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Casting with a Fragile Thread: A Story of Sisters and Africa

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  419 Ratings  ·  67 Reviews
In this poignant, lyric memoir, a sister's tragic death prompts a woman's unbidden journey into her turbulent African past.

A comfortable suburban housewife with three children living in Connecticut, Wendy Kann thought she had put her volatile childhood in colonial Rhodesia—now Zimbabwe—behind her. Then one Sunday morning came a terrible phone call: her youngest sister, Lau
ebook, 304 pages
Published April 17th 2007 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published May 2nd 2006)
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Aug 14, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This became one of those books I told myself, "I wish I had supplemental texts to better connect with this story." I took this book on vacation thinking it would be an interesting read about sisters and growing up in Rhodesia during the on set of civil unrest and war. While I enjoyed Kann's writing style and her story, I did fall asleep a few times while reading it on the beach. I fell asleep. Multiple times. My sister was reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed at the same time, which I'd read earlier t ...more
Born a privileged white child of what was then Rhodesia, the author watched her idyllic childhood and picture-perfect family spin rapidly out of control. Her vibrant, eccentric mother descended into unspecified mental illness, which led to her parents’ eventual divorce and her father’s remarriage. The stepmother — chosen, as the author implies, in (large?) part for her youth and beauty, alternately tried to do right by her stepdaughters and proved that she had no idea what she was doing.

But that
(The following is the review I wrote which was subsequently published in the Deseret News.)

CASTING WITH A FRAGILE THREAD: A STORY OF SISTERS AND AFRICA: Wendy Kann: Henry Holt and Company: Nonfiction: 284 pages

Growing up in a tumultuous part of Africa would be hard for anyone. Add to that a plethora of familial problems and you get a general idea of Wendy Kann's life. This autobiography mainly deals with the author's struggle to find, and sometimes create, herself. The book follows Kann's life f
Jun 14, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As one who has left Africa and understands its lures and complexities, I have read several books about people who left Africa and then return. What stands out in this book is that the reader can truly can feel the author's sense of loss of identity when coming to the US, and respect her coming into herself through tragedy and determination. The first chapter lacked the depth of description that make all the others so multidimensional. Her description of life of a family on the farm is so real th ...more
Kate Puleo Unger
I really struggled with this book. I enjoyed the first part and then the last two parts, but the middle just didn't hold my interest. I actually stopped reading this book for about a month, and then I had to force myself to read the second half just to get it done.

Wendy Kann is remembering her sister Lauren after her tragic death in a car accident. The book begins with the story of Wendy, Sharon, and Lauren shortly before and after Lauren's death. Then it jumps back to their childhood and follow
Dec 05, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: I wouldn't recommend it.
The first half of the book was quite interesting, but I ended up really disliking the author by the time I finished her book. Seems to me like as soon as Rhodesia became Zimbabwe she left and went to find another place in which she could continue to a live a life of privilege, entitlement, and obliviousness to those who are less fortunate than herself. She lands in Westport, Connecticut, which I'm sure fits the bill perfectly for her (even though she spends a good deal of time moaning about how ...more
Aug 22, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wendy grew up in Rhodesia between a mother with mental illness and a wealthy father living when the British were at the top. However, after losing her family, the wealth disappeared and Wendy left Rhodesia looking to find belonging and forget the hardships of not having a tight family. Her sister, also without a sense of being misfit, dies young in Zambia on a dusty farm far away from anything. Wendy travels frequently from the US to Zambia/Zimbabwe to help the husband and son left behind and in ...more
I liked this book. It's a true story too, by the way :) It is interesting and well-written. I will admit that I picked it up because I like the cover photo :) Ever the photog! Anyway, three-packs of sisters always intrigue me too because I have 2 sisters and my girls are a three-some-- plus the Africa twist... it was interesting! And heart-wrenching at times too, yet it seemed like it was because I was imagining myself in those shoes that it made me sad, not that she was particularly driving her ...more
May 09, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa
I always love memoirs of Southern Africa -- and these three sisters were a little older than me but many of the places the author talks about are familiar (the Victoria Falls hotel in Livingston, the Monomatapa hotel in Salisbury, Mazabuka, Harare, etc.). I was left with a drifting feeling after I finished this book -- which was perhaps the point. A white African coming to terms with the Rhodesian war and moving away from Africa to other post-colonial places, such as New York and Hong Kong. Was ...more
Nov 29, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs
this book was random i saw it at the dollar store and needed something to read because i had yet to unpack my books and it sounded interesting and i though heck for a buck i will give it a chance...i was pleasantly surprised i really enjoyed reading it, i learned a lot about zimbabwe(what was rhodesia)that i wouldn't have otherwise known. i especially loved the relationship that the sisters had i wouldn't want to frequent that flight from phoenix to london and yet she went from new york back to ...more
Feb 26, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookclub
The situation and plot is interesting - girl growing up in and then leaving Rhodesia-turned-Zimbabwe. It was definitely a fast read and interesting in many ways. However, I felt like I only got a cursory peek into all her relationships - wtih her sisters, her dad, her mom, her stepmom, her husband, the country itself. These are a lot of complex relationships to cover in a 270 page book. I expected WAY more about the youngest sister (who dies), the mom, and about the country's turmoil and politic ...more
Sep 27, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first parts drew me in with imagery that was beautifully written like a verbal portrait. I could totally understand the dichotomy between life in Rhodesia and America at that time. Somehow, it dragged in bits toward the end. Although the author was painfully honest and did not cover up flaws, the shallow perspective was difficult. For a memoir, particularly one full of so much loss, there was not enough emotion and growth. I would also have loved to see more photos. The first third was poign ...more
Feb 26, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not badly written, and an interesting life story of growing up white and wealthy (though with a completely dysfunctional family) in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe during their 13 year civil war. On the other little self-reflection about her role as a white person (200,000 out of 8 million population) during this time and any of her own culpability. And no mention at all about Mugabe's current leadership, i.e., running the country into the ground and allowing white homesteaders to be randomly killed ...more
Apr 24, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A very disjointed book that starts off with the author's sister's death then goes into her childhood through the present. This woman is the epitome of living under a rock. She grew up as an over privileged white woman in the British colony of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. She was completely unaware of racism and class and remained so even after the fall of the colony. I was really hoping for insight on colonial Africa as I know very little about it. Instead I got a vapid out of touch memoir from a wom ...more
Jul 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A well written memoir of three sisters raised in the former Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) Brought together again by the death of the youngest to a car accident in Zambia, where she lived. The story is told by the eldest sister, who now lives in the USA and recounts their childhood, which was quite dysfunctional. Not only a hard family life but also living during the onset of the Rhodesian civil war, and fall of the British rule.
Joan Colby
Aug 23, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A tremendously readable story of three sisters growing up in Rhodesia in the 50’s and 60’s. Family turmoil disrupts their lives—their mother’s mental illness, their father’s new wife and prosperity that culminates with bankruptcy and suicide as the country degenerates into chaos as it becomes Zambabwe. Kann marries an American and transforms her life before returning to Africa after the death of her youngest sister. A truly compelling read.
Jun 24, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Katie Cote, Heidi Niell
Shelves: library-book
It's hard to avoid comparisons to Alexandra Fuller's memoir of Africa and loss; try not to do this yourself when reading this book because you'll be disappointed. It is a good book in its own right and what struck me most about it is how much the author misses Africa -- while at the same time painting it as such a harsh, terrible place. Something about the continent gets in peoples' souls, apparently.
Jul 14, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book honestly left me pissed off at the author. I understand that she grew up in Rhodesia during apartheid, and to a certain extent that way of thinking would affect one's life. But even after living out the majority of her adult years in America, she still seems to cling to a lot of the same thinking, which disgusts me. It was hard to feel any compassion for her and her story when she seemed to be such an unsympathetic character.
Paula Yarmo
Dec 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My beau was born in Zambia and moved to Zimbabwe where he grew up. He read the book first & had mixed feelings about it due to Wendy being somewhat fickle about her feelings on where she was from. He loves being from Africa

I found Wendy to be a very sad child and adult who struggled with identity issues. Plus her treatment of their mother & youngest sister really broke my heart.

All in all, a good read.
Dec 08, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs
The three sisters in this book went through so much, and their personal problems, along with the racial and national problems of this place and time in Africa make this book very interesting. The sister who writes the book is honest about the ruthlessness of trying to stay in her step-mother's good graces and doing what she has to do to survive. The sister who dies seems remote and sad. I wouldn't want to live there--for so many reasons. I enjoyed this book a lot.
It was a good book that was easy to read. I was surprised and sad to read Wendy's point of view of the people of Africa who are black. It seems as if she was starting to really think and look at black Aficans as fellow human beings by the end of her story. She did a nice job of telling the story of her life and her dysfunctional family in an interesting way.
Jun 24, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-book
I don't know what I was expecting, but whatever it was, I didn't get it. There was a sad story, but there were no revelations. There was an exotic (to me) setting, but no magic. I felt for the author and her sisters, and wish Wendy and Sharon well, but their story wasn't that compelling. I definitely think that Alexandra Fuller's memoir was, well, fuller and richer.
Aug 25, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
Oct 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Such an amazing story. It really made me appreciate what I have & the wonderful life I have been blessed with. Makes you stop and think about the rest of the world, and other peoples feelings as well as their personal life experiences.
Susan Holman
Nov 26, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not so much a story of Rhodesia becoming Zimbabwe as a childhood memoir, life in a very dysfunctional family. The death of her youngest sister is a catalyst to the author writing about their childhood.
This book paints a bleak picture of what life was like for two white sisters growing up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). The landscape was so drab and bleak, and the people seemed so hopeless that it was a hard read.
Toni Olivieri-barton
Jul 10, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Toni by: eileen barton
Shelves: non-fiction
Interesting read about a sister from Zimbabwe who wants to take her dead sister's kid to raise it for her brother-in-law. Lots of Zimbabwe history and also culture shock stories. I didn't like the discussions about the nephew she wants to raise. It seemed really pushy.
Shelley Wilson
Dec 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Such an amazing book. Went to the same school in the same year but didn't know Wendy felt like I did as so many memories are similar! Felt homesick first time in a very long time. So well written I couldn't put it down.
Jan 20, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It was an easy read but it didn't really touch me. She never discussed if she ever got over her apparent disregard for Black Africans. The thing I got out of this is alot of white african women have drinking problems...
Donna Kubiak
Oct 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I felt so sorry for the sisters who lost their sister, Lauren. It seemed like she was the central part of the book. I thought it would be more about Africa. But it was about a family who happened to live in Africa. But I would still recommend the book to anyone who wanted to read a good book.
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