Thursday, 13 September 2007

The Violets of Usambara: I

Today the task is to fill out a questionnaire from Cormorant Books about my novel The Violets of Usambara, which they will publish next spring. It seems this is the time for preparing that season’s catalogue, and they want a 50 word synopsis of the book.

How appropriate that I have to think about the book now! Six years ago exactly I was in the throes of deciding whether to go through with a trip to Africa to research the book. The tickets were bought, the reservations were made, my daughter (who was studying at the Hague) was expecting me to stop by to celebrate her birthday with her. But of course 9/11 intervened, and travel anywhere was called into question, as was so much else.

The trip, which I’d been planning for months, would be my one chance to see the world that I wanted to write about: Burundi in the Great Lakes Region of Africa, and the Usambara mountains where wild African violets have their origin. My sister was trying to talk me out of going—“and if you do, try to be inconspicuous”—and my my husband—usually always encouraging—was quite silent about what he thought.

In the end I went, to find the flight from Amsterdam to Nairobi filled with North American Christian missionaries and European tourists who had made the same decision: life must go on, and besides the money is already spent. The trip was not uneventful, but nothing bad happened—actually the worst thing was having my wallet snatched in The Hague even before I started for Africa, and that had a positive side that perhaps I’ll talk about here sometime.

And now it’s finally time to prepare for presenting the story that grew from the trip to the world.

How’s this for a teaser:

April, 1997: A Canadian politician goes missing in Burundi while investigating refugee camps after the genocide in Rwanda. Back in Montreal his wife waits for news and tries to help friends caught up in a money laundering scheme. A suspenseful story that brings up a host of political, personal and spiritual questions.