Through the Window
“Edmund Prestwich’s poems, moving outward from the family nexus into those peopled landscapes of South Africa and Greece he knows so intimately, are undecorative, informed by historical suffering and present pain. Language is used exactly, the vision is a humane and loving one” – Peter Scupham.
Rockingham Press, 1997, £6.95.
If you wish to order a book, email me via the contact form. Postage will be free within the UK.
Their Mountain Mother
Hearing Eye Press, 2009, £7.00
with illustrations by Emily Johns.
Lesotho, 1820 – 1824. Invaded by starving hordes from across the mountains, the Southern Sotho chiefdoms collapse in massacre and starvation. The tiny Mokoteli clan lies directly in the path of the invaders. The Mokoteli chief Moshoeshoe is both brave and wise. But will he be able to lead his people to safety?
“Edmund Prestwich’s small epic of indigenous Africa shows how a single figure can be the focus of a whole race. It is powerful story telling, adroit and incantatory. Laid throughout with rich, moving detail, it achieves great pathos and mythical force.” – Ian Pople
“This is a handsome and unusual book. Edmund Prestwich presents the true epic tale of the nineteenth-century Mokoteli chief, Moshoeshoe, who famously established the nation of the Basotho in Basutoland (later renamed Kingdom of the Lesotho). Lesotho still survives heroically as a land-locked enclave, surrounded by the Republic of South Africa, where the author was born.
The well-paced narrative extends over 19 pages, from the birth of our hero to his arrival with his people at the mountain pastures which will be their resting place and home. It is high adventure: Moshoeshoe’s people are pitted against cannibals, the bleak environment, starvation, the inroads of other desperate tribes with ‘new kinds of war’. They survive, of course, but at great cost.
I regretted the fact that the guide to pronunciations of names was at the back, not the front of the volume, because by the time I reached it I had already adapted my own notion of how these names should sound, and it was quite wrong. I was also confused at first by the two short (but related) poems ‘Shaka’ and ‘The Cannibals’, which are presented after the main poem like bits of the main narrative that have somehow got separated. Perhaps there was a plan for a longer poem, into which these striking sections could have got incorporated.
That aside, Prestwich handles his main tale well. Often, but by no means all the time, he establishes an easy iambic stride, with lines of roughly five stresses. This varies dramatically, however, according to pace and action, just as the narrative swings between past tense and present historic. He’s particularly good on visual detail: there is a filmic quality to his landscapes. Here, for example, are two of Moshoeshoe’s people just before the marauding ‘Wild Cat People’ attack:
Polished by light, their ebony bodies shining,
they stroll to a cliff edge and stand looking over.
All round them, little sandstone cliffs are glowing,
yellow, molten orange, red, with pools of shadow,
as if the substance of the hills were burning.
This is beautiful writing, and it is a grand story with arresting illustrations from Emily Johns. At no point did I doubt the imaginative reality, the absolute commitment of Prestwich to reliving this tale. I was there with him.” - Helena Nelson, Ambit 202