A Zimbabwean woman strikes up a friendship with a white neighbor suspected of arson, and their lives become inextricably linked.
First-time author Irene Sabatini has a marvelous (or should I say, “lekker”) ear for the distinct vernacular rhythms of her native Zimbabwe. In The Boy Next Door, she chronicles a most unconventional love story that begins against the backdrop of the transition from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe. Later, the story settles amid an Africa in flux, dealing with issues of racial and national identity, history, and memory.
Sabatini does an excellent job building the chemistry and passion between Lindiwe, a “colored” girl from an unhappy family, and her next-door neighbor Ian, who is white and accused of setting the fire that killed his stepmother. Lindiwe pursues Ian while her family falls down around her ears. Later, Ian finds her again, an adult woman with a passion for politics and her native Africa. Drawn together by a shocking secret, they forge a life together but don’t quite live happily ever after.
I was reminded a lot of Zadie Smith, mainly in the characterizations. The Boy Next Door isn’t quite as sprawling, but Sabatini shares Smith’s obsession with the intersection of culture and identity. The book is a success, and I look forward to seeing what Sabatini does next.