A Powerful Love Story for Valentine’s Day

51qBJz71b6L._AC_US218_51zpXTOlenL._AC_US218_Last week I accidentally found the movie The United Kingdom and was immersed in the historical fiction based on Susan Williams’ book Colour Bar: The True Story of a Love That Shook an Empire.  Based on the lives of Prince Seretse Khama (who would later become the first President of Botswana) and white English-born Ruth Williams who met and fell in love in 1940s Britain, the story is a powerful statement of overcoming racism and persevering for independence, but it is also a poignant love story across cultural, racial, and political lines.

I was reminded of the movie when Book Browse featured the book as one of its “five great book club books that are now movies.”

“…they were met with overt racism by the people and governments of both Britain and southern Africa; but with great dignity and extraordinary tenancity they, and the Bangwato people, overcame prejudice in their fight for justice–which, ultimately, led to independence for the country of Botswana…”

Although I am only half through the book, the movie seems to have been accurate in depicting the series of trials overcome by the couple, including the efforts of British government officials, family friends and church figures trying to prevent the marriage. After the marriage Britain attempted to separate the couple by luring him to London and then banning his return.

South Africa, which borders Bechuanaland, and was in the throes of apartheid, imposed economic pressure on Britain, adding to the political turmoil.  Britain’s secret Harragin special inquiry was to decide whether Seretse was fit to discharge his duties as his country’s Chief.  (The report reminded me of today’s secret political papers which later expose ulterior government motives).  The inquiry found in his favor but argued that South Africa’s opposition to his marriage, and therefore his chieftainship, constituted enough reason to bar Khama from returning to his country.  After seven years in exile, and with the help of friends in high places, the shameful report finally was released and Pariament acceded to Botswana’s right to mineral rights – both actions insuring the leadership and prosperous future of an independent country.

After his return home, Seretse Khama was elected first democratic head of the newly created nation state of Botswana, which he ruled for over 20 years before his death in 1980. Ruth took her place as the mother of the nation during Seretse’s life and after, and their son is now the fourth President of Botswana.

Whether you read the book (only available as a ebook) or watch the movie, this is a story worth finding, not only for its historical significance but also for its powerful message of love and redemption against insidious politics and arrogant men.

National Poetry Day in Britain

logo-no-dateIn the United States, April is designated as National Poetry Month, but September 28th is Britain’s National Poetry Day with this year’s theme of freedom.  The official website offers many poems – Poems on Freedom – not all by British poets, but I like this one by Mary Coleridge:

I had a boat, and the boat had wings;
And I did dream that we went a flying
Over the heads of queens and kings,
Over the souls of dead and dying,
Up among the stars and the great white rings,
And where the Moon on her back is lying.

One of my favorite poets is William Butler Yeats, who received the 1923 Nobel Prize for Literature.  When I was in Dublin, I visited the exhibition of his work at the National Library of Ireland, and I bought a small illustrated anthology of his poetry – one of the books I treasure on my limited bookshelf.

Yeats’ The Lake Isle of Innisfree is among the poems on freedom included by the National Poetry Day site. Perhaps you remember memorizing it in school. My favorite stanza…

Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

As I read through my small volume of Yeats: Romantic Visionary, I was struck by this one:

The Song of Wandering Aengus

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.
When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.
Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

Revisiting Jane Gardam – God on the Rocks

“Long celebrated in England, Jane Gardam gained legions of American fans with Old Filth and The Man in the Wooden Hat – her most recent critically acclaimed novels.  Now, newcomers and devotees alike can enjoy one of the honored earlier works in her considerable canon.

Originally published in Great Britain in 1973 and nominated for the Booker Prize, God on the Rocks describes Margaret Marsh’s coming of age one summer between the world wars.” …from the book flap of God on the Rocks

When one of my book clubs decided to revisit Gardam with a discussion of Old Filth, I sought out one of her earlier books – God on the Rocks.  Reading one of Gardam’s masterpieces has me yearning for the return of Downton Abbey.

Eight-year-old Margaret is not happy about the invasion of a new baby brother, and her Bible quoting father is not helping.  Lydia, the irreverent maid from Auckland offers some comic relief, but Margaret soon connects with a cast of characters, including a mad painter and her mother’s first love.  True to Gardam form, they are not who they seem.  Although the story is neatly tied up in the last chapter, you are left wanting more.

Gardam has so many phrases that set me laughing out loud, especially one that I will remember and reuse: like Margaret, often “I am beyond myself.”

My reviews of Old Filth  and  The Man in the Wooden Hat