(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Survival and rebirth resonate in When Rain Clouds Gather. The protagonist, Makhaya Maseko, nervously waits in an elderly man’s hut in Barolong, South Africa, before daring to cross into independent Botswana. Makhaya burns a note linking him to a bombing plan and reveals he dislikes his tribe and has been imprisoned. Police sirens wail as they pass in the darkness before he climbs barbed wire fences to freedom. Moving blindly in Botswana, Makhaya hears melodious bells that replace the harsh sound of sirens.

Makhaya spends the night with an older woman and a girl, who tell him the bells are worn by the cattle, which move freely. After sunrise, a truck driver offers Makhaya a ride to a crossroads where Makhaya hopes to register as a refugee. At the police station, the policeman knows Makhaya’s name, showing him a newspaper article identifying him as a saboteur. Makhaya denies that charge, and the officer says he realizes that Makhaya only thinks about violence but does not pursue it.

Makhaya sees an elderly man, Dinorego, outside the post office and tells him that he desires contentment. Dinorego, an outsider originally from northern Botswana, contemplates Makhaya’s fortitude for living in rural Botswana, commenting that God has blessed his village, which is free of crime and violence and rich with generosity and tolerance compared to urban South Africa. Dinorego invites Makhaya to his and his daughter Maria’s home in Golema Mmidi. Here, Makhaya encounters a community of women because most of the male villagers are at cattle posts tending their livestock. Dinorego introduces Makhaya to an Englishman, Gilbert Balfour, who aids the natives by providing scientific and cooperative agricultural methods to ease impoverishment. The village’s punitive subchief, Matenge, is aware of...

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(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Abrahams, Cecil, ed. The Tragic Life: Bessie Head and Literature in Southern Africa. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 1990. The essays in this collection discuss the themes commonly found within Head’s work, as well as the author’s imagery, narrative strategies, feminist discourses, and representations of madness.

Brown, Coreen. The Creative Vision of Bessie Head. Flushing, N.Y.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2003. Discusses Head’s life and the ways in which her novels reflect the personal struggles she faced in her lifetime. Provides a good critical interpretation of each text and addresses the importance of each one within Head’s oeuvre.

Eilersen, Gillian Stead. Bessie Head: Thunder Behind Her Ears—Her Life and Writing. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1995. A basic biography; provides useful background to the author’s work by recounting her life and exile.

Head, Bessie. A Woman Alone. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 1990. Collection of Head’s essays, in which she writes about her troubled beginnings as a “colored” woman growing up in South Africa and about her migration to Botswana. She also discusses the process of writing and how her life experiences have informed her fiction.

Ibrahim, Huma, ed. Emerging Perspectives on Bessie Head. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 2006. This collection of commentary from scholars around the globe constitutes a detailed and comprehensive critical work on Head. Evaluates Head’s contribution to the canon of African literature, as well as the range and scope of her fiction and nonfiction.

Johnson, Joyce. Bessie Head: The Road of Peace of Mind—A Critical Appreciation. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2008. Focuses on Head’s creative process; seeks to detect and analyze the author’s use of oral traditions in her written work.

Sample, Maxine, ed. Critical Essays on Bessie Head. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Greenwood Press, 2003. A collection of scholarly essays that focus on themes commonly found in Head’s work. Maureen Fielding’s essay focusing on agriculture and healing and Maxine Sample’s commentary on space and perspective are both equally imperative to anyone interested in When Rain Clouds Gather.