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A Chameleon from the Land of the Quagga cover

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2. Paperback Edition
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  • 396 pages
  • 6.0 x 9.0 inches
3. Hardcover Edition
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  • 396 pages
  • 6.0 x 9.0 inches

Memoir, Apartheid, Racially-mixed marriage, South Africa, Family, Immigrant life, Racial bigotry

A Chameleon from the Land of the Quagga
An Immigrant's Story by Joan Bismillah

Growing up ‘European’ in 1930s and ‘40s South Africa, Joan leads a privileged life … though marred by family tragedy. After she escapes her Victorian grandmother’s repressive upbringing to study midwifery, she comes face to face with the racial inequities of her homeland when she falls in love with Bis, a handsome young Indian doctor. Increasingly dangerous harassment and oppression force the couple to escape South Africa for London and finally small-town Canada, where Bis can run his medical practice and live as he wishes. A heartbreaking, unique, and elegantly written perspective on life under Apartheid, A CHAMELEON FROM THE LAND OF THE QUAGGA offers a deeply moving love story and a fascinating glimpse at history. This is an inspirational depiction of the life and indefatigable spirit of a woman who continually reinvents herself to conquer the challenges life throws at her no matter where she is or how dark and difficult the times.

"Bismillah’s prose is characterized by elegant, vivid flourishes... Along with evocative imagery, the memoir presents an enduring message about racial awareness... Overall, this is a historically rich chronicle of 20th-century South Africa by an inspirational woman.

Tender, romantic recollections, interlaced with a biting appraisal of apartheid."

- Kirkus Reviews


"Hers is more than an immigrant's story; it is an empowered narrative about fighting racism across continents. Interjections throughout the book offer pertinent and intelligent examinations of social differences and discrimination.

The memoir speaks with a voice that eschews all pretense of submissiveness and is instead open and forthright. All of Bismillah's positive qualities, beliefs, and flaws are on full display. The level of detail throughout the book is impeccable, illustrating settings, cultures, and emotions well. Imagery is succinct yet appealing: in their first winter in England, a stepping stone for her family between South Africa and Canada, Bismillah notes that "the pale sun looked more like a faded paper moon."

... While much of Bismillah's life has been fraught with tragedy, the book ends on a positive and optimistic note. A Chameleon from the Land of the Quagga is a memoir that's broad in scope yet sharp in its depiction of apartheid South Africa."

- Aimee Jodoin, 4/5 stars, Foreword Clarion Reviews

Joan Bismillah photo

Joan Bismillah was born in South Africa, and after more than fifty years in Canada, she is often asked, “Where are you from? I can’t place your accent.” Blithely, she replies that it’s Transatlantic. A perpetual student, her education is widely varied, and she has lived on three continents. Though recent health issues have curtailed her golf and tennis activities, she is still an ardent devotee of music, opera, and the theatre. She indulges her passion for Bridge and enjoys the camaraderie of intelligent women at a women’s club, Verity. Living proof that age need not be a barrier to productivity, she wrote A CHAMELEON FROM THE LAND OF THE QUAGGA because she wanted the challenge and because she hopes to inspire women, young and old, to be proud of who they are and never hold back.


Joan Bismillah

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