Beyond the Cape is Braz Menezes’ first book in his Matata Trilogy. The three books are historical fiction but they very much set in a believable world telling the story of a Goan family’s experience spanning both sides of the Indian Ocean from the 1920s until decolonisation and beyond. Ostensibly it tells the story of Lando, who in this book is a young boy growing up in Kenya. In reality, the story uses Lando’s life very much as a microcosm of a typical experience that any number of Goans might have lived through at the tail end of empires (as both the Portuguese and the British Empire have a role to play in this story). It also follows various branches of Lando’s family tree to allow the story to move back in time or across the vast geographical spaces inhabited by the diffuse Goan diaspora. The title of ‘Beyond the Cape’ is chosen well as the fictional account is also book-ended by an introduction and a concluding author’s note that puts a historical context to the story contained within these chapters. The historical explanation helps explain why the front cover sports a painting of a fifteenth century Portuguese Caravel plunging through dangerous seas. It also explains the role of Catholicism to the story and the reasons why certain parts of the world were more familiar to the Goan community than others. This historical context is by no means exhaustive and the fictional account itself reveals far more history than you might expect from a book with a historical fiction label.
He gives a wonderfully rich account of all sorts of facets of the life of the Goan community in East Africa whilst not shying away or ignoring some of the more difficult issues that confronted the community or the life that they led in Africa. He explores a multitude of themes and raises difficult issues and questions of morality in a believable but accessible manner. Issues of hierarchy, race, religion, morality all find themselves worked into the wider themes of family, community, education, economic opportunities and bureaucratic realities all within the wider imperial framework.
I would say that it is a delight to read an imperial story from the perspective of those who are most certainly not the rulers or the privileged.