Aussie Book Review: My Brother-But-One by TM Clark
My Rating: 4 / 5
Format: ARC courtesy of Harlequin Books
Publication Date: December 2013
Category: Modern and Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Harlequin Books Australia
Imprint: Harlequin Mira
From the Cover
“Set against a magnificent backdrop of Africa across the decades, this epic saga explores the traditions and violence between the white and black families of rural africa.
Scott Decker and Zol Ndhlovu are partners in a private game reserve in Zimbabwe. They have a friendship borne from Africa — a brotherhood that endures the generation gap and crosses the colour barrier.
Australian Ashley Twine is a thirty-something dynamic achiever who portrays herself as a confident businesswoman. When a gender mix-up secures her a position on a volunteer program in the Hwange National Park, Ashley gets a chance to take stock of her life and reassess her situation. But chauvinistic, yet handsome Scott — who runs the operation — is adamant she isn’t cut out for the job, fearing her safety.
After Ashley witnesses firsthand the violence and devastation left behind by poachers, Scott finds himself torn between wanting to protect Ashley or forcing her to leave Africa for her own safety…and his sanity. But after working so closely together, Ashley and Scott can no longer deny their feelings…or be apart.
However, nothing can prepare Ashley for being ambushed and held captive by the psychopathic Rodney — an old enemy of Zol’s from a war fought years before. And now that their world has been threatened, circumstances begin to take hold of all their lives which will shape and change them forever…”
Summary and Thoughts
From debut author Tina M Clark comes this sweeping narrative about love, family, loss, courage and survival entwined within the harsh reality that many Zimbabweans have known.
In the opening pages of My Brother-but-One, Tina takes us back to 1941 - the birth of Moswena’s “white son” (or Albino), Isipho Rodney Nube, and their subsequent banishment from the tribe’s kraal.
Forward to 1966 and Zol Ndhlovu, a 10 year old black boy has just been rescued by the Swahili-speaking white farmer, Charlie.
Fast-forward to 1995 and we are introduced to Scott and Ashley.
Burnt out and restless after a relationship failure, Australian born and bred, Ashley Twine, has volunteered to work on Scott Decker’s pump restoration program, for four weeks. Unfortunately, her arrival is met with a somewhat grave unacceptance when she gets off the plane and Scott realises that his new volunteer is female!
Delmonica, which borders Hwange National Reserve, is and always has been the first love of Scott’s life. With Zimbabwe currently in an economic downturn due to its political state, trouble brewing because of the redistribution of land under the Land Requisition Act and the added pressure of running an anti-poaching unit within the reserve, Scott has got his work cut out for him and doesn’t need the additional burden of keeping an unknowing foreign white female safe from all the dangers that surround them.
He and Ashley butt heads over whether she will remain and, while her obstinate nature mistakes his concern for male chauvinism, he soon resigns himself to the fact that there’s more to this girl than meets the eye and her determination to stay is made clear.
As Scott and Ashley begin to work side-by-side, their friendship slowly strengthens and blossoms into something far more than either of them could ever have anticipated. But, this is not where the story ends because as the dangers lurking in the African bush come home to roost, worlds will collide and the true meaning of “my brother-but-one” will finally emerge.
This is the first time I have read a novel with the breathtaking wilderness and grassy plains of Zimbabwe serving as a backdrop. One often hears about the destruction of Zimbabwe and its farmers, but this is possibly the only work of fiction I have read which, through the eyes of Tina’s characters, brings into close perspective the brutality that its inhabitants (both human and wildlife) have had to endure.
Pre-2000, Zimbabwe was known as the breadbasket of Africa with maize farming yielding more than 1.5 million tons annually, wheat production standing at about 309,000 tons and tobacco production, at 265,000 tons, all of which accounted for almost a third of its total foreign currency earnings and tourism one of the fastest growing economic sectors.
When the Land Requisition Act was implemented, nobody anticipated the social, political and economic crises that were about to come crashing down and the civil unrest that ensued with a sharp increase in the illegal harvesting of wildlife in Hwange National Park, one of Africa’s finest havens. The lucrative black-market demand for ivory saw many African Savanna Elephants being brought to their knees in the most horrific manner possible with the full extent of the turmoil making life incredibly difficult for most Zimbabweans, and a large proportion fleeing with just the clothes on their backs.
Although somewhat improved and the protection of the majestic African Elephant having become a high profile conservation cause with an anti-poaching task force now deployed on the ground, neither the political nor conservation issues have totally disappeared and, against all odds, the people that remain continue to try and make a difference.
There were, of course, moments in the novel that I found tough to read because of the violent and sometimes persecutory nature of the scenes but, in saying that, while one particular scene had me shedding crocodile tears and another wanting to hit out at the perpetrator, it is quite apparent that Tina has not used these gratuitously, thereby giving us a story about real people, real animals and real lives.
In her own words from an interview held with author Maggie Christensen in December 2013, “I still haven’t found peace within myself for the destruction of so many lives devastated by the land redistribution program in Zimbabwe. But I have found peace in writing about characters whose futures I can make better in my own fictional place and time”.
As I journeyed on with her well-paced narrative, a fight between good and evil began to emerge with most of her characters being put through the wringer in their battle to keep their home and stay alive. On the subject of characters, whilst there are a number to whom we are introduced, the reader can in no way confuse one with another, as they are all brought to life through their own distinct voices thus making them fascinatingly human and typically “African”. This is made all the more familiar by a great mix of both South African/Zimbabwean slang and local dialect and, for our Aussie counterparts, the brilliant glossary at the end goes a long way in assisting those who are in unfamiliar territory.
At the end of the day, Tina has captured the essence of life in the midst of Africa’s ancient heartbeat, culminating in a thoroughly absorbing novel with her vivid descriptions shaping the land and the people as she gets the political and personal dynamics just right.
This is a moving debut and an impassioned testimony to a country whose inhabitants are just as colourful as its magnificent landscapes.
I don't hesitate to recommend this as a great read and I wish to thank Harlequin Mira for providing me with a hard copy of this memorable novel as I wait in anticipation for her next novel, Shooting Butterflies, due to be released in December 2014.
A Little About the Author
Tina was born in Zimbabwe, and has lived in South Africa and England, but she now calls Australia home.
Married with two sons, when she's not running around after the men in her life, she gets to enjoy her hobbies which include boating, reading, sewing, travelling, gardening and lunching with her author friends (not necessarily in that order).
She is passionate about Africa, different cultures and wildlife and most of her books are set somewhere on that ancient continent, but there are exceptions.
Tina has also published children's books under the name of Tina Marie Clark and is the coordinator for the CYA Conference which is held in Brisbane annually.