A young teenager and his family move to an illegal diamond mining area in Zimbabwe where the boy finds work. He struggles with ruthless supervisors; makes a close friend who dies; he loses his family and wounds his leg in a land mine accident. Finally, he flees to South Africa.
Author Williams, a white South African writer, builds this story from characters introduced in his previous book, Now is the Time for Running (2009.) Diamond Boy repeats themes from that book: horror and grief in a corrupt nation, Zimbabwe, and potential for a new, good life in South Africa. This focus becomes stale and grossly overstated throughout the text. Williams writes endless and gratuitous descriptions of an evil mine manager, an evil step mother, of trials and tribulations of traveling as outcasts through dangerous terrain where evil people or wild, predatory animals lurk. It is as if the author wants to present a totally negative picture of current life in Zimbabwe. Surely, the whole country cannot be painted with such a brush.
Young people may be captivated by the personality of the hero, Patson, who endures these unbelievable moments in his life. He holds to positive values: love of family, loyalty to friends, willingness to do hard work, stoicism in the face of serious physical injury and perseverance in his goal to re-connect with his sister who has fled to South Africa. He is an admirable young man despite the cruel and negative environment in which he lives. Patson stands in stark contrast to most of the other figures in the story, but not all. The father is also a strong, admirable character, as is Boubacar.
Boubacar, Patson’s protector, is presented in very positive terms. It is interesting that his nationality is frequently underscored as Congolese, not Zimbabwean, subtly supporting the negative portrayal of Zimbabweans. It is odd, though, that author Williams would say that Boubacar is from the Congo where this would be a very uncommon name. Why is the Congo given as his place of birth? In the same vein, why does Williams write that Patson’s father, Joseph, is from the Lozi people? The Lozi live, primarily, in Zambia, not Zimbabwe. Perhaps Boubacar and Joseph are depicted as non-Zimbabwean because they are both sympathetic, strong characters. On the other hand, the evil military leader who takes over the mine is clearly Zimbabwean; his name is Commander Jesus!
At times, the chronology of the story becomes confusing. Chapter 22, for example, takes place at the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa, just as the characters are leaving Zimbabwe. However, chapter 23 takes place in a hospital in Mutare, in central, eastern Zimbabwe. Why does Williams make this interruption in the chronological sequence of events? It does not seem to be relevant to the overall narrative.
This book is too long. It could be cut by 100 pages and not lose heft or movement. Now is the Time for Running is 228 pages long; this book is 374 pages; much of it is repetitious. The story contains the"f" word and scenes of indecent dancing, which may offend some readers.
The story is intriguing and young adults may identify with the strong central character. Overall, however, the book is not highly recommended because of its serious shortcomings.
Reviewed by Marylee S. Crofts, Ph.D.
Published in Africa Access Review (February 2, 2015)
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