Fine writing draws reader along a personal journey

2014-04-22 00:00

Back to Angola: A Journey from War to Peace

Paul Morris

Zebra Press

BOOK REVIEWER: Anthony Stidolph

AS a reluctant teenage conscript serving with the South African Defence Force in Angola in 1987, author Paul Morris found himself thrust into a predicament that would continue to haunt him long after his stint in the army came to an end.

In an attempt to heal some of the emotional wounds and break free of his past, he decided to return to the country that had such a huge impact on his life, 25 years later, and retrace his earlier, uninvited visit, this time on a bicycle, alone and unaided.

Crossing over from Namibia, where his unit had once been based, Morris revisited Cuito Cuanavale, cycled down the infamous Road of Death and reached the Lumba River, where as a member of the SADF’s 61 Mechanised Battalion, he had found himself involved in a major battle with Fapla’s 47 Brigade. As he pedalled through this landscape he came to realise that his trip had become more than just a journey into his past; it had evolved into an exciting adventure into the vibrant pulse of contemporary Africa.

In the hands of another, such a book could easily have strayed into melodrama, but Morris is too good a writer to allow this to happen. Whether writing about nights spent sleeping under the trees in the Angola bush or describing his time in the army, Morris has the ability to draw readers into his experiences with the precision and exact observation of his prose.

There are fine passages describing his travels. The crazy driving along rough, potholed roads, the still-threatening minefields, the rusting monuments to the war, the occasional feelings of isolation and loneliness in a country where few speak English —all these should be wonderfully recognisable to readers, whether they have made a similar journey or not.

Despite several dire predictions, Morris, who trained as a psychotherapist at the London Gestalt Centre, seems, for the most part, to have encountered nothing but friendliness and kindness, even from the war veterans he once fought against, on his 1 500-kilometre journey. Indeed, the only really sour note he hit is when he crossed back over the border and found himself being lectured by a recalcitrant old white in a bar.

Full of action and adrenalin, anger and compassion, philosophy and humour, Back to Angola is an honest and affecting account of one man’s search for resolution and meaning.

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