Having produced extraordinary works by the likes of Peter Godwin (Mukiwa), Alexandra Fuller (Scribbling the Cat) and Nobel laureate Doris Lessing, Zimbabwe's troubles seem to prove that you need to suffer for your art. But those authors are white, and Zimbabwe is a country of millions of blacks, whose troubles have undoubtedly been worse. So do we really need another memoir by a white Zimbabwean?
The surprising answer is yes, if it's as good as Douglas Rogers' The Last Resort. Like Godwin and Fuller, Rogers is a Zimbabwean journalist who moved to the U.S. only to discover that he'd left his biggest story at home. His tale recounts how, as Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe collapses around them, the author's parents turn their backpackers' lodge first into a bordello, then a diamond smugglers' dive, then a refuge for opposition activists as all the while they farm marijuana.
A ripping yarn, for sure. But it is in the nuance Rogers brings to Zimbabwe that he truly excels. His characters, and his country, are full of contradictions. His parents' defiance of Mugabe's regime is partly based on ignorance. Their enemies can be cruel, greedy and bloodthirsty, but also kind and righteous. As the country implodes, Rogers' tough, cynical mother breaks down in the middle of a bungled backstreet deal for a fake passport. Her idea of Zimbabwe, she realizes, is a long way from the daily reality faced by millions of her countrymen, or even, now, herself. "She no longer understood her town ..." writes Rogers, "the town where she had been born 66 years before."
It's scenes like these that move The Last Resort beyond memoir to become a chronicle of a nation. There is black and white, yes, but much more in the shades and tones of their mix and it is in exploring them that Rogers, too, finds his art.