|Review by: Moira Richards||
By Unity Dow
In Far and Beyon', Unity Dow addresses a number of social issues that are very pertinent to Botswana today. As a human rights activist and high court judge in that country, Dow is particularly well qualified to explore them in a book for Aunt Lute books, the publisher that seeks "work that explores the specificities of the very different histories from which we come, and that examines the intersections between the borders we all inhabit."
To many cultures, feminism has brought a re-evaluation of the role and status of their women and girls, and the conditions under which custom prescribes that they must live (and suffer). Dow's novel provides insight into the traditional way of the Botswana people, but she goes Far and Beyon' a cursory feminist critique of aspects of Botswanan social practices. She broaches also the seamier, oft ignored manifestations of patriarchal practice in her own (and, I expect many another's) country.
For instance, Far and Beyon' examines the problems with which pregnant schoolgirls must deal. Usually forbidden to continue with their schooling, they lose all chance of improving their lot through education. Schoolgirls are often preyed upon and made pregnant by the very schoolmasters who should be encouraging them to study, and the sexual molestation of schoolgirls by various powerful men in the community (policemen, business tycoons, government officials) is tolerated to such an extent that the girls find themselves without viable defence or recourse against their abusers.
And of course, no book from Africa can ignore the continent's HIV/AIDS epidemic. Far and Beyon' explores aspects of cultural practice that facilitate the spread of the disease between men and women, even boys and girls, and considers especially the changes that may have to be made to them. Not an issue that yields straightforward solutions for a people that is struggling to retain its identity and African values in an increasingly westernised world.
Dow's story deals with HIV/AIDS infection in the context of the perennial challenge to young people the world over -- how much of new culture and values, to which their education in a changing world exposes them, should they embrace? How can they integrate the new into the rich tradition that they have inherited through their ancestry? Do the old ways have to be rejected in order to make way for the new ideas, or are there ways that both old and new can be integrated into, and enrich their lives as well as the lives of their parents and grandparents?
Unity Dow has couched all these weighty issues into a very readable and life-affirming novel, accessible to the young adult reader and unforgettable to older readers who might have thought they knew most of what goes on in our world.
So meet Mara who has just buried her two oldest sons whilst they were still only in their early twenties. The white doctors claim that her boys have died from AIDS related diseases, but Mara knows better -- a diviner read in the bones that her best friend Lesedi has bewitched her and her family and now she must find a way to protect them before her granddaughter and her two remaining children die as well. But that will not prove to be so easy because Mosa and Stan are teenagers, growing up to question traditional ways of life in Botswana, and to embrace all the new-fangled western ideas that they learn at school.