Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Zambia: The Wild Wind, by Sheena Kalayil

The author draws on her own family history for this story, although she has injected somewhat more drama and conflict into the fictionalised version. Sissy Olikara's parents are teachers seconded from the Indian state of Kerala to work in Zambia. They are living on a school campus outside Lusaka with other expatriate families, Malayalam and Americans. In is 1978, and trouble is brewing. An Air Rhodesia passenger plane is shot down by revolutionaries, bringing uncertainty to the family. In the meantime, Sissy's father has returned suddenly to India, launching a chain of events that has far-reaching consequences.

The book travels backwards and forward in time between Sissy as a child and the adult Sissy, now living in America. She revisits her past, and tries to find out what happened to her father.

I found the story very absorbing and well told. Besides learning more about Zambia, I also found it interesting to learn more about Malayalam society in Kerala, a southern state of India. The author is very good at creating suspense by revealing hints of what happened early on, during the passages narrated by Sissy as an adult, but withholding the detail until much later in the book. This drew me on chapter by chapter, and it is not until nearly the end of the book that all the threads come together in a satisfyingly complete way (although there is still some mystery as to the fate of Sissy's father).

Sheena Kalayil was born in Zambia in 1970 where her parents, like Sissy's in the story, were teachers seconded from Kerala. She attended university in the UK and worked all over the world. She now lives near Manchester with her husband and two daughters.

The Wild Wind was published in Great Britain in 2019 by Polygon, an imprint of Birlinn Limited.

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