The Last Resort by Douglas Rogers

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The Last Resort by Douglas Rogers

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Category: Biography
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Robert James
Reviewed by Robert James
Summary: Stunning memoir of Zimbabwe under Mugabe as told by the son of two of the last white farmers in the country.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: March 2010
Publisher: Short Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-1906021917

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Author Douglas Rogers is a Zimbabwean who moved away from the country many years ago, but has never been able to persuade his parents – two white farmers, Lyn and Roz – to follow him out of their homeland, despite the resettlement policies of Robert Mugabe, the hyper-inflation, and the corruption in the country. Instead, the pair just wanted to stay on the farm welcoming people to Drifters, their backpackers' lodge.

A book about white farmers in Mugabe's country is hard to sell as a particularly fun read, but the incredible thing about the story of the Rogers family is the humour Douglas finds in it. It's clear that this is a deeply troubled country and he's petrified for his parents much of the time – but his writing is deliberately understated, probably because many of the things happening are so terrible that they don't need any hyperbole. Instead, he seeks out the comedy in the situation, which his parents and their friends have to find to keep themselves sane in increasingly mad times. There are some phenomenal stories here, and as Drifters turns from a friendly backpackers' lodge into a brothel where various smuggled and illegal goods are sold, the book starts to take on the air of an Ealing film in some places.

That's not to say that it's a particularly easy read – while there are many funny moments, and the overall tone is one of hope for most of the book, the shadow of Mugabe and the possibility of the Rogers family losing Drifters is never far away. To try and help, Douglas goes to see various politicians, influential friends such as black market currency dealer 'Miss Moneypenny', and even people who can get hold of a witch doctor. All of these people are vividly rendered, and it's of particular credit that even those in Mugabe's government are looked on fairly by the author, even as he worries whether he and his family can trust anyone.

The main characters, though, are Douglas's parents, particularly his father Lyn. Through the book, he takes on the forces of the government, desperately trying to keep his farm, wielding a shotgun, continually coming up with ideas for Drifters, and fervently supporting Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC party, Douglas goes from despair at the family's situation and frustration at his parents' refusal to move away, to admiration for their resilience and the risks which they will take to stay in their country.

Overall this is one of the most exciting true-life thrillers I've read in many months, and scores really highly for the excellent portrayal of such a diverse cast of characters, from government officials to the workers at Drifters to the other white farmers. Highly recommended to all, especially those with an interest in Africa.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further Reading: For another extremely strongly-written account of Zimbabwe, I'd highly recommend Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa by Peter Godwin.

Booklists.jpg The Last Resort by Douglas Rogers is in the Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2010.

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