At the time that I began reading this book, a lot was going on in my life, and I didn’t have the time to get fully immersed and give it the attention it deserves. So I began again recently, and was very glad that I had the ability to really dive in, because it is the sort of book that is impossible to put down.
In The Father Daughter War, Armstrong describes her childhood in pre-Zimbabwe Rhodesia in such a way that the reader is carried back through time and given the chance to occupy the place of a child in a war-torn, colonial-African country during the late 1960s, and through the 1970s. Her descriptions viscerally depict the soul-nourishing, womb-like experience of growing up in the arms of the African wilderness, the certainties, and also challenges, of living in a society that was so isolated that it remained frozen in time, twenty years behind the Western world, and the utterly disorienting experience of having to leave her motherland behind and emigrate to Australia. In this book, she takes you along for the journey as her soul emerges into existence on the back of a horse, racing through the frontier of Rhodesia as it transformed into Zimbabwe.
Throughout this book of memoirs, Armstrong flashes back and forth between her own narrative and excerpts from her father’s perspective of his own life. The shift between the two perspectives illustrates the contrast in their personalities and experiences, and it also demonstrates the extreme disparity of living in a traditional patriarchal culture. She brings the focus well-past the thin facade of what the Western world is taught about Rhodesia and its transition to Zimbabwe, and reveals a largely unknown realm from the perspective of an inside-outsider– a white colonial with no power or agenda.
The portion of the book that describes Armstrong’s emigration experience truly gave me a sense of feeling one’s entire world being ripped away, but in such a manner that onlookers are completely oblivious to the trauma as it is taking place. It can be likened to being a caged wild animal, being jabbed and taunted, but all the while, having to appear tidy, polite, and civilized. She elucidates both the backlash she received for the accomplishments toward assimilating into the new culture she made, as well as the destructive process of being cut off from everything she had ever known before. The greatest conflict of all arose from her father’s reaction to the symptoms of her suffering from the loss of her previous life.
The Father Daughter War is not light reading, and for Western readers, I highly recommend you set all of your cultural norms aside before you embark on this journey. Nothing you already know can prepare you for this story, nor solidify your sense of orientation. This book is the most emotionally engaging one I’ve read in years. I cannot praise it highly enough. Jennifer Armstrong has captured the spirit of Mother Africa in text, and in contrast, has also revealed the emptiness of Western life that so many have accepted all their lives without question.