Delving into the history of his great-great-uncle Arthur Cripps, an Anglican missionary who left England for southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1900, Sheers repeatedly confronts what he calls the ''colonisation of fact by fiction.'' The more he learns about his relative -- an eccentric self-exile who advocated natives' rights -- the less he feels he knows him. Sheers' solution is to give in to his imagination, interspersing the account of his present-day search for the truth with a fictionalization of Cripps' life. The result is a moving picture of Zimbabwe's colonial past and the violent present engendered by the country's former white-minority rule. Ironically, Sheers travels to an Africa devastated by the very problems Cripps had fought.