The dust diaries : the African legacy of Arthur Cripps /
Owen Sheers.
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2004.
310 p.
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Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2004.
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references.
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Excerpt from Book
Prologue december 2000 Mpandi was one of the Shona names given to my great, great uncle, Arthur Shearly Cripps, Independent Missionary to Southern Rhodesia. The name was translated for me in Mashonaland, where he lived, as "the man who walks like thunder" or "the man who shakes the earth with his walking".He was given many names during his life, but this is the one I have thought of most often as I followed in his footsteps, literal and metaphorical, over the past three years. Because for me he has always been walking, always on the move. Always a few steps ahead of me as I tried to track him down, as I tried to understand him.What follows is an account of this search: the story of my contact with him and of how the unfolding of one man"s life can resonate down the years in the lives of others. This account of my search is true. It happened, just as Arthur"s life happened, but the story of his life that I have written is not true in the same way. This story is written as a fiction, the fiction I formed in my mind so as to better understand Arthur"s life. It is, however, a fiction based on the facts, stories, myths and tales I gathered while looking for Arthur Cripps. Some of the people who feature in this story are imaginary, but most are not. Of those who really existed, some of their actions I have invented,many, again, I have not. It is the story of Arthur Cripps" life reflected through my imagination. It may not always be true to historical fact, but I hope it is true to the essence of Arthur"s story and to the essence of the man I discovered buried in the nave of a ruined church far out in the Zimbabwean veld. Maronda Mashanu,Mashonaland, Southern Rhodesia It is dawn in the African bush. Light is expanding from the horizon, growing over the veld of rock, grass and dust. The first birds are calling in the winter trees. Arthur Cripps, Independent Missionary to Mashonaland is lying awake in the rondavel he built next to the church he named Maronda Mashanu, the Saint of the Five Wounds. He is lying awake and he is dying. It is his last day on earth. He is eighty-three years old. He listens to his breath and counts backwards. Ten years since he lost his sight. Thirty-seven years since he went to war. Thirty-eight years since he built the church. Fifty-one years since he came to Africa. Fifty-five years since he fell in love. 3 january 1901 Beira Bay, Portuguese Mozambique The irregular coughs of the man sleeping in the bunk beneath him had been chiselling into his sleep all night, but it was the slap of the sea against the ship"s hull that finally woke Arthur. There was something different about it, a change in its register and rhythm. Keeping his eyes shut, he tried to work out what it was. And then he realised: they were still, the ship was no longer moving. They must have finally been allowed into harbour. They had arrived. He felt a dip of excitement in his stomach at the thought of being on land again. The journey from England had been more laborious than he"d thought it would be; at least, the sea voyage had. He had enjoyed the earlier train trip through Europe. In Rome he"d even got a chance to visit the room where Keats died and the Protestant cemetery, where he"d seen the poet"s grave. Standing above the simple headstone near the grand Pyramid of Cestius he"d looked down at the engraving of a broken lyre and the strangely ambiguous epitaph: Here lies one whose name was writ in water. The poet"s friend Charles Brown had interpreted this as Keats" abandonment of any hope of posthumous fame, but standing there looking at it with the perspective of eighty years" hindsight Arthur liked to think it was not this simple.His nam
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2004-02-02:
In this limpid biography, Welsh poet Sheers reconstructs his English great-great-uncle's unorthodox missionary career in colonial southern Rhodesia. Intrigued by Arthur Cripps's reputation as a poet and as the beloved "shaman" of a rural Rhodesian native community, Sheers recounts his life of self-imposed exile through intercut time frames, imagined points of view and fragments of documentary evidence. Charting Cripps's life from his 1901 arrival in central Mashonaland to his death there in 1952, the author convincingly delineates a portrait of an ascetic subversive, more sympathetic to native custom than to white colonial rule. Sheers effectively conveys the white community's disapproval of Cripps's belief in African land rights and independence, although he does not explore a wider political context for Cripps's colonial critique. As for the contemporary sections of his book, while Sheers's account of his travels in the footsteps of his ancestor provides an informative update on postcolonial Zimbabwe, such journalistic impulses are sacrificed to anticlimactic pursuit of witnesses to Cripps's past. Sheers narrows his focus to a quirky family figure whom he can only distantly imagine, rather than undertaking a fuller historical journey. Obsessing over a rumor of a lost love in Cripps's past, he closes the book on the disappointingly clich?d note of a secret unlocked. Still, if Sheers fails to allow for full imaginative transport to the world he describes, he diligently accumulates absorbing and authentic visual and factual details that will be of value to those interested in Britain's former African colonies. (Mar. 25) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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Main Description
At a family reunion in Wales several years ago, the prize-winning poet Owen Sheers stumbled across the mesmerizing story of his great-great-uncle Arthur Cripps, a mysterious figure who turned from poetry to missionary work in Africa and ultimately became a shamanlike figure, ministering to the locals. Arthur Cripps left his native England in a ship set for southern Rhodesia in 1900. During his time as a missionary in the British colony, Cripps became passionate about indigenous ways, leaving him ostracized from the largely racist, conservative European minority. Railing against colonial injustice, Cripps became a hero to the native population. He chose to exile himself from the Anglican church, factions of which branded him a heretic and burned down his churches. All the while he hid the soul-racking secret of what had driven him from England into the heart of Africa. The Dust Diaries is the haunting record of Sheers's all-consuming attempt to piece together the luminous fragments of Arthur Cripps's remarkable life, and to understand the mystery of why he abandoned England for life in the African veldt - a journey that takes Sheers from the genteel reading rooms of Oxford University's libraries to the parched landscape of contemporary Zimbabwe. Refracting Cripps's life through the prism of his own vivid imagination, Sheers illuminates the devastating effects of power, the potent effects of grace, and the legacy of an extraordinary life.

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