A retired lawyer turned brothel owner, a manipulative commissar, diamond trader Fatso, barman John Muranda and Miss Moneypenny are just a few of the vibrant and varied characters in The Last Resort – A Memoir of Zimbabwe by Douglas Rogers.
Zimbabwean-born Rogers is an international travel journalist, writer and author based in New York with his young family. Heeding his mother's assertion that “there are lots of stories out here, darling, lots of stories,” he heads back to Zimbabwe to assess his homeland situation firsthand. Far removed from the first world, he indeed finds his story.
He produces a brilliant, engaging, sometimes sad and often humorous account based on his visits home. Central to the story are his parents, Lyn and Ros, along with the ‘remodelling' of Drifters, their once-thriving backpacker lodge/game farm in rural, eastern Zimbabwe.
Following the disastrous land reform programme started by the Mugabe regime in 2000, things get tough for everyday Zimbabweans yet life goes on; tourists evaporate and the lodge is re-invented as a brothel, patronised by cash-flush diamond dealers and prostitutes while evicted farmers and persecuted politicians find refuge in the chalets.
The ever ingenious inhabitants of Drifters represent a microcosm of a united Zimbabwean population, and all demonstrate the admirable ‘make a plan' attitude so prevalent in the local people.
While he focuses on the survival-driven transformation of the lodge and its characters, the author skilfully recounts events in Zimbabwe in a salient synopsis. He shares his journey of discovery with readers as he finds a new understanding and admiration for the courage and resilience of the Zimbabweans he encounters.
In one example, the crematorium no longer functions due to the lack of gas and so a resourceful woman learned to use the traditional Hindu pyre of the Indian community. “Mutare's deceased white Christians were going out as Hindus,” Rogers writes.
In another, he cites a jailed farmer who, while incarcerated in an overcrowded prison for protecting his own land, instructs his lawyer to bail out some fellow petty criminals ‘to create a bit of space' in the cramped cell in which he finds himself.
Rogers writes of many things; the power of the informal black market economy, the legendary hyperinflation, blood diamond fields and rampant corruption, all underpinned by the resolute spirit of a people in survival mode.
His writing reflects a genuine affection for many of his characters and the book will resonate with all Southern Africans; it is relevant, current and informed.
Ultimately a love story, the book is also one of hope and intrigue, spiced with wit and humour that does not dwell on victimhood or tragedy.
The author says: “The story of Zimbabwe is, of course, depressing, but it's also much more than that: It's a story of heroism, of ordinary people – black and white – doing extraordinary things. I see the material my parents gave me as a gift. The book is my gift to them.”
“I have come to know and appreciate how amazing Zimbabwe was and can be again.”
As a digital-era writer, Douglas Rogers uses the global reach of social networking sites Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, YouTube, Flickr and his website http://www.douglasrogers.org/ to supplement the historical forms of book promotion.
“It is the new kind of marketing for books and other art forms, and I have been fortunate to have to two close friends who work in advertising who have helped me along the way,” Rogers says.
The Facebook presence for the book began in May 2009, and the author personally responds to all who write on the wall for The Last Resort.
Through online communication, the reader is able to be kept up to date with the ongoing journey both of Drifters and the book, and access images of the characters and the setting of the family farm.
The book was first published in the United States in September 2009. Shortly after its release in the UK in April 2010, the book reached number 26 on Amazon UK bestseller list, making it the number two selling biography.
The Last Resort was released in Australia in July.