THE LAST RESORT is a remarkable true story about one family in a country under siege, and a testament to the love, perseverance, and resilience of the human spirit.
Born and raised in Zimbabwe, the son of white farmers living through that country’s long and tense transition from colonial rule, Douglas Rogers escaped the dull future mapped out for him by his parents for one of adventure and excitement in Europe and the U.S.
But when Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe launched the violent program to reclaim white-owned land and Rogers’s parents were caught in the cross-fire, everything changed. Owners of Drifters, a famous game farm and backpacker lodge in the eastern mountains that was one of the most popular budget resorts in the country, Lyn and Ros found their home and resort under siege, their friends and neighbors expelled, and their lives in danger. But instead of leaving, as their son pleads them too, they haul out a shotgun and decide to stay.
On returning to the country of his birth, Douglas finds his once orderly and progressive home transformed into something resembling a Marx Brothers romp crossed with Heart of Darkness: Pot has supplanted maize in the fields; hookers have replaced college kids as guests; and soldiers, spies, and teenage diamond dealers guzzle beer at the bar. Beyond the farm gates, meanwhile, rogue politicians, witch doctors, and armed war veterans loyal to President Mugabe circle like hungry lions.
And yet in spite of it all, Rogers’s parents - with the help of friends, farm workers, lodge guests and residents, among them black political dissidents and white refugee farmers - continue to hold on. But can they survive to the end?
In the midst of a nation stuck between its stubborn past and an impatient future, Rogers soon begins to see his parents in an entirely new light: unbowed, with passions and purpose renewed, even heroic. And in the process he learns that the “big story” he had relentlessly pursued his entire adult life as a roving journalist and travel writer, was actually happening in his parents' own backyard.
Evoking elements of The Tender Bar and Absurdistan, The Last Resort is an inspiring coming-of-age tale about home, love, hope, responsibility and redemption. An edgy roller-coaster adventure, it is also a deeply moving story about how to survive a corrupt Third World dictatorship with a little innovation, humor, bribery, and brothel management.
"This vibrant, tragic and surprisingly funny book is the best account yet of ordinary life — for blacks and whites — under Mugabe’s dictatorship."
"Zimbabwe in vertiginous decline is the backdrop for Douglas Rogers’s corrosively funny The Last Resort: A Memoir of Zimbabwe (Harmony), in which Rogers’s parents, among the country’s last remaining white farmers, attract everyone from prostitutes and diamond dealers to their backpacker lodge."
"At first I groaned, oh no, not another memoir by a honky from Umtali,
and then I read all night and loved it."
- Rian Malan, author of My Traitor's Heart
"A gorgeous, open-hearted book. Rogers manages to do the vital work of taking race out of Zimbabwe's story and putting the heart and humanity back into it. A must read for anyone who really wants to understand the extraordinary decency of ordinary Zimbabweans."
- Alexanrda Fuller, author of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight
"Authentic, disturbing, unusual, hugely funny. This is very different to other 'white boy in Africa' books. Rogers is a sharp observer and a brilliant storyteller."
- Max du Preez, author of Pale Native, Memories of a Renegade Reporter
"Pitch-perfect, undeniably real, and, most importantly, achingly funny, Rogers deftly reminds us that after wiping away tears and even burying the dead a good antidote to the violent, poignant and completely absurd place that Zimbabwe has become is to throw arms wide to the undaunted African sky and simply laugh."
- Wendy Kann, author of CASTING WITH A FRAGILE THREAD: A STORY OF SISTERS AND AFRICA
"With breathtaking talent, wry wit and abundant heart, Douglas Rogers tells the compulsively readable tale of his parents’ daily struggles to hold onto their land in the nightmarish landscape of present day Zimbabwe. With every turn of the page, you fear for the Rogerses survival, as well as the survival of the country they love so much. But even as they face the most difficult of challenges, their indomitable spirit shines through, revealing the ordinary heroism of people in extraordinary circumstances."
- Anne Landsman, author of The Rowing Lesson
“Travelogue, adventure yarn, political intrigue and tragedy, high-wire journalism, The Last Resort is a love story about the author and his homeland, Zimbabwe. She is by turns ineffably beautiful, unspeakably hideous, insanely rich, desperately poor, democratic, brutally autocratic, violent, corrupt and dysfunctional, even though, in person,her people seem to be one and all hard scrabble heroes and survivors. Rogers tries to leave her and doesn't even want to write about her, but in the end her charms are irresistible.
He can't help himself and neither can we.”
- Richard Dooling, author, White Man’s Grave
TRADE PRESS REVIEWS
Born in Zimbabwe, New York-based travel writer Rogers moves between two worlds with wit and grace... Angst, humor, beauty and terror mingle freely in his narrative… This rousing memoir should win over anyone with a taste for exotic can’t-go-home-again stories.(Sept.)
– PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (Starred Review)
…From dollars and diamonds to pot and prostitution, Rogers shows what survival looks like when your government loses its collective mind. Brilliantly funny and wry.
– Colleen Mondor (Aug) – BOOKLIST
A Brooklyn travel writer returns to his South African homeland to rescue the family farm from imminent danger. Eye-opening memoir weaving violent Zimbabwean politics with the camaraderie and fearlessness of a family in crisis. (Aug)
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SW Radio Africa Podcast
SW Radio Africa is an independent Zimbabwe radio station broadcasting from London in the United Kingdom. With the government of Robert Mugabe keeping a tight reign on the airwaves, the station produces and presents news and current affairs programmes for broadcast in Zimbabwe.
Gerry speaks to Douglas Rogers
Gerry Jackson has a conversation with author Douglas Rogers about his new book The Last Resort - the story of his parents attempts to hold on to their backpackers lodge outside Mutare.
Podcast The Last Resort
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Podcast The Last Resort Diamond Fields
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South African Times Live Podcast
Douglas Rogers‘ memoir of his parents and their struggle to survive and keep their farm in Zimbabwe has been getting a lot of attention, mostly because it’s not another one of those solemn white boy in Africa books. No, The Last Resort is full of wry humour and absurdity that drives home some hard truths about life in our neighbouring state. The author was in studio last week to discuss his parents, his country and his book:
Podcast The Last Resort
South Africa Radio Today Podcast
Sue-Grant-Marshall interviewed Douglas Rogers author of The Last Resort, on Wednesday 25 November 2009
Podcast The Last Resort
FMR Interview With Grry Bowes-Taylor
Podcast The Last Resort
FMR interview with Gorry Bowes-Taylor in Cape Town, December 2009. Gorry and her husband Michael made a special visit to Drifters a few weeks later to meet my parents. What a nice touch.
Talk Radio Europe Interview
Podcast The Last Resort
Talk Radio Europe Interview with Steve Gilmour in Malaga, Spain, January 2010. Great interview. He reckons the south of Spain sounds like Zimbabwe. Ha!
Q: The book is very funny, despite the harrowing subject matter. How did you come to write it this way.
A: I was in a restaurant in Manhattan one night in early 2005 with the writer Melanie Thernstrom and I told her the tragic story of my parents' lives, how their once beloved backpacker lodge was now a brothel, how my Mom was reduced to cooking meals on a portable gas cooker, that my Dad was cultivating a marijuana crop to earn a little money. Tears were rolling down her face. But she wasn't crying, she was laughing. She said something like, "I'm really sorry but what you just told me is actually quite funny." I realized then that I had to look at it in a completely different way.
Q: What books did you read to get yourself in the frame to write this way.
A: The first book that made me think I could write itfunny was Gary Shteyngart's Absurdistan, which is a novel set in some former Soviet republic. The politics in Absurdistan reminded me of the politics of Zimbabwe. Also the main character is stuck between two worlds, as am I. Then I read and re-read Scoop which Waugh wrote in the 1930s but is still incredibly relevant and accurate. I read a lot of Graham Greene to put me in a mood. Our Man in Havana; The Power and the Glory, Heart of the Matter. And finally Laurie's Lee's As I Walked Out one Midsummer Morning which I'd never heard of before but a friend recommended. It's the best travel memoir I've ever read.
Q: Your parents are incredibly resilient, creative and amusing.
A: Well, when I started looking at their situation in this different way, it gradually dawned on me that there was something quite heroic about them. They were adapting, surviving, even thriving. They were certainly living a far more interesting life than I was. Of course, it helped that, like most Zimbabweans, they had an incredible ability to laugh at the absurdity of their situation.
Q: Did you write the book and sell it, or write a proposal first and get a book deal?
A: I did it the old fashioned way. I wrote a proposal which I worked on for about six months, got an agent, then got a book deal. The proposal was the main thing; it made writing the book much easier because I did the hard yards in the proposal.
Q: We learn a lot about Zimbabwe history and politics, but it doesn't overwhelm the narrative.
A: I'm bored with politics in Zimbabwe and I come from there. What must other people think? Besides, there is no politics in Zimbabwe in the way we talk about politics elsewhere. It's just bullshit - mob rule. In some ways it should not even be credited with analysis. But of course the bullshit affects everyone's lives, so I realized I had to tell the story of the bullshit politics through the lives of oridinary people - y parents and all the characters on and around the farm, from both sides. In that way I hope that people will come to understand how absurd the politics is, without me giving a lecture.
Q: It reads more like a character-based novel than a memoir; you are almost incidental to the story.
A: Yes, my role is a guide. I am learning about my country at the same time as the reader is. To make it different from other African memoirs, I focused as much as possible on characters and the comic absurdities of the country. Miss Moneypenny for example, my father’s currency dealer, a sweet middle-aged white lady who becomes a money launderer. Or the way my parents argue about 'tactics' in the same way my New Jersey in-laws might argue about traffic on the Garden State Parkway.
All this was in the proposal. But it was after I got the book deal that the really amazing things began to happen on the farm. Everything that appears in the second half of the book presented itself to me after the proposal. The Political Commissar. The Soldier who is a spy. Fatso and the discovery of the Marange diamond field over the hills. The mysterious Tendai who leases the lodge. The MDC activists who hide out in the chalets. As a writer this material, these characters, were just pure gold. At times I literally thought my parents were setting it all up for me. I would phone my Dad and he’d say: “Christ, you won’t believe what’s happening now.” By the end, my 'memoir' had turned into a true-life adventure, complete with a dramatic final plot twist.
Q: Was it easy to get an agent and a book deal?
A: Every agent I sent the book to in New York wanted to represent it, and I went with Heather Schroder at ICM who represents Candace Bushnell, Paul Coelho, Wells Tower, the boy who harnessed the wind kid. She loved it that it was funny. But of all the publishers she sent it to only one was interested: John Glusman at Crown/Random House. Peace be upon him.
Q: What did your parents make of you writing it.
A: I think the fact that they knew I was writing a book about them energized them, gave them renewed purpose. They wanted a record of what they were going through. But they also didn’t want to be seen as victims, as clichés in yet another depressing African story. The story of Zimbabwe is of course depressing, but it’s also much more than that: it’s a story of survival, of heroism, of ordinary people – white and black – doing extraordinary things. I see the material my parents gave me as a gift. The book is my gift to them.
Q: Was it difficult to write about your parents objectively as a journalist?
A: My mother had told me certain things about my father in confidence that I knew I would have to write about. I worried about their reaction, but when I started sending them chapters they both told me they thought I was portraying them honestly. What was more difficult - and remains worrying – is writing about their politics.
Q: What have been the most harrowing times in Zimbabwe for your parents?
A: The election re-run mayhem between April and July, 2008. My parents raised my sisters and me on farms during the Liberation War, but the only time I’ve ever heard terror in my Mom's voice was during those three months last year. They had begun sheltering opposition activists at that point. The Solider was hovering around, and the war vets were closing in. I was certain they would be murdered.
Q: Would your parents ever leave Zimbabwe?
A: Only on a holiday.
Q: What was your parents’ perception of America, which they’ve visited only once?
A: They were amazed at how well it functioned: electricity, lights, water, subways, friendly service, shops filled with stuff. It was exhilarating. They loved the Hudson River Valley, and northern New Jersey where Grace’s parents live, seeing flags flying in gardens, the unashamed patriotism. And they liked the openness of the people. They told a lot of my friends that they have no idea how lucky they are to be living here.
Q: Having been born and raised in Zimbabwe, what are your thoughts on the current political situation there?
A: I worry the opposition will be co-opted and compromised by the regime. Staying in power is Mugabe's great genius. But, messy as the 'power-sharing' agreement is, I think society is opening up just enough for there to be no turning back. Most of all I have faith in the talent and character of ordinary Zimbabweans to rebuild the country.
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