Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Blood Lily by Mason Cranswick
Scott Carter is on the brink of financial ruin. The bank where he works is failing, the risks he took on the currency exchange market aren't working out like he'd hoped, and at the end of the day, he doesn't know how he's going to make his next house payment let alone keep his daughter in school. As he sits on a bench trying to work out how to tell his wife about their financial crisis, he receives word that money has been deposited into his empty account, and he has been rescued by the most unexpected of saviors. With this windfall Scott is plunged deep into his memories of growing up in Rhodesia, a virtual African paradise lush and full of life, but also a country riddled with troubles resulting from the unfair and unequal treatment of black natives by white settlers.
In Rhodesia, Scott grows up alongside Bruce, the son of other white settlers, and Simba, the son of Scott's family's black maid, his best friends. While Scott realizes that Simba doesn't enjoy many of the same privileges that he does, he considers the fact that Simba has been educated and taken care of to be a good enough life for his friend. As the trio grow into young men and join the army special forces, Simba continues to strain against the limitations placed upon him in Rhodesia, and in the end, not truly understanding his best friend or the problems the plague the land he loves will find Scott swept up in the deadly turmoil of a country trying to struggle free of colonialism.
I had some struggles with Blood Lily, several of which might be attributed to my ignorance of African history. Many parts of Blood Lily felt like being dropped into a nation you've never encountered without so much as a map. For readers familiar with Zimbabwe/Rhodesia's history, this would not be a problem. For me, however, I spent a lot of "extra-curricular" time hunting the internet to decode acronymns and unearth definitions of terms as well as seeking out additional background information on the Rhodesian Bush War, all of which might be familiar to a local or someone who has read up on their Rhodesian history, but mostly made me feel disoriented. A glossary of terms, a map, and/or a little more background information worked into the narrative would have gone a long way for the reader less familiar with Cranswick's subject.
I also found myself feeling a little on the outs with Blood Lily because it has a distinct "man's book" feel to it. The main characters go from fighting to drinking to picking up women, holding any feelings they may have about dead or injured comrades and the terrible experiences of war at arm's length. The narrative focused on the action and when it did delve into any feelings, they seemed a bit hollow. At times Blood Lily just seemed so caught up in a male viewpoint that I felt like even though I could understand it, I couldn't really get inside it.
Despite the fact that I obviously don't view myself as Blood Lily's ideal audience, there were parts of it that I definitely appreciated. Cranswick shows great attention to painting a picture of Scott's Rhodesia for us. As he reveals its lush landscape and its diverse wildlife, Cranswick causes us to a fall in love with a land that is as much a character in Blood Lily as any person. When we see it torn apart by the ravages of war, we feel the loss of something great. Additionally, I was impressed with Cranswick's ability to manifest the comradery of Scott and his friends from boyhood to adulthood in his dialogue. The group's cheerful, if merciless, ribbing of each other rings true and makes the characters jump off the page. While it may not always have come easily, Blood Lily does a good job of educating even while it entertains. I came away from the book with a fresh and fairly thorough knowledge of historical events that I'd never heard of before, yet I never felt like I was reading a textbook account.
While it could use a few tweaks to be more accessible to a worldwide audience, Blood Lily is an engrossing tale of what happens when friendships get tangled up in politics and war and also a hopeful look for renewal in a nation that has been scourged by war and corruption in the aftermath of colonialism.
(Thanks to Helen at Smith Publicity for providing me a copy to review.)