Cardyn Brooks reviews Always Another Country, a ‘memoir of exile and home’ by Sisonke Msimang
An individual’s memoir always includes other people, families, and communities. Context matters. In Always Another Country, generations of the author’s family embark upon a nomadic sojourn from South Africa to Russia, Tanzania, Zambia, Kenya, Canada, and Ethiopia, then back to Zambia in an overlapping circuitous route across continents and decades that ultimately returns them to South Africa with excursions into the United States soon after the election of Nelson Mandela as president of S.A. The integrity of their family connections between each other and their nation or origin gets challenged and changed by their experiences in each temporary homestead.
While “Families are nothing without the stories they tell,” is proclaimed on page 111, this idea of personal history as collaborative narration is visually established with a personal photo at the beginning of each chapter. Small square images with fuzzy edges (probably with the date they were developed rubber-stamped on the back) evolve into larger rectangular pics with sharper images reflective of the passage of time for the subjects, their settings, and the technology used to capture them. There is a familiar universality to the composition of each image that mirrors collections in family photo albums around the world, and the universal themes of sexism, xenophobia, elitism, racism, government bureaucracy, shifting political alliances, and tyranny running beneath the superficial differences of skin color, geographical location, culture, and language eventually reveal themselves in every destination.
Different countries with essentially identical rules of engagement according to an entrenched human hierarchy are acknowledged throughout Always Another Country, most succinctly in the following three passages:
I was in another country, but somehow things were the same. [pg. 62]
Their children in Nairobi whose particular corners of misery might as well have been another country. [pg. 64]
We followed her every command because the immigrant child knows that outside is one thing but home is another country. [pg. 83]
With a delicate touch, Sisonke Msimang’s lyrical prose conveys a stalwart pragmatism to her revelatory confessions of obliviousness, arrogance, and naïveté sourced from her life of privilege. The exploration of her claimed and competing identities versus what’s projected onto her by others based on gender, age, and skin color supports the recurring variations on riffs about developing a thick skin, sloughing off dead skin, and skin as a beacon that can simultaneously draw unwanted attention and indicate shared membership in a group. Emotionally, Always Another Country shares a textural affinity with Ellis Cose’s The Rage of a Privileged Class.
Entrenched and contradictory expectations about women’s sexual virtue, men’s entitlement, and sexual predation run throughout this compelling personal narrative that deconstructs the luxuries of innocence, youth, exile, and hindsight when the privileged people are female, black, brown, refugees or in any way labeled as outsiders by those who wield significant power and authority over others.
Sisonke Msimang’s distinctive voice spans a range of octaves to compose this dramatic opera about the international and internal and perpetual battle between the haves and the have-nots. My preceding remarks only hint at the depth and complexity with which Always Another Country offers in its micro to macro study of the human condition.
Always Another Country, A Memoir of Exile and Home by Sisonke Msimang was published by World Editions on 4 September 2018
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Cardyn Brooks is a reading fiend, compulsive writer, chocoholic, and swim enthusiast. She writes upbeat, diversity-is-mainstream contemporary erotic fiction for and about grown-ups in love. Her previous titles include Seducing the Burks: Five Erotic Tales and Dodging Eros, Through Past, Present and Pleasure. In spring 2018, When She’s on Top, a collection of four novellas about powerful women and the men who are strong enough to love them, written as her edgier persona of C. X Brooks, will be available in print and e-formats from BlackOpalBooks.com. She earned her B.A. in English at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A.
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