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Bill Schermbrucker.

Vancouver, Talonbooks, c1983.
154pp, paper, $7.95.
ISBN 0-88922-208-8.

Grades 12 and up.
Reviewed by Joan McGrath.

Volume 12 Number 2
1984 March

Bill Schermbrucker was born and educated in Kenya, coming to Canada as a grown man. He consciously adapted, in habits and speech, to his new country: it annoys him when people who have lived in Canada for years maunder on about "the old country," whichever it may be, as though they were merely in transit. He came to take root; his short stones take their title from that odd creature who changes his colour to blend with his background. His young storyteller-persona, Alistair, has been taught that it is cruel to put a chameleon down upon a red background, with which it is not able to cope. What, he wonders, would it do? And people: how much, how deeply, can a human being really change? Like the chameleon, we have our limitations. . . .

This powerful collection is all Kenya; the bright hot colours, the smells, the people, the blazing sun, and the Mau Mau. The stories are told from Alistair's perspective, as he grows from boy to man in that perilous era of uncertainty and change. Sometimes nostalgic, occasionally brutal and nightmarish, they are always compulsively readable.

Schermbrucker has been asked if his stories are autobiographical: he replies "No, no—much clearer!" But there must be a strong autobiographical element for his brilliant vision of the past in this—to Canadian readers—foreign place to be so vivid and real. The author used to be testy about Canadian ignorance regarding Africa, as though one could use the name of a gigantic continent as sufficient address: through his writings, one African country at least comes into brilliant focus.

Joan McGrath, Toronto Board of Education, Toronto, ON.
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