Sahwira: An African Friendship

Book review by
Kristen Breck, Common Sense Media
Sahwira: An African Friendship Book Poster Image
Intense, dramatic story of an interracial friendship tested.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Because this book is about friendship between a black African boy and a white boy of missionary parents (set in 1964 Rhodesia), the story is full of social/cultural issues: Racism, nationalism, colonialism, terrorism, and communism play out with civil strife, fighting, bullying, fear, hatred, and violence. Both characters experience bullying, racial name-calling, censorship, and violence for having a friend of the opposite race, and the boys are also caught in the confusion and pressure of the adult world. Evan is unsure of his role and is caught between his heart and politics, and his earnest yet wobbly decision-making is part of the larger story. Social messages also include the missionary goal of peace, respect, and nonviolence, and the ideas of Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and Jesus are used to inspire. Not fighting is also a message espoused by the missionaries. Communism plays a role as a frightening undercurrent in the civil unrest. The message that friendship is stronger than hatred is clear.


A white farmer is stabbed to death, though it's not described. Evan is forced to eat a flying ant by some black African boys. White teachers show photos to their students of black African men (supposed terrorists) shot and killed, and the photos are graphically described. There's much bullying with words and also threats with knives. There's a dog fight. Gladman gets beaten up in prison. Caleb steps on broken glass and cuts his foot with descriptions of blood pouring out.


A penis reference: African boys tease Evan that he is "too white to have one."


"Damn," "Kaffir," "Martin Luther Fink," "negroes," a host of derogatory and racial African words (with glossary at back).


Products mentioned: Mazoe Orange Crush soft drink; Lucky Strike cigarette advertisement; Castle Beer.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Lucky Strike Cigarette ads around town; bottle caps of Castle Beer found.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the backdrop to this story is the Rhodesian (Zimbabwe) civil war in 1964, and as such, there is clear racism, bullying, some graphic violence, derogatory language, and discriminatory attitudes. Parents also need to know that this story explores a friendship between two boys who, according to the mores of their time and place, are not supposed to be friends. Both boys are subjected to bullying and ridicule because of this friendship, yet after going through some intense decision-making with severe consequences, the boys come to know that their friendship is stronger than hatred. While the publisher suggests an age range of 9-13, this book is better suited to kids 12 and over.

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What's the story?

Evan is a white boy of missionary parents living in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and Blessing -- a black African boy living and going to school on the mission -- is his best friend. But Evan doesn't go to the mission school; instead, he goes to the all-white boys' school in town, where attitudes of superiority and racism exist. Racist violence and civil tensions rise while Evan and Blessing simply want to build and float their secret raft together. The boys live in a confusing world, one in which they see and hear both freedom fighters, as well as the mission message, which espouses peace and respect for all. But events come to a head when Evan is forced to be a cadet at school, and is pressured into giving away information that may put his African friend in danger. Author's note and glossary at back.

Is it any good?

Mature readers who enjoy historical fiction will learn much about the attitudes and life in Rhodesia during the 1960s. It's a meaty book for its depiction of racism and social strife, yet it also portrays thoughtful people -- both white and black -- struggling to do good.

However, the book will not be for every kid. The story is not action-packed; it's emotionally tense from the start, steeped in detail, and the two boys do not spend much time being kids and playing. Their world is serious and heady, and as such, young readers are required to be committed to the deep issues presented.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about interracial friendships. Do you have a friend who is a different race than you?  Does race affect your relationship, and if so, how? What might you learn from having a friend of a different race? What might your friend learn from you? Families can also talk about Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Jesus as they relate to nonviolence. They could also talk about the idea of peace. Do you agree or disagree with Mr. Chinyanga when he says, "Peace is too wishy-washy...?"

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