Non-fiction books about decolonization from the resident colonizer perspective?
February 3, 2012 11:17 PM   Subscribe

Non-fiction books about decolonization from the resident colonizer perspective?

I chatted up in a local wine bar last year this Portuguese guy that was a child in Luanda when Angola declared its independence. Popular sympathies tend to lie with the once-colonized people rather than European oppressors, but the anguish that this guy conveyed in his accounts of being disconnected from his homeland of generations was really moving. It brought to mind the incredibly depressing scene in Apocalypse Now Redux with the French plantation owners that saw the writing on the wall.

Don't get me wrong, I strongly support the independence eventually achieved by Angolans and Southeast Asians, but the consequences thereof--that some of the soil's imported native sons are no longer welcome--is heartbreaking when viewed from the evictee's perspective.

MeFi, are there any non-fiction books that adequately depict the sorrowful experience of colonizing people evicted from the only home they've ever known? I bow down to your vast knowledge, and apologies if my language was unwittingly charged.
posted by BestiaDeAmor to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
It isn't a woman evicted from her former home, but Anjie Krog is a white Afrikaans writer who deals with life after apartheid in South Africa. She deals with the feeling of guilt for what has happened and also with redefining her identity with the change in her country. Country of my Skull and Change of Tongue are both great.

I hope others have suggestions that are a more exact fit and I look forward to stealing them for my own list! I bet there are writers from Zimbabwe that would fit the bill...sorry I don't know any.
posted by guster4lovers at 1:02 AM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Peter Godwin grew up in then-Rhodesia, now-Zimbabwe, and he's a talented writer. His first memoir was Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa, and his second was was When a Crocodile Eats the Sun. Both books are excellent.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:05 AM on February 4, 2012

I haven't actually read this, but I was thinking Alexandra Fuller's memoir Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight (also set in Zimbabwe) might fit.
posted by naoko at 1:07 AM on February 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

I was also going to recommend the Fuller memoir, as well as another one I haven't read but is about a white Zimbabwean: The Last Resort: A Memoir of Mischief and Mayhem on a Family Farm in Africa.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:10 AM on February 4, 2012

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight is fabulous. Dumas' The Lover has a very bleak view of being a relatively poor French colonial family in Vietnam in the 1930s.

A lot of Somerset Maugham's stories are set in Asia with the fading colonial powers and can be very sad, but not aware - you have to read them critically to see what he means.

I also really liked Le Carre's Tailor of Panama, but I don't know if that is accurate for the characters from a Panamanian perspective.

Oh! And The King's Last Song by Geoff Ryman has a beautiful third narrated by a French man who grew up in Cambodia. I have bought copies for Cambodian friends, and it is very very close to Cambodian books written by Cambodians.
posted by viggorlijah at 2:46 AM on February 4, 2012

Rian Malan's My Traitor's Heart is loved by some, loathed by others, but is probably a book you should add to your reading list.
posted by verstegan at 2:54 AM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ryszard Kapuscinski's Another Day of Life starts off with a memorable account of the evacuation of Luanda from the Portuguese perspective.
posted by cgs06 at 3:45 AM on February 4, 2012

Possibly the best writer, philosopher and essayist to have written from a "late colonial" perspective is, of course, Algerian-born Albert Camus. Although he died two years before Algeria's independence, he chronicled the slow demise of French rule in his Algerian Chronicles, which however aren't apparently available in English. His opposition to the decolonization of Algeria, born out of filial duty, was often used by left-wing intellectuals against him, despite the fact that he had denounced colonial ethnic oppression in his articles, as well as his novels (it is a strong subtext both in "The Outsider" and "The Plague").
posted by Skeptic at 4:22 AM on February 4, 2012

You might want to read some of Doris Lessing's work. She has a complex perspective on colonialism and her autobiographical work deals with her parents' experience in Zimbabwe as well - Going Home, Under My Skin, and African Laughter in particular. Although I also think that the semi-autobiographical material in the first four volumes of the Children of Violence series is worth reading. Although she's become pretty conservative in her old age, she's never been conservative about African independence.

This will almost certainly sound all scoldy, but I will say that a lot of the people who were "evicted" from their homes in the colonized lands treated the natives like absolute shit while they were there, and part of what they missed after leaving was cheap servants and deference. This is absolutely plain from Lessing's and others' reportorial and memoir work. And as someone who lived in comparative wealth and ease in a developing country (China right at the start of the 90s boom) I can tell you that I know how powerful that allure is.

Related material would be Han Su Yin's autobiography, My House Has Two Doors a truly weird work by a returned Chinese woman who maintained a great deal of freedom even under Maoism and who tried in her writing to square the circle of hatred of racism and colonialism and the unpleasant realities of life under Mao. This book is unusual in that it has some of each perspective - she had a life of great privilege as a western Chinese woman who spent time in China and was connected to the Chiang Kai-shek regime. It's a weird book precisely because it's neither propaganda nor denunciation.
posted by Frowner at 6:23 AM on February 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Well one can look at Russia's presence in the the Caucasus as colonialism. If that is the case, Tolstoy's Hadji Murat is a classic - and short! How much is actually true and not filtered from the assumptions of a "civilized" European, I am not knowledgeable enough to say, but I'd certainly re-read it.
posted by xetere at 8:46 AM on February 4, 2012

Well Hadji Murat is fiction, so I will rescind that recommendation. Sorry! But it still is a good read.
posted by xetere at 8:49 AM on February 4, 2012

Thanks everyone! This is a great reading list!

Fowler: You're absolutely correct, and I don't mean to imply that the colonial presence anywhere was made up of saints. My hope, however, is that these works show other facets of the allure beyond the ugly power relationships.

Xetere: This is a classic that I haven't yet experienced, so I'll make an exception! Thanks!
posted by BestiaDeAmor at 9:59 AM on February 4, 2012

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