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Child of Dandelions.



Second Story Press


There are facts of history known by dates, often months, particular years. Then there are moments which spell out the meaning of those dates in all of their sounds, smells and sensations for the children who carry their memory, and who, despite insurmountable suffering, thrive and remember the butterflies, not the bloodshed.

Such is the joyous storytelling that Shenaaz Nanji brings to the page in Child of Dandelions, the tale of two teenaged girls who grow up side by side--one African, one Indian--in Uganda during the early 1970s. It is August 6, 1972, and Idi Amin has announced that all Indians have 90 days to leave Uganda. Nanji brings the sounds of Kampala--in Swahili, English, Arabic, Gujarati and Hindi--to the page, switching tongues like all children who grow up with more than one language, within a culture intertwined by colonial circumstance.

She skilfully utilizes the sounds of 1970s Uganda on the page--its textures, flavours and the colours of the languages that inform the world in which the girls live. Child of Dandelions is written in blood and smiles as it tells us about the girls as they run in and out of streets, fields and their homes, and engage with family members, listen to the radio, dance, hide in places known and unknown and reveal the flesh that informs fiction in its most pronounced form.

Nanji tells this story as though we are the young children sitting in the circle, in true African Indian form. We are taken on a journey with words soft and silent, then loud and short. The writing style is vivid, crisp, visual, colourful and playful just when it needs it to be. She sounds out events like the tear of a sari, the smell of tea, onions and turmeric sizzling in the frying pan as corn is being shredded and cooked.

The pots stir--Idi Amin's and her mother's--at the same time as the bicycle chains turn, the girls braid one another's hair--knotting the known and the unknown--and, in the process, learn of the pains of belonging and dispossession. They each love the other until distance--the defence mechanism invented for colonial encounters--is created so that the girl who stays can tell herself that her Indian friend is better off leaving, that she does not belong.

Child of Dandelions is a lovely story written with an honesty one rarely sees, with sounds one hardly hears and with scents one seldom inhales--it smells like a thousand roses, all at once, and roars like a lion, reminding us that writing is meant to stretch our jaws wide enough and long enough that we can inhale the scent of its blood--the blood of the written word.

Winner of The Journey Prize: Best Short Fiction in Canada, 1992, Rozena Maart, a South African Canadian writer, lives in Guelph, Ontario.

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Author:Maart, Rozena
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2009
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