The Boy Next Door

By Irene Sabatine

The Short Take:

The main characters in Sabatini’s first novel feel completely real — as confused, conflicted, and multi-faceted as anybody in real life. The fact that her story weaves around an inter-racial couple amid the transformation of Rhodesia into Zimbabwe and the rise of Mugabe simply makes it even more fascinating. I must admit I cried at the end — for the love as well as the pain. Everyone should read this book.


This book is so much like real life. At first it took some getting used to — you’re just dropped right in and must get to know characters and their “roles” through discovery more than exposition. The dialogue can sometimes read like, “Yes. No. Wait.” But that’s how people really talk as they try to sort out what they really want to say. It all adds to this book’s exceptional believability.

Sabatini’s own life, in large respect, parallels that of her central character, Lindiwe Bishop. However, according to her, Lindiwe’s relationship with a white, largely “racialistic” young man (Ian McKenzie) is based on a “what if” not an actual experience (check out the her website link at the end to learn more).

I guess some people might call this a romance, though it certainly doesn’t unfold like one. It is filled with hesitations, foreboding, insecurities, and frustrations — just like real life. I believe Sabatini uses the core relationship as a tool to portray the complex relationships and feelings between white, black, colored, and Indian in her homeland. Both Ian and Lindiwe evolve — sometimes in surprising ways — as Zimbabwe transforms. A diverse supporting cast serves mainly to reflect these changes and the good and bad they bring.

I particularly loved the way this novel was so clear-eyed about the disappointment, fear, and prejudice — as well as the goodness — found in people of every shade. I am so glad I read this book. It gave me a new degree of understanding as well as taking me on a wonderful journey.

A Little Plot:

Next door to 15 year-old Lindiwe, a white woman is burned to death. Her teenage stepson is accused but finally released, though not exactly exonerated. One day he offers Lindiwe a ride. This is the very tentative beginning of their relationship. However, finding one’s soul mate in the worst possible person for their place and time is not something either seems anxious to pursue. Their connection doesn’t grow by romantic stealth. It is companionship that grows into friendship based on better mutual understanding.

Yet, both still have secrets and both have fears. As people would say: It’s complicated. Frankly, that’s what makes it so great to read.

For more about Irene Sabatini and her book, click here. It has some footage from a book signing that I think you’ll find particularly interesting.

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2 Responses to “The Boy Next Door”

  1. irene sabatini Says:

    Dear Rikki,

    How wonderful it is for me as the author to have Lindiwe and Ian, and their story become so real to you. It thrills me that Ian and Lindiwe are now creatures of flesh and blood… magic! They occupied great chunks of my days and even now I can still hear them and want them to be treated kindly!

    Thank you for your insightful review.

    Irene Sabatini

  2. Shoba Moyo Says:

    I am 3/4 into the book and can not put it down. I grew up in Zimbabwe and love every bit of it. The slang, the places, the food,the music, everything!! It sparked a lot of dialogue with my family this week (i bought the book on friday), all the politics and racial issues in the book. Lindiwe and Ian are so real, full of life and a trip down memory lane for me. I see a lot of Lindiwe and Ian in my life. Can’t wait to finish the book. A wonderful piece of work!!!

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