A Child Called Happiness, Stephan Collishaw, pb Legend Press, ISBN 2370000419545, £8/99

bookThis book is all about freedom of the individual. It is about love and hate and repression and apartheid and betrayal and revenge and righting the injustices that pervade this world. The author leaves no stone unturned as he cleverly weaves two stories together, binding them chapter by chapter, until we reach a finale, where all that intertwining of individuals and events comes together, leading us full circle to a conclusion that is victorious and tragic and thought-provoking in equal measure. This is teacher Stefan’s second novel with Legend. His first, The Song of the Stork, is also based around love, survival and hope, when all the odds are proving insurmountable. In this, his latest novel, Happiness is a baby born into a world of hopelessness. Abandoned at birth and left to die a tragic death on a bleak ridge in war-torn Zimbabwe, his cry is heard by Natalie, herself escaping a relationship in England. Stephan leaves the reason why until the end, yet as we work our way through the chapters, and the changing events and generations that unfold within the pages, we can reach a sensible conclusion before then. As Natalie returns with her uncle to his farm, babe in arms, Stephan begins his parallel story, rewinding 115 years to that of the Mazowe village where Chief Tafara governed on that same ridge, where cattle grazed on the plains, and white settlers threatened the peaceful villagers with unreasonable taxation and abductions and land confiscation. We are guided through generations of provocation, unrest and uprisings, as Stephan cleverly knits together the past and present, leading to the climax, back on that ridge which had witnessed so much change and misery and injustice. It has been a while since I last found myself totally absorbed in a book. Having lived in Africa myself through the era of apartheid, when whites and blacks had their own modes of transport, and when oppression was ever-present on the streets, I can relate to much that Stephan writes about. To repeat his quote from Kwame Nkrumah: ‘Freedom is not something that one people can bestow on another as a gift. They claim it as their own and none can keep it from them.’ Read A Child Called Happiness, and you will have a far better understanding of this statement. – Michael Cowton