When Rain Clouds Gather, Paperback Book
3.5 out of 5 (1 rating)


In the heart of rural Botswana, the poverty stricken village of Golema Mmidi is a haven to exiles from far and wide. A South African political refugee and an Englishman join forces to revolutionise the villagers traditional farming methods, but their task is fraught with hazards as the pressures of tradition, opposition from the local chief and the unrelenting climate threaten to divide and devastate the fragile community.


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Bessie Head manages to saturate “When Rain Clouds Gather” with a thoroughly winning concoction of generous bitterness. Though numerous antagonists, injustices and misfortunes beset the sympathetic characters of her book, they don’t sour the atmosphere or poison the narrative—this is refreshingly different from some of the continent’s unrepentantly sourpuss authors like Achebe and Coetzee. The balance of discontent and gratitude that carries the novel also exists within some of the more nuanced characters, such as Makhaya and Paulina. Though a few stock characters of the African village drama (like gossipy clutches of socially hostile women or the fawning chief’s toady) still wander through “When Rain Clouds Gather,” Head has made an effort to fill her fictional village with misfits, thinkers and eccentrics: the sort of characters that add depth to their surroundings.Considering that the book’s subject matter (the combination of human energy and ideas that are necessary to transform a traditional village’s attitude towards agriculture and subsistence farming) might seem a bit dry (complete with droughts), Head’s sense of humor (also dry) is quite an asset:“Never mind if the rain was no longer what it used to be in the good old days when the rivers ran the whole year round and dams were always full. You just could not see beyond tradition and its safety to the amazing truth you were starving—and that tough little plants existed that were easy to grow and well able to stand up to rigorous conditions and could provide you with food.”“Inside the fat, overstuffed body was a spirit that fiercely resisted intense, demanding, vicious people.” Or, “It was as though a whole society had connived at producing a race of degenerate men by stressing their superiority in the law and overlooking how it affected them as individuals.”I’ll be reading more of Bessie Head because of her ability to produce such precise and comical characterizations and because of her ability to keep social justice at the front of her mind without contracting a discouragement-induced attitude problem.

Also in the Heinemann African Writers Series: Classics series   |  View all