Little Stones by Elizabeth Kuiper
Set in the last decades of Mugabe-era Zimbabwe, Elizabeth Kuiper’s debut novel Little Stones is about grappling with identity. Hannah Reynolds is a precocious eleven-year-old energetically passing her days at private school with her best friend Diana, her financier parents’ separate houses, and her grandparents’ tobacco farm. She’s white and she’s privileged; some of the people she loves are also white and privileged, others are not one or not the other, others are neither.
The story unfolds from Hannah’s point of view, but Kuiper also deploys Hannah’s reflections to offer insights beyond her young protagonist’s comprehension into the complex dynamics – racial, personal, and political – at work around her. While it is clear from the beginning that her parents are tensely divorced, elements of their fraught history emerge gradually and it becomes apparent that Hannah’s father is the kind of person some would euphemistically call ‘controlling’. As petrol queues stretch for days, the water is intermittently cut off without warning and traffic hurriedly pulls over to the side of the road whenever Mugabe’s motorcade passes, Hannah and Diana swim, study, and dream, and Hannah’s family tensions escalate along with the conflicts beyond the security gates.
Hannah’s understanding of her world is constantly challenged. Her mother’s Shona housekeeper, Gogo, is beloved by Hannah and her mother, but even at the end of the novel Hannah realises she has more to learn about the dimensions of their relationship. When it seems likely that her grandparents may need to leave their farm due to the political situation, Hannah must make sense of the dramatic events that follow. Little Stones is a portrait, from an explicitly defined perspective, of a country at a moment in its long history. Hannah’s story is infused with an aching love and sadness for her country, which is also Kuiper’s country of birth.