Robert Jacklin’s father, acting on his idealised image of newly independent Zimbabwe and hoping for better opportunities for career advancement, moves his family from England to Africa in 1983. Robert is quickly installed in boarding school, and while his family falls apart in the background, Robert discovers that the recent war for independence has left relations between residents of the country dangerously unstable. While tensions build between factions of native Africans, many white families turn anger at the shift in power and fear of Mugabe’s plans for them and their land into hatred. A group of students at Robert’s school, encouraged by a teacher, take retribution into their own hands, starting with attacks on local African children and eventually planning an assassination attempt on Mugabe. Robert, awed by their willingness to include him in the early stages of their friendship, quickly finds himself deeply involved in a horror he can neither stop nor truly escape.
Out of Shadows is devastating reading, challenging readers’ contentment with limited awareness of recent events in Africa and encouraging them to critically assess what injustices they might themselves be supporting. The novel is a tricky one to recommend, however—the dialogue is full of racist and homophobic slurs, and while both are realistic given the setting, only the former is really addressed as damaging (one student runs away in part because his classmates imply that he is gay. In contrast, the racism in the book escalates to the murder of children).
Read a review by Patrick Ness.
Watch an interview with Jason Wallace about his book, or this promo for Out of Shadows made for the book’s Costa award.