Oliver Stuart York’s Man of Bees is a cracking good read: an African thriller that proves that few people are truly bad — or good. Not since Wild Geese has a writer from Zimbabwe produced an edge of the seat tale that keeps you turning the pages late into the night — and it has the added advantage of being apparently a true story.
Book one is the best-balanced account of the bush war I have read. I particularly liked the bit when African bushcraft outwits Western military might. And the account of a Zanla camp that might have been Chimoio will have greybeards of both colours shaking their heads.
York has a remarkable understanding of what it was like to be a guerrilla, living in the bush like a wild animal and how young Rhodesian men felt being called up to fight a war in which the numbers were stacked against them.
Dhina, the Man of Bees, is a heart-warming character. He survived losing his job, his family and then the civil war with enviable equanimity and it is his genuine warmth, which reaches out to help strangers, that makes him endearing. Then his understanding of his environment and how to use it to best advantage makes fascinating reading and is the key advantage of Zanla’s most feared group of insurgents.
In the second book York, a British orphan adopted and brought to Rhodesia returns to newly independent Zimbabwe after an enriching stint on the North Sea oilrigs. He buys a small engineering works with his savings and rents a house next door to the Kufas: he is a colonel in the newly-created Zimbabwe National Army and the household includes Tsitsi, a pretty blonde, blue-eyed child, who is drawn to York and his swimming pool.
How did she end up with the Kufas? What is her future: how well do they care for her or is she the Cinderella of the household, paying for white supremacy and Ian’s Smith’s vow that no black would rule Rhodesia in 1,000 years?
Her story forms the backbone of the book, linking back to the earlier section and taking the tale onto three continents. The tension is relentless and the denouement totally unexpected. I can’t wait for the film.
The first edition sold out in a few weeks before Christmas and the second, updated one is on the presses. All proceeds from its sale go to help farmers and their workers displaced by the land reform programme. Do buy it: it will be the best thing you ever did for charity and for yourself.
Man of Bees by Oliver Stuart York, 2016. $15. ISBN 978-0-7974-6157-5. Available in bookshops and on Amazon