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An absolute education - Rose Michael for Indigo

Cafe d'Afrique by Tineke Van der Eecken is a traditional bildungsroman; a structural and stylistic choice that represents both a strength and a weakness. We get to know the author so well we become engrossed in the minutiae of her life, but such a detailed approach definitely risks becoming monotonous. There is no other voice, no outside perspective into her world. While this book may have a tendency to 'tell' rather than 'show', what it does tell is a fascinating story of one woman's sojourn in Africa, and her foray into small business. One of its pleasures is the way it seems to reveal more about the author than she may have intended -- in fact, this is probably one of the best things about it.

The way you end up liking Tineke, sympathising with her, and really wishing her -- and her future ventures -- well. I found myself wanting to know so much more than appears on these pages: more about her mother and, indeed, the rest of her family; more about relationships with men, and friends. What is doing now, and what has been the effect of reflecting on her time in Africa and who she was then? How does she feel about what she didd and who she was? (I'd also love to know how she's found Australia so far, indigenous platitudes aside.) The attempt to maintain an objective voice, as thought the truth is inevitably told through the marshalling of chronological facts, detracts from the passion and possible insight at the heart of this story. It's about the trials and tribulations Tineke undergoes as she sets up a unique 'cultural restaurant' where locals and tourists alike can sample authentic Zambian cuisine, music and dance -- while still working at her official job. I found myself longing for more interiority. Then again, this book doesn't claim to be a comprehensive autobiography, more a slice of life -- or perhaps I should say a slice out of a life. While other readers may side with me in wanting more psychological revelations or philosophical reflections, they would be out of character for this author/narrator, which is as good an example as any, of the kind of unconscious disclosure this book seems to offer about Tineke's true character. But, after all, it doesn't claim to be about Tineke, but about Africa (as seen through the story of Cafe d'Afrique). And as such it is an absolute education. It's an honest, informative account of both a particular country and the more general experience of living overseas. The heat and the smells of the continent seem almost to rise from the pages. It is, in the end, perhaps recognised as a mud map; a rough sketch drawn by one traveller for another, an outline of the terrain by someone sho has been there for someone who may go.