While Apartheid gripped South Africa, Sisonke Msimang, author of the memoir “Always Another Country” (out Sept. 4th from World Editions) was born in Zambia. Her’s was a life in exile: her father was a famous freedom fighter with the African National Congress, and her mother steadily supported the family as an accountant. “My sister and I are freedom’s children, born into the ANC and nurtured within a revolutionary community whose sole purpose is to fight apartheid,” she explains in the prologue.
Life in exile, where “home is always another country,” is filled with highs and lows, as Msimang and her family move from Zambia to Kenya to Canada before finally returning to South Africa in the 1990s. In sharp, fast-paced chapters Msimang details new communities and new adventures, as well as racist remarks and cultural misunderstandings. But throughout it all there is the steadfast love of her family, as seen in a myriad of heartwarming examples, such as when young Sisonke and her family, in an attempt to fit into their new Canadian community, set off for an ill-fated camping trip. The girls help their mother, “in her smart jeans and inappropriate shoes” try in vain to set up a tent. “Mummy had no idea what she was doing, but, fortified by African pride and the immigrant’s commitment to blending in, she wasn’t going to ask for help.”
Msimang’s memoir is filled with moments like this: Moments that seem, well, ordinary. But when placed against the larger backdrop of South Africa, and within the context of a family striving for unity and grace despite epic change, these small moments compound to form something larger than themselves, resulting in a memoir that affects both international and South African audiences.
Memoirs are, by definition, personal. And while “Always Another Country,” centers around Msimang’s life, the narrative carefully widens to include historical context and family background, resulting in a powerful book that feels both intensely personal and larger than life.
A welcome debut from a powerful author, “Always Another Country,” is an emotional and educational read.