Casting With a Fragile Thread: A Story of Sisters and Africa

by Wendy Kann

When Lauren is killed, Wendy's past comes to stalk her like a
jungle animal. She and Lauren and their sister Sharon grew up in
Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), and she realizes that she will have to go
back to Africa in order to move forward with her life in

The three sisters were raised dysfunctionally, amidst a landscape
of madness, terror and war. Their parents were at odds --- their
mother a rapidly deteriorating alcoholic, their father increasingly
melancholy as events in their adopted home shifted like quicksand.
Wendy, the oldest sibling, became a surrogate mother to Sharon and
baby Lauren, a role that was forced on her by such incidents as the
night Lauren disappeared. "The doorbell rang. I rushed to answer it
and found a stranger there holding Lauren, who was blinking her
round brown eyes in the soft outside light...My father was still at
work. My mother had been in her bedroom all day. 'She belongs
here,' I said finally, reaching out to take my little

A divorce eventually occurred and the girls' father remarried. His
new wife was capricious and cold and made Wendy's life worse. Her
father's eventual accidental death was whispered among the family
to be a suicide, and the girls' mother passed away in an
institution. Meanwhile in Rhodesia, rumors of war, acts of terror
and rumblings of inevitable change became commonplace.

"If you had asked anyone in the bars or clubs who we were fighting,
only the most dull-eyed would have snarled, 'Kaffirs.' Some, more
sober, might have said 'communism.' No one in my generation
recognized that we were fighting to preserve an unsustainable way
of life." After the war, there were still servants but they had to
be paid more and there were many more locks on many more doors. As
the old culture of colonialism died out to be replaced by a new
kind of imperialism of the recently oppressed, Wendy made a passive
escape by following her boyfriend to Europe and finally to
Connecticut where she settled in to a comfortingly safe life
raising her children and working as a counselor. Until she got the
phone call about Lauren.

Going back for the funeral, Wendy is caught up in the drama of
Africa once again. She senses generations of pain that she had not
before confronted, in her meeting with Moses, a servant hired by
Lauren's husband to keep poachers away. Intrigued, Wendy asks to
photograph Moses with his powerful rifle. Moses assents, but "there
was nothing coming from his eyes...I stared hard at Moses and
recognized powerlessness." Despite the rifle, Moses still fears the
white lady and her potential to humiliate and harm.

Lauren had been living in Zambia when her vehicle ran off a lonely
road. Her son Luke, who was in the car with her, was just a baby. A
major priority for the surviving sisters is arranging schooling and
childcare for the boy. Revisiting Luke with Sharon when he is
seven, Wendy comes to understand that Luke needs not just childcare
now that his mother is gone; he needs a memory of Lauren. Wendy is
able to tell him that the accident was "the car's fault" and that
his mother loved him.

CASTING WITH A FRAGILE THREAD is written episodically, poetically,
by someone who didn't plan to write a book. It is Wendy's gift to
Luke, her eulogy to her spirited sister Lauren, and her way of
comforting herself for her enduring loss.


Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on December 26, 2010

Casting With a Fragile Thread: A Story of Sisters and Africa
by Wendy Kann

  • Publication Date: April 17, 2007
  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Picador
  • ISBN-10: 0312425724
  • ISBN-13: 9780312425722