Pondering a Troubled Country 

Annie Holmes tells the stories beyond the headlines.

In her homeland, they slaughter farmers. That's pretty much all the Western media ever tells us about Zimbabwe. Yet "Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans are so much more complex" than the glimpses of violence, devastation, and despair afforded by tiny stories buried deeply in the mainstream press, insists Annie Holmes, whose memoir Good Red recounts a life spent in and out of the land formerly known as Rhodesia. When she left it to attend university in South Africa, as she explains in the book, it was "a war-ravaged, white-ruled colony." When she returned, it was "a newly independent African nation. ... Does everyone, everywhere, feel History thundering by them on either side? Or is it only in Southern Africa that the shape of life seems to transform utterly?" Holmes says she wrote the memoir "in a time of great trouble in Zimbabwe," while "looking back at our dreams of transformation at the time of Independence in 1980." Its title "comes from the saying 'Neither fish nor flesh nor good red herring' — somewhere in between," because that's how Holmes sees herself. A gender-equality and gay-rights activist and longtime documentary filmmaker who now lives in Berkeley and works for an international feminist nonprofit, she considers hers "a somewhat alternative white life." Thus, she says, "the question of pronouns turned out to be interesting for me: the degree to which I can say I speak for just 'me' or for 'us' — and if so, which 'us'? ... When I write about home — or perhaps when I write, period! — it seems to me that I'm arguing against any simple assumptions." She'll read from Good Red at Mrs. Dalloway's (2904 College Ave., Berkeley) on Sunday, March 16, along with San Francisco State University creative writing professor Toni Mirosevich, whose collection of personal narratives, Pink Harvest, won a First Series Award for Creative Nonfiction. "One example of media bias," Holmes continues, "is the simplification of race and politics ... it seems easy to slap the 'tribal' label onto complex political differences. ... Life in Zimbabwe right now is tough, incredibly hard on almost everyone. There are way too many differences to compare it with Berkeley," she says. "But I can tell you that I am always homesick." 4 p.m. MrsDalloways.com


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