Casting with a Fragile Thread A Story of Sisters and Africa

Wendy Kann




Trade Paperback

304 Pages



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A comfortable suburban housewife with three children living in Connecticut, Wendy Kann thought she had put her volatile childhood in colonial Rhodesia—now Zimbabwe—behind her. Then one Sunday morning came a terrible phone call: her youngest sister, Lauren, had been killed on a lonely road in Zambia. Suddenly unable to ignore her longing for her homeland, she decides she must confront the ghosts of her past.

Wendy Kann's is a personal journey, set against a backdrop as exotic as it is desolate. From a privileged colonial childhood of mansions and servants, her story moves to a young adulthood marked by her father's death, her mother's insanity, and the viciousness of a bloody civil war. Through unlikely love she finds herself in the incongruous sophistication of Manhattan; three children bring the security of suburban America, until the heartbreaking vulnerability of the small child her sister left behind in Africa compels her to return to a continent she hardly recognizes. Kann pieces together her sister's life, explores the heartbreak of loss and belonging, and finally discovers the true meaning of home.


Praise for Casting with a Fragile Thread

"This is more than a touching story of personal tragedy. Wendy Kann paints an unapologetic and thoughtful view of a different kind of minority. Her candid treatment of race is refreshingly free of political correctness, her tales of bridging cultures are insightful and thought-provoking, and her family's searing history is penned with honesty. Best of all, her lovely words reflect an introspection and grace that are sometimes borne out of so much hardship."—Sarah Erdman, author of Nine Hills To Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village

"Wendy Kann's book—like Jeannette Walls's the Glass Castle—kept me up all night. It's one of the most beautifully-written, harrowing, compassionate non-fiction books I've read in years. Written with fierce love and a kind of sun-forged courage, it's heartbreaking, almost unbearably real, and incredibly hopeful."—Alexandra Fuller, author of Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight and Scribbling The Cat

"I was very affected by this accomplished memoir. Wendy Kann, with often heart-breaking and evocative detail, has brought back a small gem from her colonial experience of Africa."—Carolyn Slaughter, author of A Black Englishman and Before The Knife: Memories of an African Childhood

"Wendy Kann's courageous memoir is marked by loss—of a mother and a father, of a country, of a sister. Her work is remarkably free of sentimentality. Instead she writes eloquently about her and her sisters increasingly desperate struggle for love and sense of belonging in a family disintegrating at the same time that a brutal civil war breaks out in Rhodesia. She vividly captures the fear and denial and disbelief of her fellow white countrymen in the years preceding independence. Though painful at times, her journey back to Zimbabwe and her reclaiming of her childhood years in Africa is a gripping read."—Lisa Fugard, author of Skinner's Drift: A Novel

"Kann writes brilliantly about sisters: their frictions, their intimacies, and, above all, their binding loyalty, even when time has moved them continents apart. Her memoir takes us on an emotional helter-skelter, from the entitlement and raw racism of her African childhood, through troughs of poverty and abandonment, to an ascendant understanding of what means to live and love. Reads like a sequel to Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight and Doris Lessing's memoirs."—Rob Nixon, Rachel Carson Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin and author of Dreambirds

"In this lush and lyrical memoir, Kann recaptures her sometimes idyllic, mostly difficult childhood in colonial African Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) of the 1960s and 1970s. Kann left Africa as a young woman, but after her sister's sudden and tragic death in an automobile accident there in 1999, she returned to their childhood home. Struggling to deal with the loss, she uses the memoir form to reexamine her own life, which has included residence on three continents and been marked alternatively by privilege and hardship . . . Kann's debut is brave, brutally honest, and highly readable. Her prose is poignant and elegant; it especially comes alive when she is describing the land and people of Africa. Through her eyes, we also see America from another perspective and are reminded not only of the differences but also of the commonalities between us. Managing to make the memories of her family and past accessible to the reader, Kann has penned a beautiful and engaging memoir suitable for public and academic libraries."—Mary Grace Flaherty, Sidney Memorial Public Library, New York, Library Journal

"When Rhodesia declared independence from Britain in 1965, five-year-old Kann, the daughter of white Africans, would entertain her father's tennis party guests by singing, 'Rhodesia has sanctions, and I can't have Marmite on my toast!' In her 20s, Kann left what had become Zimbabwe for the U.S. Drawn back to Africa by the sudden death of one of her sisters (in a 1999 car crash in Zambia), Kann found herself reexamining her earlier life. Her alcoholic mother—'There should be lots of words to describe drunk mothers, like the Inuit have words for snow'—and her morose father had divorced early; the stepmother who raised the girls after their father's suicide was barely able to manage. The country itself had always been in a state of war; as Kann realized when she first met her American husband, 'I had never dated a man who hadn't killed someone, or at least been prepared to kill someone.' Until recently, writers like Joseph Conrad and Paul Theroux have defined the white colonial experience in literature. Now . . . we're hearing from a different constituency: the daughters."—Publishers Weekly

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Lauren, my youngest sister, was killed in a car accident on a straight and lonely road in Zambia in 1999. By then I was so comfortable in my American life, so warm in its assumptions, that her death felt...

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  • Wendy Kann

  • Wendy Kann lives in Connecticut with her husband and children. This is her first book.





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