Sub-titled 'A Jewish Odyssey to Africa' this is the autobiography of a young man who
left what was then (1939) German Silesia to escape the Nazi persecution of the Jews
and ended up in Northern Rhodesia. The first hundred pages describe Peter Fraenkel's
life in Germany up to the age of twelve, and the dramatic effects the Nazis' assumption
of power had on his extended family who until then had regarded themselves as
Germans rather than Jews.
Helped by an uncle who had earlier settled in Johannesburg, the Fraenkel family
arrive in a Northern Rhodesia still recovering from the effects of the depression. Life is
tough, and as German Jews they feel isolated - too proud to associate with Lithuanian
Jews, not a part of the small settler community, not accepted into 'Government circles' -
in a no man's land between whites, blacks and Asians. Father starts up a dry cleaning
business. Mother works as a dressmaker and young Fraenkel goes to the local all white
Government school, but is profoundly affected by the treatment of black Africans.
The dust jacket blurb has the book describing "the author's transition from persecuted
Jew and 'enemy alien' to assimilation into colonial society", but his experiences in the
last year in Germany and his first years in Northern Rhodesia have left scars and it is his
antagonism to, rather than his assimilation into, that way of life that pervades the second
part of this book. He reserves his most stringent criticisms for British colonial rule, and
overseas civil servants in particular. This despite the fact that his studies at Witwatersrand
University were paid for by the Northern Rhodesia Government and that he in fact
worked as a civil servant in the Information Department - locally engaged yet enjoying
overseas terms and conditions.
The author's description of his time as an Assistant Broadcasting Officer with the
Central African Broadcasting Service is a valuable contribution to the history and
development of information services in the Colonial Service. He was in 'on the ground
floor' of developments in vernacular broadcasting programmes and the invention of the
saucepan radio which did so much to open up the remoter parts of colonial territories. He
finds himself facing the dilemma of having to disseminate information about the
proposals for the Central African Federation, whilst being utterly opposed to the idea
himself and recognising that the vast majority of the local population are also opposed.
He is critical of the Provincial Administration for its 'neutral' stand on the issue, and
mistakenly interprets this as support for the Federal concept.
Peter Fraenkel is a born story teller and the book is full of anecdotes, which are
written in an easily readable style, though there are so many anecdotes that the thread of
his story sometimes gets lost. Sadly, many of the stories he retells about events in Northern Rhodesia, whilst good tales, contain many inaccuracies. As he is a professional
journalist one would have hoped that the author would have taken the trouble to access
original source material to check accuracy.
The author himself describes his book as an Odyssey - he did indeed wander into and
then out of Africa - he touched its skin, but he did not get under it. His observations are
interesting as they are from a perspective very different to that of most expatriate