Plot: Beattie's historically based novel is deftly plotted, alternating between the points of view of the women at its center. The protagonists are caught up in the war of Rhodesian independence, the toll it takes on lovers and children, masters and servants, colonialists, and natives.
Prose: The word-craft is unexceptionably fluent and compelling, with a variety of voices, some ethnically African, some Scots, some properly British.
Originality: The work is sometimes baldly romantic in breathless social or sexual encounters, sometimes stirring in its depictions of political and military violence. There are inevitable echoes of Hemingway, Conrad, et al., in the treatment of the experience of Europeans in colonial Africa.
Character/Execution: The main characters, after whom the chapters are named, are women. The narrative centers on their relationships with one another and with the men who are their lovers. Europeans and native Africans narrate individual sections. Their interior monologue is textured and convincing.
Blurb: An illuminating insider's view of a febrile period of Rhodesian (now Zimbabwe) history, fictionalized but hewing closely to the historical record.
Date Submitted: May 02, 2022
This wonderful novel brilliantly melds the personal with the political with its sometimes harrowing depiction of the turmoil of 1970s Rhodesia, and its impact on the lives of 3 very different women. Tension is skilfully deployed throughout as the book travels back and forth through time, and the reader begins to anticipate an ominous climax. This is a marvellous work, some hard-hitting passages make it tough to read in places but you are always pulled along by the gripping narrative. It’s frequently moving and very cleverly structured. A superb achievement.
The characters are written so well. It’s definitely a very character driven book, so this felt extra important to me. The characters themselves as well as their interactions with each other were so well done that even with characters who we didn’t meet until much later on I found myself growing attached to. ... The writing is truly SO beautiful. At the risk of sounding too saccharine, I would compare it to a chocolate very slowly melting in your mouth.
Quotes I loved from this book:
- “‘Benedict thinks he’s doing it all for the children everywhere. He wants to change the world.’ ‘Ah, but how many children must die before the world changes? How many wars must these men fight before they learn another way?’”
- “She felt the presence of a thousand ghosts in the room, breathing through the photographs, whispering of loss and desire and regret, not knowing then that they were the ghosts of the future as well as the past.”
- “. . . people came to the clinics to sit patiently all day, hoping that the white man’s medicine might cure the parasites and blindness, the infected sores and misshapen limbs, the bodies that failed to thrive because some essential element was lacking – a mineral or vitamin perhaps, or something more elusive – joy, hope, a sense of tomorrow.”
Between Two Rivers is a compelling and captivating read ... The story is a fascinating weave of black and white characters for two decades to the end of the war. It includes traditional witchcraft that later deeply traumatizes the main housemaid character.
For those who knew the times, places and settings there is uncomfortable nostalgia I am familiar with. The maids drink tea from enamel cups while the white madams have bone china. I can just see the tea party on Jenny’s lawn where the young immigrant Scottish doctor Morag is introduced to luxuries of white life for the first time - the wives have brought their children and black nannies to look after them - in this little cameo, the nannies are drinking from their enamel cups and eating hunks of bread while the madams have tea and cake from an immaculate tea service and talk the nonsense of housewives of the day. Madams are later seen to have been beaten or brutalized by their racist/military trained husbands. ...
There is passion, love and violence, yes. For me, it is a truly commendable read. I loved it despite scenes that deeply disturbed me, having been through those times. ... Tina Beattie has captured an essence of the time with precise and knowledgable detail.
Extract from review by Chiedza Musengezi, Zimbabwean poet and author:
Beattie’s subtle, layered, portrayal of her characters offers the reader a complex portrayal of society – or societies – and a small self-enclosed, self-absorbed nation fighting for its survival against its history, its people and its future.
The author inhabits characters across the barriers of race, class, gender and religion as they interact with each other. In doing so, she challenges the idea that one cannot and should not write beyond one’s own narrow frame of reference and experience; as if writers should not think out of the box, do research, and cannot empathise or show imagination. I found her characters credible, illuminating a conflicted period of Zimbabwe’s social history. It is, in fact, the layered themes of Beattie’s writing that make her novel such an immersive read. ...
Though burdened with (terror of) violence, there are many small moments of joy or happiness, reminding us of their transience while nourishing our memories of that which is restorative. Between Two Rivers is written with tenderness but also with rigour. Beattie explores our humanity in its beauty and brokenness through women’s voices. Fictional voices of the marginalised have been inserted in the recorded history of the country, not to create an alternative history but to add to its rich, multi-faceted texture.
I liked the characters masterfully crafted by the author. ... Overall, the book is an emotional read that has a mystery explained at the very end and even a paranormal element. Also, the book raises the hard questions about the acceptable boundaries of the freedom fight. I would add that the author's love for African people is palpable. ... [I]t is my greatest pleasure to give this outstanding book 4 out of 4 stars. ... I recommend this book to fans of historical fiction, psychological prose, romance novels, and the genre of family drama. It would appeal to those interested in the themes of social injustice, women's rights, and the fight against racism.