PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


The Boy Next Door: A Novel by Irene Sabatini

Sabatini’s book exudes an authenticity and warmth that can’t come from an author’s imagination alone, but from a lifetime of listening and observing.

The Boy Next Door

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Subtitle: A Novel
Author: Irene Sabatini
Price: $23.99
Format: Hardcover
Length: 416 pages
UK Publication Date: 2009-09-03
Publication Date: 2009-09
Author website

The Boy Next Door is an exceedingly pleasant book. It is so accommodating, so good-natured, so eager to please -- winsome, really -- that, although your interest may wax and wane, you will read all 416 pages to the very end. Irene Sabatini’s prose is straight-forward and uncomplicated; her sentences have an airiness that lifts them right off the page. What you read is what you get. And what you get is two endearing love stories.

One love story is between a white boy and a mixed race girl, and spans more than a decade of tumultuous, post-independence times in the southern African country of Zimbabwe. The second love story is the author’s affection for her home country. Sabatini, who grew up in Zimbabwe, now lives abroad. But the memories of her childhood are the scenes and characters that animate The Boy Next Door.

The plot emanates from a singular event -- the house next to the home of young Lindiwe Bishop burns to the ground, killing a woman inside. The woman’s 17-year-old stepson is arrested for the crime. Lindiwe becomes strangely fascinated by this brash "Rhodesian" boy, Ian. After he is released from prison, the two tentatively begin a clandestine friendship that they know neither community norms nor family members would approve of. Whether or not Ian actually set the fire is a mystery that runs through the book, and there are times that Lindiwe is obsessed with learning the truth. By the book’s end, however, so much has happened between the pair that whether or not Ian lit the match seems to make little difference.

Lindiwe and Ian’s relationship goes through its break-ups, fights, family pressures, and existential moments of "where are we going" self-reflection, as most love stories do. But what makes their relationship interesting is how its vicissitudes expose some of the real social issues facing Zimbabwe after its birth as a nation in 1980 -- relations between white, black and "colored" Zimbabweans, the legacy of the country’s civil war, and the despicable, culturally-accepted ways that men can treat women of all races.

Throughout, Sabatini’s voice comes out loud and clear, especially when the setting is Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city and her hometown. As Lindiwe explains how she and her father used go to "Old Man Patel to get his new trousers adjusted", she reminisces about the "brown paper bag sticky and oily with Indian koeksisters" (sweet fried dough) that she would get to eat. You have no doubt that Sabatini has eaten those very same koeksisters.

Even as the characters in the story face troubling times, like when Lindiwe accompanies her best friend into town for a backdoor abortion, Sabatini describes the people and the places that inhabit her book with care. She takes time with each place, with each person, to make them alive for you, because they have been alive for her. Boy exudes an authenticity and warmth that can’t come from an author’s imagination alone, but from a lifetime of listening and observing.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.