Good Reading : May 2005
18 goodreading author profile My female characters now play a larger role than in previous books. In The Triumph of the Sun , for example, the three sisters in the story have major roles. For this reason, I think I have expanded my readership. I became more aware of women.’ Smith has been married four times. He confesses to ‘need- ing a woman’. In a way this fits his larger than life character. He is a man of undoubted endurance and he says, laughing, that ‘I’m much more interested in what makes women tick. Women are like men but so very different as well. After four marriages, I’m still lear ning,’ he says deadpan. ‘My first two marriages didn’t last very long. They were like trials. But my third wife Danielle and I were happily mar ried for 40 years, until she died. My present wife is nearly 40 years younger than me and I have been rejuvenated.’ He lets this settle with no further comment. He doesn’t have to add any more. His ‘how lucky am I’ laugh, with a touch of mischief, is enough. Smith recalls with a certain fondness the last days of the colonial period in which he grew up. He has no doubt that this was a good system. It is hard to imagine Smith brooking much of the politically correct view that colonialism was a wholly bad and demeaning system. ‘I was a colonial son and I have thought long and hard about the impact of colonialism on Africa,’ he says. ‘The British colonial system, the system I know most about, was flawed but not in a morally exploitative sense. The colonial administrators were men who thought that they were actually doing good.There was an altruistic base to the system. The British expression of colonialism filled a necessary part of the development of third world countries. Its time came and the model was outmoded. Still, it made people in Africa aware of democracy. In most cases, Britain gracefully withdrew and many Africans say that it was a good system.’ He is withering on the present state of Zimbabwe, for- merly Southern Rhodesia. In March 2003, in an interview with England’s Guardian newspaper on the release of his book Blue Horizon, he left no room to doubt his feelings towards the current political and social malaise in Zimbabwe. He said then: ‘The colonial society which I grew up in was unjust by 21st century standards, but it is not as brutal as Zimbabwe is today. People like Mugabe have the instinct of a fox.They are very hard to get rid of.’ Has his view changed? Not one jot. Although the epitome of good manners and courtesy, Smith gives a hint of incandescent anger when he mentions Mugabe. ‘How do you cope with someone like Stalin and Hitler?’ he says. ‘Mugabe is just a mad guy. The way he is behaving harks back to the evils of African society where a tribal dicta- torship may have existed. He’s like the old kind of Africa. I’m read in Zimbabwe, and knowing that Africans read me makes my work worthwhile.’ Smith is insistent that he is a ‘storyteller, that’s all’. But he is conscious that the accurate representation of African history is important to him and to his readers. He adds that the dynamic of history is essential to com- municate. In his books, beyond the adventure, there is some subtle teach- ing of the past. ‘Colonial Africa has now passed,’ he says flatly. ‘Still, it was the beginning of everything associ- ated with Africa today. We are all made up of our history and forebears. Knowing about the past helps us grasp the changes of today. I’ve lived through the history of post-colonial Africa. I’ve seen the struggle over Rhodesia, the evils of apartheid and the emergence of the ANC [African National Congress], His international readership of millions follow the vicissitudes of two families, the Courteneys and the Ballantynes. They are brought together for the first time in the new novel.