Book Review: The Other Side of Silence

The Other Side of Silence

Brink, Andre

Harcourt, 2002

 

This is a hard book to place.  On several levels it is the type of book that should be required reading, on others it is hard to recommend.  My view is that overall it is a strong story, though not to be taken at face value.

The story revolves around Hannah X, with snatches of her prior life brought into interludes in her current one.  The book reads like a classic of feminist anti-colonial campaign literature.  An orphan, she grew up being abused and molested in an orphanage.  Once older, but still under the “care” of the orphanage, she is hired out as domestic help into yet more abuse until eventually she finds herself with a good position and a positive outlook.  Her employer then dies, and having now effectively bought her way out of the orphanage, she finds out that the government is looking for women to assist in the colonies in Africa.  She applies and is accepted, but doesn’t realize that she is effectively a mail order bride.  When she arrives in Africa she is forced to realize the situation when the man who “ordered” her tries to rape her on the train journey from the port to the capitol.  She resists and escapes to a relativly safe area on the train with a few other like-minded women, and they are essentially ignored until the soldiers “guarding” the train find them and have their go.  The officer in charge chooses her, and when she refuses he forces the issue.  She bites hard.  She is then beaten and mutilated by the soldiers and, on arrival at the capitol, is banished to a “women’s house”a long way from anywhere with other women who were “troublesome” during the trip.

She attempts to commit suicide by falling out of the wagon and being left in the desert, but is found by a native community who nurse her back to health and then take her to the house.  Those running the house believe the natives were responsible for her condition, and more soldiers come and hunt down the natives in vengeance.  Years pass and her anger grows, until one night a visiting group of soldiers stops by the house for some “relaxation.” They attack a young girl, and in response Hannah kills the officer.  She flees into the desert and the young girl goes with her, and guided by hate she begins a campaign of destruction which now would be considered domestic terrorism.

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