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Unequivocal gent? Review of The Setting Sun by Bart Moore-Gilbert

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Bart Moore-Gilbert has argued of the Jamaican-British author Mary Seacole that she sought to gain greater self-understanding by blending autobiography and travel writing in her magnum opus, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands. By reflecting on her lived experience of death, migration, racial prejudice and the excesses of imperialism she was able to make some sense of her own identity and how it had been shaped by the world. There are shades of Seacole’s approach in The Setting Sun, Moore-Gilbert’s own new book about a trip to India to investigate his late father's conduct as a colonial policeman during the chaotic final days of the Raj. In the often painful process of learning about his father, Moore-Gilbert discovers much about himself, and he is forced at every turn to question his own values, theories and memories.

The thirteen-year-old Bart wakes up one night in the dormitory of his English public school, cringing at the cold as much as at the racist epithet a fellow pupil has just mouthed: ‘Get up, Nigger, quick.’ Having recently moved to Britain after a childhood spent in colonial Tanganyika, Bart sees himself as a ‘white African kid’ in exile as the legal subject of a foreign country that he can barely comprehend. Marginalised by his peers, he longs for the natural colour and boy’s own excitement of his life in East Africa, playing with his beloved boxer dog Tunney, defending chickens from assault by safari ants, or taking all, though, the young Bart misses his father Bill, a gentleman game warden with the debonair integrity of a John Mills or David Niven. That night, Bart is led from the dormitory to his housemaster, who nervously informs him that his father has died in a plane crash. As Bart breaks down, the housemaster’s wife offers him a caramel éclair, in a pathetic act of consolation.

Book details: Bart Moore-Gilbert, The Setting Sun: A Memoir of Empire and Family Secrets, Verso Books, 288 pp., ISBN: 9781781682685 (hbk).
Original languageEnglish
Pages22-25
Number of pages3
JournalThe London Magazine
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2014

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