Wendy Kann lives a comfortable suburban life in Connecticut. Her three children don't worry whether there's enough fuel in the car to make it to the grocery store, or that their mother might never return from the errand. Her small nephew, who lives on a rural farm in Zambia, does. His mother, Kann's youngest sister Lauren, died in a car accident there. The phone call announcing this event brings a flood of memories of a tumultuous upbringing that prompted Kann to write Casting with a Fragile Thread: A Story of Sisters and Africa. Kann and her sisters came of age during the 1960s and '70s, when civil war transformed this volatile region from the British colonial outpost of Rhodesia into Zimbabwe. Colored by the mental instability of their mother and the early death of their father, the sisters' unsettled family life mirrored the civil instability of their country. Kann recollects friends fighting to keep white rule, and how the nationalist movement's victory dismayed and disillusioned many, including herself. She tells of whites suddenly sleeping behind locked gates, and eyeing their black servants with suspicion even as they continue to order them around.
The stark relief of the disparity of Kann's sophisticated life in the United States contrasts with Lauren's exotic yet bleak existence. Lauren's nearest neighbor in the dusty outback of Zambia is miles away, flies and dust plague the household, squatters imperil the crops, and when the phone works, it's only for a few precious minutes. Kann says that any Out of Africa illusions she or Lauren might have had were quickly quashed under the weight of drought, malaria and loneliness.
It is the anchor of her sisters' African lives Kann's sister Sharon still lives there and the tugging past of her homeland that moor Kann's tale.