce such precise and comical characterizations and because of her ability to keep social justice at the front of her mind without contracting a discouragement-induced attitude problem. ( )
  fieldnotes | Jul 9, 2011 |
This is a story of hope and progress. It takes place in Botswana in the late 1960’s. As in much of southern Africa, people live mainly in small villages, each generally occupied by members of a single tribe, of which there are many. The people are very traditional, preferring to do things the way they have always been done, as that gives a feeling of security in an insecure world, even when those things are linked with the never-ending cycle of drought and famine.

But the village of Golema Mmidi is different. It has been settled by outcasts and runaways, and by people sent there by the tribal or colonial administrators to get them out of the way, because they are “troublemakers” or threaten the status quo in some way. This means no one tribe is dominant, and people are constantly exposed to different ideas, so more open to them. There is even a white man living there, Gilbert, who has come idealistically to Africa to help develop agriculture and is running an experimental farm.

To this village comes Makhaya, an illegal immigrant from South Africa (at this time the border was closed between them). He has a political background, and initially believes the only way forward for southern Africa is through political upheaval and violence (this was the period when many African countries were fighting for and achieving independence). He doesn’t entirely give up this belief, but he does find other options – the slower way of individual and local change and progress. He starts working with Gilbert and finds friendship and love.

The story is positive, but also realistic. It’s clear the way will not be easy – minor tribal chiefs try to retain their grasp on power, colonial powers, and white people generally (even Gilbert) sometimes act in arbitrary ways, people’s back stories indicate the bad things that can happen, people die, and, at the end, a huge drought is underway, and famine is inevitable. But it’s ultimately an extremely hopeful picture of a time and place where it’s just possible some really good things might happen, and where the people will really deserve it if they do.

The story is great, and there are many well described characters. I would have given this book 5 stars, but the writing is occasionally just too clunky, particularly when Head goes off on religious/philosophical tangents. ( )
3 vote JanetinLondon | Oct 17, 2010 |
For a small book, this has a lot to say about black vs white, rich vs poor, refugee vs native, man vs woman. I like the book a lot - it is understated, quiet, and rich in prose. The story is simple: a refugee from South Africa illegally immigrates to Botswana and meets an old man who hopes he will marry his daughter. In the village, the immigrant Makhaya quickly becomes the right hand man of an Englishman, Gilbert, who is trying to teach the villagers updated farming methods. In the background you have 2 rival chiefs trying to outdo each other and villagers struggling, successfully and unsuccessfully, to make something of their village and themselves.

A quote I really liked: "If there was anything he (Makhaya) liked on earth, it was human generosity. It made life seem whole and sane to him. It kept the world from shattering into tiny fragments. Only a few, quietly spoken words: 'I'll stick my neck out for you.' " ( )
15 vote alcottacre | Jun 12, 2010 |
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For Pat and Wendy Cullinan, Pat and Liz Van Rensburg, 'HOORAY!' and U-Shaka, and for Naomi Mitchison, who lives in Botswana
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The little Barolong village swept right up to the border fence.
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The poverty-striken village of Golema Mmidi, in the heart of rural Botswana, is a haven to the exiles gathered there. When a political refugee from South Africa joins forces with an English agricultural expert, the time-honoured subsistence farming is challenged.

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