The Garden of Burning Sand is Addison’s second book, and I was so thoroughly in love with his first, A Walk Across the Sun, that I simply had to get my hands on it. His debut novel, which tackled the difficult subject of human trafficking in a sensitive and insightful way, was simply beautiful, but The Garden of Burning Sand is even better.
The novel is set primarily in Zambia, with a few forays into South Africa and the USA, and once again Addison tackles some weighty issues. This time the focus is on gender-based violence and AIDS in Africa, as well as political interventions in the world of relief funding, so it’s certainly no easy read, but it is profound and evocative. The tale revolves around Zoe Fleming, an American human rights lawyer who is now living in Zambia, and a young girl with Down syndrome named Kuyeya, who survives a sexual assault. Zoe takes up Kuyeya’s case, and quickly becomes deeply involved in finding out the story behind the young girl’s life, and how this is connected to her attack. This journey of discovery also introduces her to the world of sex workers, and the taboos and myths associated with AIDS, as well as the increased likelihood of abuse for young people with disabilities. The lack of availability of funds for those who need them most is also touched on repeatedly.
The Garden of Burning Sand cleverly depicts the contrasts between the haves and have-nots by using the juxtaposition of the slums of Lusaka, and its luxuriously affluent suburbs, inhabited by ex-pats and the wealthy elite. We also see the action play out in Washington, Cape Town and Johannesburg, and the author’s research into all that he writes about is evident throughout. Although the story is one that deals with difficult topics, and is at times violent, harrowing and emotionally draining, it is also a love story. Not just the obvious love story that unfolds between Zoe and police officer, Joseph (which is not without its surprises), but also a story of love for Africa and her people. The descriptions of the settings that Addison makes use of are glorious in their detail, and make it clear that he too has a love for Africa. Maybe that’s why this book was so special to me.
I also love that he uses his novels to address real human rights issues which he obviously feels passionately about – he is an attorney and human rights activist after all – but does so in a way that is never sanctimonious. His characters are engaging, his use of language is gorgeous and his plots are riveting. I can’t wait to see what he writes about next.