The British Empire Library

The Last Of The White Ants

by Pattie Pink

Courtesy of OSPA

Robert G Mares (Somaliland 1950-52, Gold Coast 1952-61, Nyasaland 1961-73, Director of Veterinary Services, Nyasaland 1969-73)
The Last of the White Ants is a very good read for the money. It will surely be very much enjoyed by all ex-colonial civil servants, whether from Malawi or elsewhere in the one time Empire. And as an interesting and readable novel the general reader should not miss it.

The 'White Ants' of the title is the author's name for the expatriate civil servants in pre- and post-colonial Nyasaland/Malawi, and is a fictional account of their life and work. The story starts in January 1966 when the hero, Sinclair Brown, sails for the Cape in a Union Castle liner, and ends in 1992 about two years before Dr Banda's final retirement, as President. Some of the amusing incidents recorded may have been exaggerated for the sake of amusing the reader: this is not important because there is a useful four page appendix outlining the history of the country and the life of its first president Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda as well as an adequate map. The photographs are very good for a publication of this nature.

The foreword is written by Professor Colin Baker, an expert on the country, and gives a useful account of the author whose full name is Patricia Shelagh Pink (her very small image may be detected in the photograph on page 59).

Pattie lived and worked in Malawi as publications officer for the Ministry of Agriculture for eight years. This experience gave her a love and understanding of her fellow expatriate civil servants and motivated her to write this book as her tribute to them. It seems rather a back-handed tribute at times, such as when Sinclair makes a lifelong friend of a law-breaking planter by spending a day drinking with him instead of telling him off for the error of his ways.

The geographical names of places are sometimes spelt as in the time of Nyasaland and at others as Dr Banda later decided was more correct for Malawi. And although the author declares that any resemblance of the characters to real people is 'purely coincidental', it seems to this reviewer that there is a disproportionate amount of drinking beer, laughing, flirting and adultery in the tale: more than is justified. Those who have worked in Malawi may enjoy putting real names to the many pseudonyms and may feel that some characterizations are unfair: but remember this is a novel, not history: 'the years have smoothed down what was agitating and personal'. Buy it, read it and enjoy it.

British Empire Book
Pattie Pink
Trafford Publishing (UK) Ltd
1 4120 5515 6


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