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Experience that rapture of understanding tinged with poignancy of how it was achieved - Review by Shane McCauley

When much of the news coming out of Africa in recent years is distressing or even horrific (think Darfur), Tineke Van der Eecken's revised edition of Cafe D’Afrique is a welcome corrective indeed. Although by no means completely anodyne - quite the opposite, as the author does not shy away from the sadder and more unfortunate aspects of human experience - the overwhelming tone of this memoir is joyful, celebratory, a gratitude and homage paid to a resilient, long-suffering and little known people - at least to us here in comfortable Australia.

The reader travels with unembarrassed intimacy with the author through African landscapes, principally in Zambia, as well as sharing psychological landscapes, mindscapes, new ways of seeing and being, as the young Belgian woman learns to adapt to new foods, mores, attitudes, music. This last is among the important ingredients of the eponymous cafe established by the author, and she adds a superb dimension to her narrative by including a CD of music performed by some of her African friends on its premises. It is vibrant and delightful.

Tineke Van der Eecken is above all a subtle and uncluttered observer of the, or this, African way of life. Her text is sprinkled with entertaining portraits, anecdotes, dialogue, insights, and even sub-plots more usually found in novels. As the book's subtitle indicates, this is about personal discovery, and we are privileged to share some of it with her.

Human beings, including the author, are presented with candour, warmth and an unjudgemental presentation of their less noble traits, the foibles and flaws that contribute to our concept of humanity (to err is indeed human). Among the book's many achievements is the clarity with which the author portrays the essential commonality of human nature, the shared core elements once the cultural and social accretions are put to one side. We are all, she implies by the end of her momentous journeying, equally vulnerable. Let us appreciate our lives and cause as little harm to the lives of others as we can.

Human needs are relatively straightforward - food, shelter, safety, the attempt to pursue happiness. Tineke Van der Eecken, and her readers, find this happiness in the seemingly simpler things in life - sense of community, friendship, music and communication. And out of these things is forged a feeling of inestimable value, for it is a form of love.

Tineke Van der Eecken opens our eyes to another land and another culture. She writes with great lucidity and compassion, and her narrative is suffused with a sense of wonder. She shares the Roman Terence's assertion that nothing human was alien to him. I hope that many, many readers will share Tineke's discoveries, and experience that rapture of understanding that always comes tinged with the poignancy of how it was achieved.