A Question of Power, Paperback

A Question of Power Paperback

Part of the Heinemann African Writers Series series

3.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


It is never clear to Elizabeth whether the mission principal's cruel revelations of her origins is at the bottom of her mental breakdown, but in the dark loneliness of the Botswanan night, the frightened South African refugee slips in and out of sanity.




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A Question of Power is a semi-autobiographical novel. The protagonist, a woman named Elizabeth, like the author is born in apartheid South Africa to a white mother and black father. She emigrates to Botswana, taking up residence in a large village.Elizabeth tries various avocations, but discovers that her true love is gardening, and she begins to work on an experimental farm under the tutelage of a cadre of Danish volunteers. But even as Elizabeth attains some material stability in her life, her mental state deteriorates as she suffers debilitating dreams and hallucinations. Her mind becomes a battleground between two elements represented by two men, Sello and Dan. Sello represents, roughly, the traditional, tribal and mystical side of her environment, Dan the nationalistic, modern and hedonistic. But there are also religious references drawn from paganism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hindu and Islam. The two specters assume opposite poles in any number of spiritual frames of reference in dialogues and images often filled with sexual references and symbols. Eventually Elizabeth's only path to sanity is through a humanistic rejection of all notions of an external god.I found it difficult to follow most of Elizabeth's dream images or visions, as they were simply too chaotic. It might be possible to see her insanity as a product of apartheid and her divided mental state as a reflection of an Africa torn between traditional and modern cultural values, but the story isn't coherent enough to infer such a political or social interpretation with any confidence. The evils that torment Elizabeth may have originated with racism, but Elizabeth's spiritual conflict is more generalized to the larger notions of good and evil, God and Man. This is an interesting but very challenging novel.

Review by

A frightening dive into insanity, The reader is invited into her mind where the fight between good and evil is played out on a grand scale and the line between reality and imagination blurs. It's not a comfortable book but seemed a true depiction and was well written.

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