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The Chameleon - Book Review

The Chameleon

The Chameleon is a coming of age story about Rorke Wilde, growing up in 1970s Rhodesia in a time of tumultuous political change. Rorke’s father is in the police force, and while the family are ostensibly privileged with a comfortable home, complete with servants and country club membership, danger and violence are never far away.

A tender boy with a close relationship to his family servant and quasi father figure, Themba, Rorke revels in the wild countryside of his home and has a special affinity with a chameleon that lives on the property. Wise Themba tells Rorke that he must be like the chameleon and adapt his outward persona according to his environment, and sure enough, young Rorke learns to do just that. When he leaves home for boarding school at the age of eleven, Rorke must be quick to adapt to the harsh environment of bullying and bastardisation in order to survive.

As the mother of adult sons, I found this story difficult to read at times. The brutality of boarding school life followed by compulsory military service portray a world in which young men are used as cannon fodder for the benefit of the few at the top. As the violent political upheaval of the time ensues, this story shows that the patriarchy will do anything to save its own skin, including eating its own young.

It was gratifying to see Rorke survive these ordeals and go on to make a happy and successful life for himself, but it is sobering to realise that his story is just one of many in which people are forced to leave their homelands to escape violence, terror, and war. A wonderful time capsule of a life lived in a time of enormous historical significance; I highly recommend The Chameleon by David Farrell.

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