Douglas Hurd

Backs to the wall

Susan Gibbs begins her book by describing the death from cancer of her first husband after 13 years of happy marriage.

Susan Gibbs begins her book by describing the death from cancer of her first husband after 13 years of happy marriage. She ends with her farewell to Africa and her journey to Britain in 1983 with her second husband, Tim, and four children. Between these events she led a tense life farming in Zimbabwe, watching her children grow up, relishing the beauty of her surroundings and the company of friends, but always conscious that time was closing in and that one day they would be forced to leave the country they loved.

They grew tired of the tension under which they lived,

tired of the uncertainty, of wearing side arms, of observing curfew, of springing out of bed in the middle of the night when the fence alarm went off, of keeping the wireless volume low so as not to drown out suspicious noises, of closing the curtains before turning on lights, of never sitting with our backs to the window, even during the day.

But the anxiety does not spill over into anger. Gibbs lightly sketches in the political background: the slow pressure of sanctions; the coming of independence, which was almost a relief, though it signalled the beginning of a new, darker chapter; the tense moment when the guerrillas struggled out of the bush, the growing list of murdered neighbours. While Mugabe personally broadcast reassuring messages, no action ever followed.

On a more personal level, Gibbs describes the excitement of a visit from Christopher and Mary Soames, the pleasure of a few hours of relaxation at a garden party, the gloom when her small son is packed off to prep school in Bulawayo.

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