A Girl from Zanzibar by Roger King
A Girl from Zanzibar is the story of Marcella D’Souza, a ‘Goan Indian Portuguese Arab African of Catholic Moslem parentage’. Marcella, a young, business-minded woman on -yearns to escape the stuffy world of the East African island of Zanzibar in the 1980's.
Marcella leaves the island and her family for the mainland and the Tanzanian capital, where she becomes a taxi owner. When her French boyfriend returns to France, she is required to go back to her place of birth to obtain the passport that will allow her to join him in Europe. Back home while she waits for her passport, she starts a prosperous ice-cream business. Soon after she meets a United Nations development official, Geoffrey Sutton with whom she eventually moves to Reading. Unhappy with Geoff who never introduces her to his friends or family, she takes refuge in books, but feeling tied to him by lack of money, she decides to move to London to start a new life. She lodges with friends who find her a dodgy job, which involved her sitting pretty in the passenger seat of luxury cars to avoid cars being towed while suspicious business take place. Eventually she becomes a property consultant in Bayswater. However, due to a misunderstanding, she ends up being convicted to eight years in prison for a crime she did not commit.
In prison she gets an Open University degree in record time. After completing her sentence, Geoff helps her avoiding deportation and obtaining a visa for the U.S. where she becomes a lecturer. The novel unfolds like a meditation on one’s life, moving us from scenes of the past, into the present, and back again yet more years. She divides this account of her life into sections: "Life Before", "In My Life" and "After Life". The book opens when Marcella is approaching 40, in the late 90s, and has been invited to teach a course vaguely-defined as ‘multicultural studies’ in a small college in Vermont. This makes no sense to Marcella who revises the course description, arguing that ‘cultures are the outcomes of people who moved from somewhere else and would move on’ and that ‘nothing is separate, permanent, fixed or owned.’
This is an absorbing tale of what it's like to be from everywhere and nowhere. More than a novel about postcolonial migrants trying to survive in Margaret Thatcher's Britain. A Girl from Zanzibar explores the concepts of identity, belonging and displacement and promises to haunt the critical reader.