Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

The Dust Diaries: Seeking the African Legacy of Arthur Cripps

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

The Dust Diaries: Seeking the African Legacy of Arthur Cripps

Article excerpt

The Dust Diaries: Seeking the African Legacy of Arthur Cripps. By Owen Sheers. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. Pp. 310. $23.00.

The Dust Diaries is a fictionalized account of the life of Arthur Shearly Cripps, an independent missionary who spoke out for Africans' land rights in colonial Zimbabwe. Author Owen Sheers describes the work in his Prologue as:

a fiction based on the facts, stories, myths, and tales I gathered while looking for [i.e., researching] Arthur Cripps. Some of the people who feature in this story are imaginary, but most are not. Of those who really existed, some of their actions I have invented, many, again, I have not. It is the story of Arthur Cripps' life reflected through my imagination.

Sheers also takes liberties with dates and names of African ethnic groups. The book makes no distinction between fact and fabrication; consequently, the reader must treat the entire work as fiction.

The value of the book, therefore, has to lie in the thrust of the story. Sheers depicts Cripps as a sad, sensitive man with a broken heart who goes to Africa in the hope of saving souls and protecting Africans from colonial oppression, and perhaps to ease his heartache. He implores his white neighbors to treat Africans fairly, and he ridicules colonial officials for their ham-handed, openly racist policies. His arguments have little effect, however, and Cripps decides to establish an independent mission station where Africans will be safe from colonial taxes and laws that limit how much land a family can farm. Shona families flock to Cripps's mission, and by the end of his life, he has become something of a legend among black and white Zimbabweans. But despite his sacrifices, successes, and noble failures, Cripps never finds a way to mend his broken heart, and his dying thoughts are of his long-lost love and the daughter he never knew. …

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