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When Rain Clouds Gather
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Tour d'Afrique A-L Books 2008-12 > Head: When Rain Clouds Gather| Botswana (Tour D'Afrique) first read: Feb 2009

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Dana | 25 comments I know it's Feb 1st, but this was such an easier read compared to last month it only took a day. I won't write my thoughts out just yet, but as soon as someone has read it, please post so I know you are out there!

message 2: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
I am trying to finish agotime. Almost!

message 3: by Muphyn (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments Wow, Dana!! I haven't even got the book out of the library yet and you're already finished!! :) Sounds like a good and fast read though. Really looking forward to reading it now.

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Manu (manuherb) | 165 comments James Currey has some interesting background material on Bessie Head in his history of the African Writers Series, Africa Writes Back.

In Africa 77 (2), 2007 (Journal of the International African Institute) Natasha Himmelman of the Centre of African Studies, University of Cape Town, reviews:

Maxine Sample (ed.), Critical Essays on Bessie Head. Praeger, 150 page hardback for $66.95. 2003

Huma Ibrahim (ed.), Emerging Perspectives on Bessie Head, Africa World Press 222 page paperback for $24.95. 2004.

message 5: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Thanks Manu! I should be able to get these at work. I hope to start rain clouds tomorrow.

Andrea | 660 comments I've just started Rain Clouds and find it interesting how much closer Head's style seems to "conventional" Western novel style than any of the others we've read.

Dana | 25 comments Andrea wrote: "I've just started Rain Clouds and find it interesting how much closer Head's style seems to "conventional" Western novel style than any of the others we've read. "

I had that same thought Andrea. She's originally from South Africa and moved to Botswana as an adult. I think that also gives her a different perspective in writing about the Motswana. I wasn't sure what year the fictionalized events were supposed to be taking place. It seems to be after independence but my book has a publication date of 1968. Botswana gained independence in 1966. That's a pretty narrow window.

message 8: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (last edited Feb 03, 2009 07:00PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod

Manu--thanks again for the heads up about the review of recent bessie head scholarship. I had not heard of her prior to this group. I am really looking forward to reading rain clouds (and perhaps some others!)

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Wendy (wendywoo) | 82 comments I just ordered a copy from Amazon. Should have it soon and will try to actually get w/ the program this month :-)

Melanie | 171 comments I am about halfway through - enjoying it so far.

message 11: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
I just finished! Good to "see" you melanie; I've been wondering where you've been! :D

Melanie | 171 comments Thanks, Marieke! Made the mistake of starting too many books at once - slowed me down a bit. : )

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Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
i constantly struggle with that...too many books. glad i'm not the only one!! :D

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Muphyn | 816 comments oh no, you're not the only one!!! i started Bessie Head's book and then, as usual, got sidetracked with stacks of other ones, even though what I had read was really interesting! Will definitely pick it up again this week.

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Dana | 25 comments What did you think Marieke?

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Manu (manuherb) | 165 comments As I finished chapter 10 of Rain Clouds a few minutes ago, I wondered whether Bessie might have based the characters of Gilbert and Makhaya on real people. I had no useful thoughts about Makhaya but, regarding Gilbert, I decided at once to do a Google on "Patrick van Rensburg" (with whom I seem to recall having had some correspondence many years ago when he first settled in what was still the Bechuanaland Protectorate.)

I haven't found an answer to my question but I was rewarded with a seam of gold, at

And once you've explored that site, which I beg you to do, you might try Googling "Bessie Head" and "Patrick van Rensburg" in a single shot. If Patrick wasn't the model for Gilbert, you'll find strong evidence that he does appear in other works of hers.

Andrea | 660 comments I'm interested in Head's view of development. It seems, from today's perspective, a little overly optimistic. All the people need to do is cooperate and incorporate scientific principles and they will solve their economic problems. But as I thought about that, I also noticed that Head doesn't show how Gilbert's plans really end up. The cattle die, so in a sense he and Makhaya have a blank slate to work on, and people desperate enough to try something new. But the book doesn't end with any guarantee that Gilbert's strategies will work.

On the characters,Manu, Gilbert does seem more like a particular person to me. His physical oddities seem to feel like they are based on a living model. But Makhaya seems in some ways more like a metaphoric character. He is the man who has lost everything, been disgusted by everything and therefore is open to Gilbert's ideas.
I really enjoyed the book. It is such a pleasure to read, with comic relief, tragedy, setting. And then so much food for thought as well.
I'm eager to hear what others think.

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Nina Chachu | 205 comments I will actually get around to reading this book, though I suspect it will be late, but I only just realised we had a copy in our library! I do like reading all your comments though, so do keep it up.

message 19: by Muphyn (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments Nina,

I think there are quite a few other people who haven't finished Bessie Head's book, me being one of them! I suspect the discussion will continue into March anyway, so join in whenever you can, even if it's "late"! ;)

Melanie | 171 comments I agree that the book seemed overtly optimistic, but I think that's why I liked it.

Andrea | 660 comments I know it's dangerous to speculate about authorial intent, but it intrigues me here. Do you think Head was presenting this optimism as realistic? Or maybe the fact that we don't see the cooperative really taking off shows that she's a little tentative?

message 22: by Melanie (last edited Feb 24, 2009 07:52PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Melanie | 171 comments That's a good question. I think it would be interesting to read some of her other books to see if she explores similar themes and approaches them in the same manner.

message 23: by Muphyn (last edited Feb 26, 2009 06:25PM) (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments I haven't finished yet (I'm constantly getting sidetracked by other books) but I'm half way there now and really enjoying it! I've just gotten to the point where Gilbert has married Maria.

Head's writing style reminds me of Alexander McCall Smith's books and I don't know whether it's the same location that's giving me the same "feel" (or rather, creates a similar atmosphere) or whether their writing styles are just similar. I haven't read any of Smith's other books (i.e. only the Mma Ramotswe series) so I don't actually know whether his writing style is different there.

And I agree, Andrea, the book has some comic elements, perhaps that's why it reminds me of Mma Ramotswe. :)

Manu, thanks for the Bessie Head link! it's really interesting! I had no idea she was born in Pietermaritzburg and lived in Cape Town. I should have checked out the locations when I was there a couple of years ago. :(

Will post some more thoughts as soon as I've finished (hoping to do so this weekend).

message 24: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Dana wrote: "What did you think Marieke?"

oh my...i have been absent from goodreads!!
i enjoyed the book...but now i'm completely blanking on what i thought when i finished it.

i liked that the whole town was composed of a bunch of outsiders....

Andrea | 660 comments One of the books Manu suggested (Ibrahim) had a lot to say about exiles in the book. That critic seemed to think that Head overdid the "goodness" or good influence of outsiders in the book, since as a recent exile in Botswana, she was trying to find a positive way to fit in. He was also interested in the way Makhaya becomes Mr. In-charge-male (my wording!) as his relationship with Paulina develops. I have to admit, that didn't bother me when I was reading, because I felt like she was in such a bad situation that he was trying to share some of her burden.

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