Notes from an writer: Irene Sabatini on discovering inspiration in Zimbabwe’s landscapes

Although I’ve now spent most of my life outside of Zimbabwe – in Colombia, Barbados, England, Switzerland, and now America – I always seem to return home.

Two of my books (The Boy Next Door and my last, An Act of Defiance) are set in Zimbabwe, and although the characters like to travel, they long for a life of peace and prosperity, for a less complicated existence of stable currencies and full of currency supermarkets , their hearts (and bodies) belong to this broken land that is abundant in its beauty. My other book, Peace and Conflict, is set in Geneva and has family ties to Zimbabwe. The main choices I have made in my books have been traced back to certain Zimbabwean landscapes, whether or not I realized it at the time of writing.

Aunt Delphia, a veterinarian, is one of the main characters in Peace and Conflict. It didn’t exist for a long time when I was working on the novel, and then suddenly it was there and had an important place in the story. Where did my subconscious bring it up from?

In 2011 my husband and I took our two sons on a trip from Bulawayo, my hometown, to Victoria Falls – a 273-mile drive down a narrow, spotty one-way street. We drove under a cloudless blue sky at the end of a southern hemisphere winter. The road stretched sluggishly and steadily. There wasn’t much to distract the eye: bush and forest, a few huts, people idly walking on the dirt, the occasional man riding bicycles, and a lot of vendors selling tomatoes or oranges in tin bowls. When I think of that drive, I think of silence.

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