amaBooks

Below are reviews of amaBooks titles

Brief extracts of reviews and comments about the books are listed first, with more extensive reviews listed by title afterwards.

id#

2

ISBN:

0-7974-2540-3
book title:
Short Writings from Bulawayo

publishing date:

country:

ZWE
review:
Short Writings from Bulawayo is an enjoyable book that should appeal to readers with varied tastes and interests. The book is a pleasure to read.
review author:
Miriam Madziwa
source:
Weekend Tribune

id#

3

ISBN:

0-7974-2839-5
book title:
The Caruso of Colleen Bawn

publishing date:

country:

ZWE
review:
The prose and verse reflect the truth, both enjoyable and painful, about life in the country.
review author:
source:
Zim Online

id#

4

ISBN:

0-7974-2896-8
book title:
Short Writings from Bulawayo II

publishing date:

country:

ZWE
review:
The book is a must read for insights into the current Zimbabwean consciousness. It is dynamic, real, seasoned with humour and bursting with creative energy from some of the country's most talented writers.
review author:
Chipo Chitonga
source:
The Zimbabwean

id#

5

ISBN:

0-7974-3131-4
book title:
Short Writings from Bulawayo III

publishing date:

country:

ZWE
review:
Short Writings from Bulawayo III exhibits some of the bravest writings to come out of contemporary Zimbabwe, openly addressing the country's socio-economic and political crisis.
review author:
Tins Magaba
source:
The Zimbabwean

id#

6

ISBN:

0-7974-3131-4
book title:
Short Writings from Bulawayo III

publishing date:

country:

ZWE
review:
Here, the realities of society are captured in motion, as they happen, with the socio-economic hardships in Zimbabwe today continuing to offer a fertile template for literary works. The short stories and poetry collected here are a reflection of the diversity of cultures, races and generations from which Zimbabwean writers come.
review author:
Phillip Chidavaenzi
source:
Sunday Mirror

id#

7

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3590-2
book title:
Dancing with Life: Tales from the Township

publishing date:

country:

USA
review:
Christopher Mlalazi may well be the most promising younger writer in Zimbabwe today. His fiction captures the edgy energy of townships where young people have learned to be light on their feet, their dancing born of economic necessity and mocking disrespect for traditional authority.
review author:
Patricia Alden, Professor of African Literature, St. Lawrence University
source:

id#

8

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3590-2
book title:
Dancing with Life: Tales from the Township

publishing date:

country:

ZWE
review:
Christopher Mlalazi is the rising voice of the ghetto, with all its violence, sharp anger, bitter protestations and tangible promise of a better tomorrow.
review author:
Raisedon Baya, Writer and Columnist
source:

id#

9

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3590-2
book title:
Dancing with Life: Tales from the Township

publishing date:

country:

ZWE
review:
This collection sparkles with wit, sizzles with style and dances with life. It is a welcome addition to Zimbabwe's growing canon and will be read and enjoyed for years to come.
review author:
Petina Gappah, Writer and Critic
source:

id#

10

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3590-2
book title:
Dancing with Life: Tales from the Township

publishing date:

country:

review:
Mlalazi's collection of short stories is an important addition to the new writing from Zimbabwe concentrating on the social disintegration of the country. The stories stand out by being set in Bulawayo, drawing on the distinctive identity of a provincial city, its Ndebele culture, and its marginal relation to the centre. The success of the stories lies in the experiences of ordinary people coping with violence, anger and angst, rather than any self-conscious sense of form.
review author:
2009 Noma Awards Judges
source:

id#

11

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3644-2
book title:
Long Time Coming

publishing date:

country:

WLF
review:
A remarkable, inspiring book… buy it! You'll be repaid with some brilliant writing.
review author:
Tom Cheesman
source:
The Raconteur

id#

13

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3644-2
book title:
Long Time Coming

publishing date:

country:

GBR
review:
A powerful and timely collection of short stories and poems about Zimbabwe, Long Time Coming… is a collection straining with suspended hope, change has taken too long to arrive. Political frustration, brutal violence and painful loss is met with practical resignation and grim humour.
review author:
Gemma Ware
source:
The Africa Report

id#

14

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3644-2
book title:
Long Time Coming

publishing date:

country:

ZWE
review:
You don't have to be in Zimbabwe to know or experience what is happening in Zimbabwe. All you have to do is get yourself a copy of Long Time Coming.
review author:
Raisedon Baya
source:
The Zimbabwean

id#

15

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3644-2
book title:
Long Time Coming

publishing date:

country:

GBR
review:
Register in the short stories shifts from blank naturalism to formal social realism, from the carnivalesque to the self-consciously melodramatic, from the fine chisel of irony to the sledgehammers of lampoon and parody.
review author:
Neil Lazarus
source:
The Warwick Review

id#

16

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3644-2
book title:
Long Time Coming

publishing date:

country:

GBR
review:
Each piece here — and they are miniature marvels, vividly illuminates an aspect of what it is actually like to live in a country that has been systematically stripped of functioning organizations.
review author:
New Internationalist
source:
New Internationalist

id#

17

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3644-2
book title:
Long Time Coming

publishing date:

country:

WLF
review:
Long Time Coming is a remarkable achievement… a hard hitting collection touched by moments of tenderness.
review author:
Jane MacNamee
source:
New Welsh Review

id#

18

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3743-2
book title:
Silent Cry: Echoes of Young Voices II

publishing date:

country:

ZWE
review:
Silent Cry is the second collection of short stories and poems in the British Council's Echoes of Young Voices project, creating a platform for young people to share their fears, dreams and literary talent. This latest collection affords the young writers the opportunity to be understood and the voices in Silent Cry will touch you in the manner in which they interpret the reality surrounding them. We believe it is worth investing in such talent because, given a few more years, some of these young people will be among Zimbabwe's literary greats.
review author:
Ignatius Mabasa, Deputy Director, British Council Zimbabwe
source:

id#

19

ISBN:

978-0-7974-4228-3
book title:
Together

publishing date:

country:

KEN
review:
A jewel-filled collection of stories and poems.
review author:
Philo Ikonya, Kenyan writer and activist
source:

id#

20

ISBN:

978-0-7974-4228-3
book title:
Together

publishing date:

country:

ZAF
review:
A distinctive and distinguished addition to a burgeoning literature of response to human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.
review author:
Dan Wylie, Rhodes University, South Africa
source:

id#

22

ISBN:

978-0-7974-4228-3
book title:
Together

publishing date:

country:

ZAF
review:
In a country that is ruled through fundamentalist narratives along racial, tribal, political and property ownership lines, Together is not only refreshing but highly symbolic. Chingono has a deceptively simple style that he uses to devastating effect… (while) Eppel's wit is more direct and acerbic.
review author:
Thabisani Ndlovu, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa
source:

id#

23

ISBN:

0-7974-2349-4
book title:
The Curse of the Ripe Tomato

publishing date:

country:

ZWE
review:
Like Swift, Eppel's satire uses the obscene and the bawdy and the merely disgusting to subvert intellectual pretensions and deflate social pomposity by reminding us of our often sordid physicality. The Curse of the Ripe Tomato is an astonishing novel.
review author:
Professor Anthony Chennells, University of Zimbabwe
source:

id#

24

ISBN:

0-7974-2349-4
book title:
The Curse of the Ripe Tomato

publishing date:

country:

ZAF
review:
A book to be read, enjoyed, laughed over — and taken seriously.
review author:
Malcolm Hacksley, National English Literary Museum News
source:

id#

25

ISBN:

0-7974-2394-X
book title:
The Holy Innocents

publishing date:

country:

ZAF
review:
This extremely funny book rips into the patriarchal, postcolonial society of post-independence Zimbabwe in a parade of characters at once peculiar to Eppel and more broadly recognizable to society in Africa. … Its message and even its outcome are abundantly clear from the start. … To borrow from Shakespeare, there is something rotten in the state of Zimbabwe!
review author:
Professor Rosemary Gray, University of Pretoria
source:

id#

26

ISBN:

0-7974-2539-X
book title:
Erina

publishing date:

country:

ZWE
review:
The novel is an interesting amalgam of genres, drifting in and out of allegory, satire, romance and myth. It will not be well received by the bigots and the hypocrites in our midst — and that is to its great credit.
review author:
John Eppel
source:

id#

27

ISBN:

0-7974-3039-3
book title:
Hatchings

publishing date:

country:

ZWE
review:
The story is simple. In a sentence it can be described as a love story centred on a young couple who discover the true power of love amid the social, economic and moral decay that threatens to swallow their love and everything else. But to say Hatchings is merely a love story would be criminal. It is more than that, Hatchings is a story about Bulawayo, about Zimbabwe, about corruption and cultural decay. In Hatchings John Eppel spares no one. With his sharp and yet witty pen he exposes corruption and pokes fun at those that are abusing power and this means literally everyone. Rich, poor, white, black, Indian, foreigner or local.
review author:
Raisedon Baya
source:
Sunday News

id#

28

ISBN:

0-7974-3039-3
book title:
Hatchings

publishing date:

country:

GBR
review:
With an easy style and making absolutely everything fair game — some of the conduct is, even when recognisable as satire, absolutely shocking — Eppel has written a very entertaining and sharp book.
review author:
The Complete Review
source:
The Complete Review

id#

29

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3744-9
book title:
This September Sun

publishing date:

country:

GBR
review:
Bryony Rheam offers us a rich portrait of a family and a society in the grip of inexorable change, through the eyes of the sensitive, spirited Ellie. Elegantly written, funny and poignant, this is a wonderful first novel from a writer of great promise. A true original.
review author:
Caroline Gilfillan
source:

id#

30

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3744-9
book title:
This September Sun

publishing date:

country:

ZWE
review:
A beautifully executed story about Ellie's painful journey of discovery through her family history. The writing in This September Sun, poetic at times, fires a clear warning shot across the bows of world literature to announce that Bryony Rheam has arrived to claim her rightful place.
review author:
Christopher Mlalazi
source:

id#

31

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3744-9
book title:
This September Sun

publishing date:

country:

ZWE
review:
This September Sun impressed me as a new refreshing breeze that offers an incisive insight into the Rhodesian and, later, Zimbabwean psyche, … (it) is a rich addition to the canon of Zimbabwean and world literature. It is an intriguing and riveting story of the protagonist Ellie McIntyre and her grandmother Evelyn Saunders.
review author:
Francis Mungana
source:
The Standard

id#

32

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3744-9
book title:
This September Sun

publishing date:

country:

GBR
review:
In This September Sun, Bryony Rheam takes a bold but necessary step toward exorcising the ghost of Rhodesia from the house of Zimbabwean letters.
review author:
James Graham
source:
The Warwick Review

id#

33

ISBN:

0-7974-3047-4
book title:
Sonatas

publishing date:

country:

ZWE
review:
A delightful collection that has the effect of restoring faith in the good things of life: love, food, music, dance, art, history and culture, reminiscences…
review author:
Zimbabwe Book Publishers Association Awards Judges
source:

id#

34

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3645-9
book title:
Intwasa Poetry

publishing date:

country:

ZWE
review:
This is a wonderful book that deserves to be in any serious reader's collection.
review author:
Walter B. Dube
source:
The Zimbabwean

id#

35

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3645-9
book title:
Intwasa Poetry

publishing date:

country:

USA
review:
This little book contains some of the most captivating poetry published in Zimbabwe. Here is a burst of diverse poetry, springing forth out of troubled Zimbabwe.
review author:
Emmanuel Sigauke
source:
Galatea Resurrects

id#

36

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3645-9
book title:
Intwasa Poetry

publishing date:

country:

GBR
review:
Much of the verse in Intwasa Poetry is impressive: moving, imaginative and resourceful.
review author:
Neil Lazarus
source:
The Warwick Review

id#

37

ISBN:

0-7974-2897-6
book title:
Zimbabwe's Cultural Heritage

publishing date:

country:

ZWE
review:
…the most enduring book ever on Zimbabwean history. This book will help people change their attitudes towards each other in Zimbabwe.
review author:
Zimbabwe Book Publishers Association Literary Awards Judges
source:

id#

38

ISBN:

0-7974-2897-6
book title:
Zimbabwe's Cultural Heritage

publishing date:

country:

ZWE
review:
The writer should be commended for his efforts to preserve the fading cultural practices of the smaller ethnic groups. The book is an important museum of knowledge.
review author:
Tinashe Mushakavanhu
source:
The Zimbabwean

id#

39

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3589-6
book title:
Mambo Hills: Historical and Religious Significance

publishing date:

country:

ZWE
review:
An interesting and important work that focuses on local areas and agency rather than broad sweeping panoramas.
review author:
Rob Burrett
source:
Prehistory Society of Zimbabwe Newsletter

id#

40

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3589-6
book title:
Mambo Hills: Historical and Religious Significance

publishing date:

country:

GBR
review:
In this booklet Marieke Clarke has done much to show how place, history and biography inevitably entangle across Zimbabwe's wider landscapes, and not just at a few, monumentalised and highly celebrated sites, magnificent as they maybe.
review author:
Joost Fontein
source:
Britain Zimbabwe Society Newsletter

id#

41

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3589-6
book title:
Mambo Hills: Historical and Religious Significance

publishing date:

country:

ZWE
review:
This booklet is therefore perhaps the most important document yet published about the history of the hills. …a valuable historical discussion of the changing religious and social importance of the area.
review author:
Paul Hubbard
source:
The Digging Stick

id#

42

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3590-2
book title:
Dancing with Life

publishing date:

03.09.2010

country:

USA
review:
Chris Mlalazi describes a Bulawayo of which I only recognized tiny remnants. Having left Zimbabwe, Bulawayo in 1990, and only returning for very short periods since then, the Bulawayo he describes was unfamiliar, frightening and in cases quite repulsive. I do not recall ever having such feelings about Bulawayo even on my last visit there in 2002. Clearly, there has been a decay and a degradation which Mlalazi captures in his vivid descriptions. This is not only experienced in the portrayal of the external environment, but it is apparent in the nature of the interactions among people, a sense that "Ubunthu", "I am well if you are well" does not exist anymore. One gets the sense that one is in the wild and it is survival of the fittest. In the story "dancing with life" a scene which captures both environmental and human debauchery reads thus: "Virginia hates Mxolisi. She also wishes him ill. Two weeks back, he had been intimate with her in the public toilet behind Figa Sports bar, and, afterwards, in the feaces smelling darkness, had given her a roll of money." Then poor Virginia finds out later that she has been given counterfeit notes and so basically she has not been paid for services rendered. Fine so the trade she is in is not exactly an orthodox and legitimate business, however one would have thought that even in the world of the illicit, there is a sense of "Ubunthu". The total cold lack of remorse by Mxolisi and the stench of feces bring home to me that the hardships people have experienced and are still experiencing can kill compassion for the other. Throughout his stories Mlalazi depicts a mean spiritedness and a lack of conscience in most of his characters so that by the time I was done with the book, I felt a little queasy. I was compelled to read it because if this is the ugly truth about Bulawayo then I would rather know, despite the agony this knowing induces.
review author:
Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende
source:
On Becoming Barbara

id#

45

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3590-2
book title:
Dancing with Life

publishing date:

07.03.2009

country:

ZWE
review:
Reading Dancing with Life is like walking on a suspended tightrope, arms of the mind spread apart so as not to lose equilibrium, looking down on Mlalazi's characters as they struggle to survive in today's Zimbabwe.
You certainly don't want to fall into their lives, but you are transported right into the township.
As you finish the first story, Broken Wings, you can't help the tears forming in your eyes. Nozitha the teenage caregiver suffers right in front of you. She collects the family ration of food aid and takes care of her mother and grandmother who are both AIDS victims. Her grandfather Siziba is too weak to help himself. Abisha, a food aid worker, as if he cares, asks, "Where is God then? Tell me, you who believe, when people as young as this girl have to suffer like this."
But, he is a wolf in sheep's clothing - he rapes Nozitha, after tempting her with a bottle of cooking oil that she would already have received had Sibiya, the village's party supremo, not demanded from Nozitha her grandfather's ruling party membership card, which she did not have with her. As a girl child exposed to the vagaries of politicized food aid and hypocrisy, Nozitha embodies, frighteningly, the suffering of Zimbabwe's women. AIDS has come to devour all, directly or indirectly, and now left are only too many Nozithas, just too many 'mothers of enemies', orphans of the endless war.
Election Day satirically exposes a leader who seems rash. Instead of accepting advice from his personal advisor about what was happening outside, His Excellency says to him, "Now, let me give you some free advice, my personal advisor. Your assessment of the povo is very wrong, just like judging the sweetness of an orange by its skin or that of a woman by the shape of her hips." But, come Election Day, the household of His Excellency is in panic. Knowing that her husband's fate will also be her own, Modi thinks of sneaking to "the coffee plantation in South America or the castle in Belgium." But in a twist of the plot, the 'impossible' happens; Modi's husband wins the election.
The Border Jumper illustrates vividly what happens when there is strife and people are disillusioned, made to believe that nothing good will ever come from their own land. Zenzo and Vusa represent the shattered dreams of young people crossing to South Africa through illegal means, despite the crocodiles in the Limpopo, the patrolling police and the demanding 'guides', hoping to find new hope on the other side of the border. Mbedzi, who guides the illegal migrants, knows why he must play his part. He prays to the departed spirits to "also grant them a safe haven from the poverty they are fleeing."
One of the unforgettable episodes in recent Zimbabwe history, Operation Murambatsvina, or Operation Clean Up, is featured in The Bulldozers Are Coming. As always, it is the women who carry the brunt of the suffering and pain. Left alone at home, her husband far away, the woman in the story is confronted with a moment of indecision. The bulldozers will not be lenient, she has to act fast. Even the old woman next door has already started to pull the roof down on her own to try to save her few possessions. Here, the author shows a world ruined, a place of misery.
The title story, Dancing with Life, pictures the life of Mxolisi, representative of the many disillusioned, unemployed ex-university students in Zimbabwe. At 21, Mxolisi chain smokes marijuana, and plays hide and seek with the police. He knows that it is the economic meltdown that has put him in this jam, forcing him to dance with life.
Mlalazi's writing is particularly outstanding when he uses humour to tackle serious themes, such as in the stories Eeish! , When The Fish Caught Him, A Heart in My Hole and Fragments. In Eeish! Ndla lives through his father's drunkenness and his memory of witnessing his mother's infidelity. He befriends a white soldier in the Zimbabwean army, Craig, who moves into the township. Craig encourages him to join the army or the National Youth Service. Ndla is unimpressed: "And throw stones at the white farmers while the children of chiefs get premature potbellies at Fort Hare University?"
The story titled The Matchstick Man is allegorical and complex, with the Matchstick Man fighting for his freedom from the 'granite bull', 'lions in diamond-studded leather collars', 'cockroaches carrying AK47 rifles' and 'obese gun-toting rats'. Matchstick Man is a rebel. When the fire engine is sent to put out Matchstick Man's fire, he responds, "Where is the fire? For I do not see it." And he is told, "It's in your crazy head!"
Dancing With Life engages the mind, ruffles it, and uses the language of today's Zimbabwe, township life booming with crime, prostitution, joy, misery, and naked political falsehoods.
review author:
Beavan Tapureta
source:
The Zimbabwean newspaper

id#

43

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3590-2
book title:
Dancing with Life

publishing date:

16.09.2010

country:

USA
review:
Chenjerai Hove comments in a letter to Christopher Mlalazi about his Dancing with Life: Tales from the Township

I got your short story collection and have already finished reading it. I enjoyed tremendously the 'chase of the week'. I was laughing alone in my place like a mad man. I think the story captures the real atmosphere of a township, and the vagaries of living there. I must say my favourite story, though, is the last one, 'A Heart in my Hole'. I enjoyed the filmic technique or the kind of montage you make of the various shots in the life of the young man. And some of the images are fantastic, just magic:
'Next to uncle's stool, also enjoying the cool shade, and in domestic harmony, a chick sits on the cat's back. The cat is dozing between the legs of Bamba, uncle's biggest and fiercest dog, that keeps nibbling lazily at an irritation on his left haunch. The hen and the rest of the noisy brood are nowhere in sight.'
That is great cinematographic stuff, a beautiful image almost beyond words.
Also I enjoyed the way the old man and the young man are in such harmonious discord in their views of the world, at least they agree on the use of condoms, and on having sex with the German woman, with and without condoms.
But the tragedy of the young man who can only manage a distinction in isindebele and nothing else borders between humour and deep sorrow. At least he takes it in its stride: life goes on with or without all the subjects taught in English.
As I read your stories, I could not help but think of an American writer, Ambrose Bierce, of a century ago, in the way he saw life's coincidences. Bierce has become very popular again in the last decade or so. Look for his short story collection and I am sure you will see what I mean. He wrote also 'The Devil's Dictionary', in which he gives words his own meanings which are not usually socially accepted in conventional dictionaries.
Well, thanks for writing the book, and I look forward to many more from such a sharp pen.
review author:
Chenjerai Hove
source:
amaBooks blog

id#

44

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3590-2
book title:
Dancing with Life

publishing date:

2009

country:

USA
review:
The author of this collection of short stories hails from Zimbabwe where he is well-known as a poet, playwright and writer. His plays have been performed throughout Zimbabwe and he is also beginning to work on dramas for television. His writings have been published in several local and international short story anthologies, including Short Writings from Bulawayo III (Bulawayo: 'amaBooks, 2006) (Caine Prize 2006 Anthology). For all of those who enjoy his writings and want to read more, his blog may be of interest.
The stories found in Dancing with Life are easily read, entertaining and often filled with both sadness and humour. Although quite entertaining, their underlying value lies in the way in which Mlalazi reflects life in contemporary Zimbabwe, especially in the townships (although neither Zimbabwe itself nor any recognizable politician or person is ever specifically named). It is not a pretty picture. Political corruption, stultifying poverty, family and societal breakdown, and violence, as day to day realities are the underlying themes of these stories. There is anger and hopelessness (as well as joy and hope) all on display here in the way Zimbabweans living in the townships, but especially the youth, see their lives affected, diminished. We read these stories and cannot help but feel that people should not have to find themselves facing such a world, and we wonder how they can cope with all the vicissitudes they face.
Mlalazi is an important author whose work should be found in all serious collections of contemporary African literature. In addition, here is a title to be added to collections designed to inform readers of contemporary life in Africa through fiction writing.
review author:
Paul H. Thomas
source:
The African Book Publishing Record

id#

46

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3590-2
book title:
Dancing with Life

publishing date:

01.03.2009

country:

ZAF
review:
This collection of eleven "tales from the township" extends what has become something of a tradition in post- independence Zimbabwean writing: vignettes of urban life, generally of the deprived classes, which focus on individual lives in the midst of economic decline and state terrorism. It's a genre that seems to exist in the cracks between public imageries, to want to be a little inconspicuous. While generally avoiding overt political critique, these snapshots of the often shattered lives of township denizens nevertheless show the marks of political abuse in every daily transaction.
Christopher Mlalazi's collection is like this, too. The stories vary between twenty and two pages, the characters are generally dislocated, their dilemmas torn between scratching out a living and pursuing relationships in an environment where families have collapsed, in?delity is endemic, and traditional spiritual beliefs persist into modern fragmentation. Some of the stories might be termed social realist; a couple are livelier in venturing into imaginative satire. At its best, this bites strongly.
In "Matchstick Man" the eponymous protagonist lights the fires of resistance to the state: "They beat the fire with acid statements in the state media. They tear gassed it, set police dogs on it, truncheoned it, shot at it, and, finally, the two lions subdued it at the palace door. They put it in a straitjacket, raked its face with their sharp claws, drawing blood, then carried it away still struggling to an unnamed grave deep in the sacred forest behind the palace, in which, it was rumoured, resided the maimed spirits of silencing."
Another satirical squib, "Election Day", lampoons an unnamed dictator's terror of losing an election; while it's quite funny, it relies on a fairly crude twist in the tail. Another brief vignette, "The Bulldozers are Coming", is set against the background of Murambatsvina (Operation Clean-Up), like Valerie Tagwira's recent novel, The Uncertainty of Hope. It portrays one woman's personal tragedy as the direct result of government oppression, which is of course quite legitimate, even necessary, but it sacrfices complex individuality and characterisation for making its blunt point.
Mlalazi's prose is generally serviceable rather than inventive. The undeniable courage of societal and political critique — in Mlalazi's case from an occasionally explicitly Ndebele viewpoint — is pervasive, but falls short of a far-reaching historical density, and of ever daring to actually name the ultimate culprits: Mugabe and his party henchmen. This work is still a little shy, a little fearful of retribution, a little unambitious in its scope. Still, it is also not just about politics, but centrally about the tangled lives of ordinary people.
That said, Mlalazi has extended himself further than many of his contemporaries, and observed his world sharply. One looks forward to more writing from this new talent.
review author:
Dan Wylie
source:
Words Etc

id#

47

ISBN:

0-7974-2349-4
book title:
The Curse of the Ripe Tomato

publishing date:

02.06.2003

country:

ZWE
review:
Eppel uses the bawdy and obscene to subvert social pomposity

What Zimbabwean poet and novelist has won South Africa's M-Net Book Prize for fiction and the Ingrid Jonker Poetry Prize? Whose third novel was launched in Bulawayo by André Brink, professor of English literature at the University of Cape Town and one of the handful of South African novelists with international reputations? Which Zimbabwean writer has entries in all the recent encyclopaedias and guides to African literature but whose books are impossible to find in Zimbabwe? Who is the Zimbabwean writer whose novels, when they are borrowed or stolen from a lucky owner, seem never to be returned whether they are proclaimed as brilliant satires or as near pornography fit only for a pit latrine?
The answer is John Eppel, the Bulawayo writer whose history with publishers could have provided the model for one of his own characters labouring under a curse. Eppel's publishers go broke, lose his manuscripts or the enthusiasts in a firm, who wanted to promote his work, move off leaving contracts gathering dust.
This neglect of one of our writers has been partly redressed with the publication earlier last year of a selection of Eppel's poems and now a new novel, The Curse of the Ripe Tomato, published by 'amabooks of Bulawayo. Readers of his earlier novels will find familiar characters. Duiker Berry Nothando Sibanda, Chappy Popadam and Honey Swanepoel from DGG Berry's The Great North Road. Here too, if only in a letter from Australia, is Brother Moral MacBraggert from Hatchings who made a fortune from those whites who discovered religion when they "lost their reason for being when Rhodesia became Zimbabwe".
For the first time, however, Eppel has not used Bulawayo and Matabeleland as his principal setting. The new novel is set in England and our first view of England is from a perspective many young Zimbabweans have commanded: that of a security guard in a factory on the outskirts of London. Many of the clichés that cluster around our perception of England are here; vile food, incomprehensible English humour and dingy lodgings presided over by grotesque landladies combine to give the impression of a nation whose only characteristic is joylessness.
But Eppel never allows cliché and prejudice to shape his own perceptions. His Zimbabweans are as bad as the English. Provincial and complacent in their provincialism, when they affect intellectual sophistication. as Honey Swanepoel does, their theory is so pure that it engages with nothing experienced either in life or literature. Duiker Berry's favourite garment is a sky-blue safari suit which has earned him the sobriquet of 'Hot-Pants' in the factory.
Having overcome an addiction to Castle, he is now hooked on the dill-flavoured brine of Carmel pickles that are unobtainable to England. Honey on the other hand has immersed herself in every theorist from Althusser, through Marx to Derrida but her only strongly-held conviction is the need to defecate in public in Cambridge as a protest against FR Leavis who has been dead for thirty years and use the pages of his Great Tradition as toilet paper.
The Third World innocent in the metropole has been dealt with often enough before. Eppel's structural twist to the theme is to use a parody of an Enid Blyton story to discuss issues of Zimbabwean identity. This is not the Enid Blyton of Noddy and Big Ears but rather those groups of children — the Famous Five were one — in an England of perpetual summer holidays from boarding schools, in houses rented for the summer and who solved crimes that were completely beyond the capacity of the local police. Mother was preoccupied with telling Cook what to do and Father appeared only sporadically, his time being spent making money to pay for it all. Several generations of southern African children must have derived their image of English life from Blyton's books and this provides Eppel with his opportunity.
Blyton's children cycle around a countryside of sun and unspoiled lanes. Eppel's middle-aged counterparts, on their hired bicycles, take three days to find how to leave London and whenever they attempt to stop, the police move them on, confidently identifying them as vagrants. A perpetual drizzle replaces the sun-filled countryside and unidentifiable crops grow in the fields.
If Blyton's world is as irrecoverable as the landscape of any romance, Honey's theories are at constant odds with her instincts as a reactionary colonial. As with all good Blyton stories, there are adventures. Honey is on the run from Chappy Popadam. His principal source of self-respect is that he is always in command of his sexual attraction to white women. Honey, however, proves too much for him. When he is with her he ejaculates, and this he takes as evidence of her power over him. She is now an abomination whom the Book of Deuteronomy, the source of all his religious understanding, orders him to kill.
Like Swift, Eppel's satire uses the obscene and the bawdy and the merely disgusting to subvert intellectual pretensions and deflate social pomposity by reminding us of our often sordid physicality.
The Curse of the Ripe Tomato is an astonishing novel. Oppositions are proposed in order to be reconciled: black and white, dominant male and subordinate female, age and youth, theory and practice. Throughout the novel, the voice that is constantly urging reconciliation is that of Nothando, former guerrilla fighter. Her inspiration for reconciliation is William. Blake and she quotes him appositely throughout the novel. If Honey attacks as Idiotic any theory she no longer holds, Nothando claims reconciliation as the basis of all development.
She quotes Blake's remark that: "without contraries is no progression." By using schoolboy humour, obscure and more accessible literary references, by giving clichés the familiarity of novelty by putting them into entirely unfamiliar contexts, Eppel's novel argues that the value of diversity be acknowledged and danger of fundamentalism and enforced conformity, whether it is religious or political, be understood.
Nothando and Duiker realise that the only place they can confidently claim as theirs is Zimbabwe and they determine to come home. It is typical of Eppel's humour that the final image of reconciliation is Duiker, who once refused to recognise the birth of Zimbabwe, sharing a bath with Nothando, the guerrilla who is almost old enough to be his mother.
review author:
Anthony Chennells
source:
The Literature and Culture of Zimbabwe

id#

48

ISBN:

0-7974-2349-4
book title:
The Curse of the Ripe Tomato

publishing date:

01.05.2002

country:

ZAF
review:
John Eppel's latest novel is an hilarious romp through the British countryside and a whole host of southern African attitudes. If you're a long time resident anywhere south of the Zambesi and you don't recognize yourself in some part of this clever satire, you're missing something all your neighbours know about you. But the comedy is not simple slap-stick. The absurdities have a definite point, it is no accident, for instance, that the female protagonist, Nonthando Sibanda (aka Mrs "Knotty" Grommet) keeps quoting her favourite poet, Blake: "without contraries is no progression". The number of contraries peopling the pages of this brief novel is mindboggling, but there is always room left for the possibility of progression. A book to be read, enjoyed, laughed over — and taken seriously.
review author:
Malcolm Hacksley
source:
The National English Literary Museum News

id#

49

ISBN:

0-7974-2349-4
book title:
The Curse of the Ripe Tomato

publishing date:

02.06.2003

country:

ZAF
review:
Eppel's funny, unforgiving, unappeasing and, above all, unapologetic kitchen farce

The Curse of the Ripe Tomato (Eppel 2001) is funny, unforgiving, unappeasing and, above all, unapologetic. John Eppel's recent publication is essentially what might be termed a kitchen farce. For Eppel addicts, this book makes Hatchings (Eppel 1993) -- with what Khombe Mangwanda insightfully (2000) perceives as its opposition between positive or sacred space, on the one hand, and negative space, on the other -- seem, by comparison, like over-processed fast food, rather than the whole grain roughage that is the case or the curse 'of the ripe tomato'. Gone is the epiphanic moment inherent in such incidents as the hatching of the Asil Khan's egg, which ushers in a new moral order. In its place, is an overripe Israeli tomato, the voodoo-like qualities of which -- through ironic twists and turns -- bring about a 'new' culture. And so, paradoxically, the end product is the same as Eppel's other novels: a purgation of prejudice and a comfortable feeling (albeit one that belies the ugly truth of the situation) that all is well in post-independence Zimbabwe.
In place of the dichotomy between good and evil, then, in a 'hatching', one of the key characters, 'Nottie', suggests the dynamic progression of events in The Curse of the Ripe Tomato by insisting that the principle of life is inherent in William Blake's notion that 'without contraries is no progression' (98). The polarities, here, have to do with age, gender, race, erudition and even beauty rather than with the more customary contrasts in the Eppel oeuvre; nor are these binaries rooted in the soil. Moreover, the differences are systematically erased as the narrative progresses. This is perhaps because the story is set in wet, wet England as opposed to drought-stricken Matabeleland, the climate of which is so graphically expressed in 'Matabele Dry' (Eppel Selected Poems 2001:15) as the opening stanza shows:

The water table drops,
boreholes cave in, crops
tighten. Our cactus sighs
like a puncture and dies.

None the less, the flair for the frequent use of startling similes and fresh unexpected analogies - evident in this extract - remain in The Curse of the Ripe Tomato. As Dan Wylie sagely notes in his Foreword to Eppel's most recent anthology of poetry (2001:5):
John Eppel is a craftsman of high order; a poet and a novelist who savages complacency with deft ironies; and a man who is faithful to the complexities of his rootedness. In Southern Africa we struggle with the narrow-eyed exigencies of local politics at cross-purposes with the daffy and half-understood pressures of global postmodernism. The former produces vacuous sloganeering masquerading as poetry. The latter produces vacuous 'free verse' masquerading as intellectual liberation. The former produces sad mimicry from new minorities manipulating outdated notions of "the people." The latter introduces a sad individualism from other minorities courting obscurity as a means of escaping "the crowd." The former is hostile to the strangeness of other voices; the latter is hostile to the study of tradition and craft.
In The Curse of the Ripe Tomato, Eppel cuts a swathe through racial stereotypes, sometimes with what amounts to black humour. His is a refreshingly honest and original voice. This satirical short novel features several characters, most of whom have appeared in previous novels and who reappear in his most recent novel The Holy Innocents (2002), which is arguably more savagely satirical but no less funny. Many of the issues, too, reappear in the later work, and are at once peculiar to postcolonial Zimbabwe/Rhodesia and recognisable in the wider African world. The characters' colonial attitudes, evangelical religion, and pretentious literary academia are the chief butts of the mockery. Chappy Popadam, the South African Indian owner of the 'Boutique' and his customer, Honey Swanepoel, a pretentious, foul-mouthed English academic, provide much of the impetus to incident. Chappy hates women -- they are an abomination because (wittingly or unwittingly) they raise his puritanical sexual consciousness; and he supports this hatred by an idiosyncratic, literal reading of 'Deuteronomy'. His frottage sessions with his female customers are part of his religious expression, and Honey's role in these sessions arouses more than just his hatred! His plan is to take revenge by hunting down and murdering the principal cause of his arousal - Honey.
The action records Honey's flight from Chappy's wrath to England where she meets up again with her long lost school friend/sweetheart, Duiker (Hotpants) Berry and the latter's new belle, Nothando - former live-in consort to the Berry's male factotum back in Bulawayo and de facto childhood 'nanny' ('Nottie') to Duiker.
Throughout the narrative, Eppel sustains the contrast between Honey's superficial, vacuous, academic scholarship in literary theory (Lacanian-Derridean-Barthesian -- to the exclusion of original, creative writers) and the African housekeeper, Nothando's genuine and instinctive understanding and love of literature derived largely from the Bible and the Everyman edition of William Blake. Nothando constantly and consistently applies her reading to expand her experience of life, while Honey is guided by prevailing trends -- bourgeois Shakespeare coupled with structuralist/poststructuralist theories of reading; and so, not unexpectedly, a second-hand copy of FR Leavis's Great Tradition is purchased to serve as lavatory paper!
London low-life provides the supporting cast for the three Zimbabweans. Nothando's former husband, one Fred Grommet, is an out of work Englishman, clad habitually in a dingy vest, tracksuit bottoms and slippers. He fries kippers in his English bed sit and passes the day by sitting inert in front of the television. Duiker's landlady, Mrs Effie Grub, drinks Spanish sherry from a cup and vomits copiously -- out of the window, upon those who seek accommodation in her establishment. The 'curse of the ripe tomato' is the linear thread that braids the various incidents together, finally uniting all the characters in neat, if bizarre, romantic liaisons via a hilariously funny bicycle tour in England's inclement weather, which ends in the English country cottage of the now exceedingly aged Aunty Frances, erstwhile mistress to Lobengula, King of the Matabele. The novel comes full circle and closes with Duiker -- Eppel's spokesman against what made him 'nostalgic for his childhood' and simultaneously 'disgusted' and shame him about 'the society that raised him' (1995: 'Writers at Work' Southern African Review of Books) -- back in Bulawayo drinking to a united Zimbabwe and confiding in Police Inspector Jenkins Ndhlovu about his planned proposal of marriage before passing out, dead drunk, on a makeshift bed in the pub. Ultimately, 'Things Come Right at Last' (96) with Nothando's return to administer a figurative enema, thus providing '… the key to a contented life [via] regular bowels' (Eppel D.G.G. Berry's "The Great North Road" [1992]). The Curse of the Ripe Tomato responds to the function of a literary work as expressed by the scholar, Amina Mama:
It is clear that the act of writing is a complex and multifaceted process, a process that in and of itself has neither a beginning nor an end, that is in fact a way of being in the world, no less. (www.agenda.org.za)
And so, to deflect such a 'curse', for we cannot put an end to it, purchase The Curse of the Ripe Tomato, curl up in a comfortable chair, and savour this delightful read.
review author:
Rosemary Gray
source:
The Literature and Culture of Zimbabwe

id#

50

ISBN:

0-7974-2394-X
book title:
The Holy Innocents

publishing date:

04.07.2002

country:

ZWE
review:
Doctor turns church into body parts factory

The business of selling body parts is lucrative but dangerous, unless of course you do it under the guise of a church.
And anyway, doesn't the Bible itself speak strongly in favour of the human sacrifice? The Church of the Holy Innocents is only involved in the human sacrifice as a way of upholding Biblical values.
Led by an eccentric Englishman, Dr Lucius Pudding, and his close friend and local traditional healer Kenneth Umsilawobi, the Holy Innocents worship al fresco and in the dead of night, taking turns with other equally dubious Christian sects.
Both men are held in high esteem by their communities and take advantage of their social standing to advance their trade in body parts. Pudding identifies the victim and their friend Amos, a barman, does the killing while Umsilawobi identifies the market.
And the market is huge and stretches as far as neighbouring South Africa, where businessmen will pay the price for the right human part to make charms for attracting wealth.
As the church's high priest, Pudding works himself and his congregation into a frenzy of religiousness at the end of which an abducted firstborn child is killed in sacrifice. This is followed by either Pudding or Umsilawobi deflowering an adolescent or teenage virgin girl.
All this, the congregation is told, is to cleanse them of their sins. Armed with a video camera, Pudding's assistant records the monthly meetings and tapes are sold to a Serbian based in Harare, who in turn sells them to a Nigerian based in Johannesburg.
The tapes end up in the hands of a Russian in Frankfurt who finds an insatiable market for them in Kuwait, Japan and New Zealand.
In The Holy Innocents, Eppel writes with wild humour, tackling everyday issues in a way that makes the reader sit up and re-look life.
Set in Zimbabwe's second city of Bulawayo from where the author hails, the book is in the same class as novels by South Africa's king of humour Tom Sharpe.
From a stolen foetus, which ends up in a blender as a skin rejuvenating drink, to an abducted precocious five-year-old boy who loves funerals, The Holy Innocents is rife with moral decadence.
Eppel writes in a captivating manner, taking the reader through a laughter-tinged journey to the dark side of life. He writes with great abandon and unleashes on the reader a wealth of liberated vocabulary.
It is a book about today's Zimbabwe, where those with power abuse it and those without struggle to make things right. It is a book that brings people of all shapes, sizes, ages and colour together, a book that holds out hope.
Eppel is also the author of Sonata for Matabeleland; Spoils of War; Hatchings; The Giraffe Man; Selected Poems and another side-splitting novel The Curse of the Ripe Tomato.
review author:
Grace Mutandwa
source:
The Financial Gazette

id#

51

ISBN:

0-7974-2394-X
book title:
The Holy Innocents

publishing date:

02.06.2003

country:

ZAF
review:
An Introduction to John Eppel's The Holy Innocents

John Eppel's shockingly scurrilous sequel to The Curse of the Ripe Tomato (2001) -- whose Honey Swanepoel's ingenious lecture title, 'The Clitoris as Synecdoche'(36), might have given impetus to a subtitle to this latest novella: 'The ARSE as synecdoche' or 'an ontology of the between'. Once again, Eppel's writing provides a refreshing change from the sombrely polished productions of a Mungoshi, Hove or Nyamfufudza -- relieved occasionally by a Vera's magical or mystical realism -- that seem to be the norm in Central African prose, echoing instead the incisive satire of a Marechera.
This extremely funny book rips into the patriarchal, postcolonial society of post-independence Zimbabwe in a parade of characters at once peculiar to the Eppel oeuvre and more broadly recognizable to society in Africa. In mock-heroic language replete with allusions to the Bible and Chaucer, Eppel mounts an attack on entrepreneurial corruption in the church (a sectarian outfit called the Holy Innocents), the medical fraternity, the pharmaceutical industry, the comprador bourgeoisie and, most of all, the local population, remnants of colonial society, whose wealth, inertia and drunkenness allow self-seeking to flourish unchecked.
Time-warp and stasis define this 'dislodged community of belonging' (9) which gathers daily at an old and respected club: the Association of Rhodesian Sports Enthusiasts or ARSE. These "Rhodies" are ardent habitués of the ARSE bar where their civil service mentality compels them to congregate at 4 o'clock sharp every afternoon to socialise and to drink themselves insensible. Bringing life down to earth in typical carnivaleque mode, Eppel gives these characters names drawn from domesticated farm animal life -- largely from the feathered fowl family -- perhaps because they were too chicken to run or because of physiological features that either define or caricature them.
Principal among these are John 'Bouncer' Leghorn (the narrator), Clive 'Bully' Dorper, Rob 'Shova' Hereford, Greg 'Beefmaster' Aylesbury, Angus 'Large White' Horn and Cheryl 'Boobs' Australorp, a sexagenarian female with a 'desiccated face' (7), the only woman in the bar group because she can imbibe as much alcohol as the men folk and because she chooses to ignore their uncouth remarks and rude chauvinism. Their community of spirit is awakened because one of their number, Duiker 'Hotpants' Berry (of DGG BERRY's The Great North Road fame [1989; 1992]) has, at the close of The Curse of the Ripe Tomato, married his partner in crime, or rather, in 'curse', erstwhile 'nanny' to the Berry children. This woman, Nothando, is old enough to be Duiker's mother but is a repository of much erudition and instinctive common sense, which serves to highlight the dearth of intelligence in this God-forsaken, ex-colonial society.
The characters are literally 'dislodged' both by their separation from their European origins and more recently by Independence. Figuratively, their dislodgement is synonymous with subverted theology and ignorance that masks amoral behaviour.
The salacious doctor, one Lucius Pudding, alias Uhlakaniphile, came to Zimbabwe from England on an Independence aid package and now prospers in private enterprise. As a sideline, he has founded the sect of the Holy Innocents in partnership with the local traditional healer, Umsilalobi, who has connections in high places. This, likewise, is a flourishing business, thanks to its lucrative trade with those in power in human body parts. The sect requires these for its rituals and for potions for Pudding's female patients who, concerned about the ravages of the blazing African sun, will consume whatever skin care products the doctor prescribes, especially those which contain the supposedly regenerative cells of the young (cf. the 'BABY'S BOTTOM PRODUCTS' [114]), a newer version of the Umdidi Perfumed Air products of Eppel's earlier novels. However, this time, the vulgar/scatological elements know no bounds; and, illustrative of the resultant Rabelaisian imagery, is the consumption of pureed preserved foetus mixed with strawberry yoghurt (a supposed elixir of youth) as a sandwich spread!
The plot concerns the planned abduction of a young male child for a Holy Innocents' ceremony, in which he will be sacrificed and his body parts used for medication and/or sold to politicians (making the sacrifice doubly significant as a 'muti-murder' and, in line with Reformation tenets, as that which leads to joy in Heaven from the repentance which must follow the sin of sacrifice). The child selected is the obnoxious Bobby Hereford, first-born son of Shova and his brainless, narcissistic wife, Mini, her of foetal consumption fame. Reminiscent of the fetishist in The Giraffe Man (1994), little Bobby devotes himself to the slaughter and ritual burial of neighbourhood pets. None the less, his disappearance arouses the outrage of the community and they unite to restore him forcefully to his parents.
The human drama is underscored by the behaviour of the natural world in which the narrative is set. For example, a foul-mouthed grey parrot, a domestic pet, meets its end at the hands of little Bobby Hereford, who 'flattened [it] with a tennis racquet' (114), much as one would swat a fly. Foregrounding the novel's grotesque realism, the bird's dying words, 'Fuck my cat!' (114) function as a postscript or the sting in the tail to this tale.
Structure and setting conjoin to evoke an 'ontology of the between'. Like a double whammy sandwich, the novella begins and ends in the ARSE; while the second and penultimate chapters shift to the shrine of the Holy Innocents, a faerie circle of stones deep in the Hillside dam bush, featuring a dead lonchocarpus capassa, or ring-barked and so 'murdered' rain tree, within its barrenness. This is guarded by 'a large blue-headed lizard' and a predatory 'fiscal shrike' (13), presumably surrogate dragon and carnivorous pterodactyl of lore, respectively.
In 'Discourse in the Novel' (1921), Mikhail Bakhtin distinguishes between two stylistic poles, the 'linear' and the 'pictural', which undergo multiple transformations over time. As Tzvetzan Todorov (1981: 76) notes, the medieval romance, the Baroque novel, the sentimental novel of the eighteenth century, belong to the first pole; the fabliau, the picaresque and the comic novel belong to the second. Bakhtin believes that in every epoch, there is a dialogue between these styles, based on heterology:
The primary characteristic [of the first tradition] is that it is monolingual and stylistically monolithic (in a more or less consistent fashion); heterology remains outside the novel; nonetheless it determines it, acting as a dialogical background to which the language and the world of the novel react polemically and apologetically. The second lineage, to which belong the greatest representatives of the novel as a genre (its greatest subgenres as well as the greatest individual works) injects social heteroglossia into the body of the novel and leaves to it the orchestration of its meaning, frequently giving up altogether any pure and unmediated authorial discourse (1921:186).
This opposition implicitly defines the dynamics of Eppel's novella's becoming. The Holy Innocents is essentially a polyphonic text in which individual consciousness can be understood only within the context of relationships with other consciousnesses (including the reader's) rather than independent of them, or within what Buber has termed 'an ontology of the between'. Such interdependent relationships reflect a neo-Kantian synthesis of Locke's belief that we can know the world only through our senses coupled with the Cartesian belief that logical inquiry is the sole path to knowable reality. For Eppel, as for Buber and Bakhtin, such interdependent relationships are juxtaposed contrapuntally, that is, they operate among all the elements of novelistic structure.
It is perhaps not too much to claim that the recreation of the postcolonial social set-up in neo-colonial gu-Bulawayo some twenty years after independence and the not-so-subtle suggestions as to ways and means of healing such wounds via the material bodily principle constitute the dominant themes of Eppel's newest novel. Consider, for example, the extravagant juxtaposition of Today the park is not quite as popular as it used to be with the general public, but the elderly love to exercise their dogs, and the youth their genitalia, along the numerous dirt tracks and in the numerous granite receptacles of the park (13).
As this early example shows, the principle of the material body lies not within the biological individual, nor within the bourgeois ego, but in the people who are continually growing and being renewed. This is why all that is bodily becomes grandiose, exaggerated, immeasurable and, above all, degraded. In Bakhtinian terms (1984, Rabelais and his World), 'to degrade is to bury, to sow, and to kill simultaneously, in order to bring forth something more and better' (http://www.vanderbilt.edu/ AnS/english/English104W-15/bakhtin2.htm).
Eppel fights both 'vacuous sloganeering' and 'pseudo-intellectualism' (Dan Wylie, John Eppel: Selected Poems 1965-1995 [2001]), revelling rather in the festive pleasure of a world turned topsy-turvy as the sacrifice incident from the penultimate chapter of The Holy Innocents (chosen as the blurb to the novel) clearly shows:
And so Dr Lucius Pudding, in his role of the High Priest Uhlakaniphile, worked himself, his congregation, and the impressionable Constable Dube into a fervour, if not a frenzy, of religiousness. At the ripe moment Lucius nodded to one of his assistants who drew out a long, sharp-pointed knife. "Find his heart from the side," was his instruction, which the still clear-headed Constable Phiri heard and which decided him to intervene.
"Halt, in the name of the law!" he called out, at the same time scrambling from the gully with his truncheon in one hand and Dube's wrist in the other.
"Scatter!" shrieked the Englishman, and scatter the Holy Innocents did. In the darkness and the chaos, the intrepid policeman made not a single arrest; but they saved Brother Moral MacBraggert's life (108).
In contrast to the use of traditional lore to convey socialist messages, hypocritical Christian pieties such as Brother Moral MacBraggert's born-again Christians of the Blood of Jesus Temple vie with Zionists and Holy Innocents alike to convey the egotism and greed of wealthy capitalists. These religious groups sprout like mushrooms in the fertile ground of poverty and desperation; for them, material prosperity signals favour for the very prolixity of christian and traditional denominations points to their scavenging nature.
Here, too, the parodic juxtaposition of action parallels that of graphic counterpointed imagery at the outset of the narrative when 'Bouncer' Leghorn ('. . . nicknamed for [his] exploits on, not off, the cricket field' [5]) informs us that he notices 'a button missing from my safari-suit jacket, and urine splashes on my veldskoens' (5) or when Amaryllis Bantam and her best friend, Desiray Weaner, 'bored stupid' 'exercise freaks', in a different kind of crazed bingeing, begin their early morning constitutionals 'with a prayer, and end them with a hug' (20). The novella 'rejects the idea of perceiving the struggle of the African communities against colonialism [and neo-colonialism] as constituting the only historical experience that Africans know' (to borrow Maurice Vambe's [2000: 80] comment about Dambudzo Marechera's work).
Like Marechera before him, Eppel's is a bitingly honest and unencumbered voice. Every day is Mardi Gras because life is an all-embracing carnival, systematically placed outside politics and religiosity. Seemingly for him, as for Milan Kundera (1979; 1986:5), "intellectual" is an expletive: It designated a person who failed to understand life and was cut off from the people. All Communists hanged at the time [1946] by other Communists had that curse bestowed upon them. Unlike people with their feet planted firmly on the ground, they supposedly floated in air. In a sense, then, it was only fair they have the ground pulled out from under them once and for all and be left there hanging slightly above it.
In these terms, categorically anti-intellectual and even funnier than The Curse of the Ripe Tomato (2001), The Holy Innocents forces the reader to make a re-evaluation of the crazy neo-postmodernist world it features. This latest Eppel publication ends rather than concludes: its message and even its outcome may have been abundantly clear from the start. The link between its satirical subversive mode and its socio-political import is not too hard to detect: there is no way out, only a way on. There is a mercenary edge to this novel and this, sad to say, is not always traceable to an alien corrupt civilization. To borrow from Shakespeare, there is something rotten in the state of Zimbabwe!
review author:
Rosemary Gray
source:
The Literature and Culture of Zimbabwe

id#

52

ISBN:

0-7974-2394-X
book title:
The Holy Innocents

publishing date:

18.07.2002

country:

ZWE
review:
Most people are driven from one pillar of life to another by a force of some sort. It could be love, hatred or the mere excuse of partaking of an adventure of a lifetime.
In the process of following the forces that drive us, we sometimes get mired in developments that can determine the course of our lives.
Duiker Berry is a Rhodesian man who had a privileged life and grew up in a society where racism was rife.
Life was good then but when Rhodesia became Zimbabwe on attaining majority rule in 1980, Berry — like so many Rhodesians — felt like he had lost a reason to live.
Uncertain about the future, he left Zimbabwe for the United Kingdom where he tried his hand at all sorts of jobs — even coming up with a money-spinning scam of selling royal human waste.
With the help of equally deranged colleagues, Berry worked as a Buckingham Palace toilet attendant. They tried to identify every bit of human waste to a particular member of the royal family, bottled it and then labelled it before selling it in the streets of London.
They made a lot of money until the authorities stepped in to end the madness.
Berry swung from job to job until he landed a job as a security guard. Just as he was losing hope about life, he was re-united with Nothando Sibanda (now Patience Grommet), his childhood nanny.
Sibanda, a nanny who became a freedom fighter in Zimbabwe's independence war, had left her home at independence to train as a nurse in London. Instead she married a British drunk and layabout Fred Grommet.
First friendship and then love blossoms between Sibanda and Berry.
Together they decide to return home to Zimbabwe but before that they plan a tour of the United Kingdom on bicycles.
Having lived in a country rife with racism and intolerance, the two are the most unlikely lovers — not just because of their racial differences but also because of the vast age difference between Berry and his former nanny, a woman as old as his mother.

This is a humorous account of the oppressed and their oppressors and how the decision to take a particular path in life might trigger an avalanche of developments.
It is also a book which looks at how small things in life can affect race relations and how one's position at a particular time can change or reinforce feelings towards fellow human beings.
At a time when Zimbabwe is going through acts of reverse racism, The Curse of the Ripe Tomato is a brilliant book that mocks fundamentalism, racism and pseudo-intellectuality.
It also questions how reconciliation can take place among Zimbabwe's divided people.
John Eppel writes similar things but in a way that pricks your conscience and makes you laugh at yourself too.
This is the fourth novel by the Bulawayo-based author. It is partly set in his hometown.
With this novel, Eppel proves that even works not considered worthy of publishing by most established publishing houses could still be turned into success stories.
His very first novel — DGG BERRY'S The Great North Road — was awarded the M-Net Prize for fiction in 1992.
review author:
Grace Mutandwa
source:
The Financial Gazette

id#

53

ISBN:

0-7974-3039-3
book title:
Hatchings

publishing date:

01.09.2006

country:

GBR
review:
Hatchings is set in a Zimbabwe that many whites have fled but in which there is still a large group that either has taken advantage of the situation or is there for (supposedly) ideological reason. An equal-opportunity satirist, Eppel mercilessly skewers almost everyone, black and white, in an often outrageous work that also has a surprisingly gentle edge to it. It is around New Years, 1991 going into 1992, and the story begins with the Fawkes family on a camping trip. The daughter, Elizabeth, is going on sixteen and torn between her lust for bad boy Jet Bunion and her new-found religion. Though her parents aren't devout, Elizabeth has found herself born-again -- and disapproving of the ways of many of the girls at school. Underage sex is rampant at Bulawayo's various private (public) schools, with various teachers and headmasters taking advantage of their positions to get sexual favours from the often extremely young girls. This unfortunately results in a lot of unwanted pregnancies, and one of the novel's very sharp running gags is that disposing of these (and many other) unwanted infants has become a big business -- so big that they're running out of places to stow them away, leading to several cases of the discovery of the dead babes, with a variety of consequences. Early on, when a dumped baby is discovered, all the girls at one school are lined up by the police and:
They then systematically felt every girl's breast in order to determine which, if any, were in milk. The fourteenth girl in the queue was discovered to be conspicuously pregnant so then the police began to feel tummies (and even further down with the prettier girls) as well as breasts. As a result of this exercise, no fewer than seven girls, one in the first form, three in the second form, two in the third form, and one in the sixth form were instantly expelled from the school. All these girls, the police investigation showed, were either pregnant or had recently given birth.
Elizabeth wants to be virtuous, but Jet is oh so tempting … Still, her parents -- despite their concerns about her religiosity -- are supportive and this is a functioning family. When Dad asks Elizabeth to hatch a prized Asil Khan egg he has obtained she agrees to carry it around in her bra for the necessary three weeks -- apparently the best environment for successfully bringing it to hatch (they've done this before). This obvious infant substitute is in good hands with dutiful Elizabeth.
Many of the other kids aren't involved in nearly as harmless fun -- but the fault lies largely with the adults, who range from corrupt to what amounts to criminally insane (usually with a strong ideological foundation). One reason Hatchings works is because there are also some genuinely decent (and/or clueless) adults, including Elizabeth's parents, but much of the fun is with the over-the-top characters who engage in some of the worst stuff. Beginning with Ingeborg Ficker, "Bulawayo's premier artist", it's a very comic cast of characters. Ficker, for example, is "one of the few, very few native born white Zimbabweans who had not been corrupted by colonialism" -- at least as interpreted by the local ideologues; in fact, of course, her brand of revolutionary liberalism (and her art) is as off the wall as anything.
Typical for Eppel's humour (at least of the less sexually explicit sort -- of which there is a great deal) are observations such as:
It was fashionable at parties where anybody who was about to become anybody in Bulawayo had been invited, to ask a sprinkling of non-whites to attend. This created an exquisite feeling in the hosts and hostesses of living on the edge of peril. It is a shocking yet exciting thing for your ex-Rhodesian to entertain in his home -- on his settee, mind you, eating off his plates, drinking not out of an old jam tin under a tree in the back yard, but out of proper glasses, using your toilet, for Christ's sake ! -- a sprinkling of non-Europeans.
He's also particularly good at skewering those who have benefitted from the great white flight after independence, taking advantage of what was left behind -- property, jobs, opportunities galore -- and cashing in on it. So, for example, the "desirable Cocks" (yes, Eppel is a bit too obvious with a few too many of the names):

They were very proud of their home in the Eastern Suburbs, which they'd bought in the early eighties for seven thousand dollars and which was now insured for half a million dollars. True, they'd upgraded the property consistently over the years. They'd taken out all the indigenous trees and put in a swimming pool and a sauna. They'd cut down the hibiscus hedge and put up a seven foot instarect wall topped with five layers of barbed wire. They had paved nearly the entire one and a half acres with 'state of the art' bricks. They had fitted a second hand plastic seat to the lavatory in the servant's quarters.

Eppel moves the novel across quite a few characters and a variety of conditions; the Fawkes' place is one of the few relative idylls, while elsewhere corruption -- sexual and moral -- dominates. With an easy style and making absolutely everything fair game -- some of the conduct is, even when recognisable as satire, absolutely shocking -- Eppel has writen a very entertaining and sharp book. Remarkably, he also offers what can only be described as a sweet ending, a perhaps too abrupt backing off of all the harsh (but admittedly very amusing) glare from before (and, yes, it does involve that hatching of the chick).
This is very good social satire, tackling some serious subjects -- the theme of the water shortage is well-integrated into the story, for example, and though he plays it for cruel laughs he does right by the sexual abuse as well. Eppel spreads his story a bit thin -- it is very crowded and storyline-packed for such a short novel -- and occasionally feels a bit rough and rushed, but on the whole is an impressive achievement. Despite its flaws, it is well worthwhile.
review author:
source:
The Complete Review

id#

54

ISBN:

0-7974-3039-3
book title:
Hatchings

publishing date:

01.12.2006

country:

GBR
review:
From Ptahhotep to Postcolonialism

Writers and scholars discuss their choice of the most significant books to have come out of Africa

The nation state has been the principal institution through which Africa has come to know itself over the last fifty years, although the boundaries of those states and who constitutes each nation are a direct consequence of Europe's arbitrary divisions of the continent. These states, formed with no concern for existing polities, have had to accommodate diverse ethnicities, an accommodation that has frequently failed. The settler communities created their own problems in the movement to nationhood. While whites claim a right to belong, the same racial exclusivity that they promoted in the past confronts them again in nationalist ideologies that make the concept 'white African' a contradiction. John Eppel is the author of two volumes of poetry and four novels, in which he uses his trademark dark humour for satires about Rhodesia and Zimbabwe. Part of my admiration for his novel Hatchings derives from his originality in depicting whites as Zimbabweans. A narrative that revels in details calculated to disgust is the improbable medium for a sophisticated satire that targets Bulawayo's black and white elite enriched by Zimbabwe's independence. Each racial group mistrusts the other, but Eppel's narrative draws them into a single community in their shared mediocrity and their reverence for wealth and its more vulgar trappings. Hatchings is set against the droughts that nearly destroyed Bulawayo in the 1980s. The drought becomes the literal setting for a culture of death; the elites enrich themselves by disposing of unwanted foetuses and babies that their promiscuous sexuality has created. Matabeleland, and in particular Matopos, provides an alternative for the nation. Despite the drought, the local vegetation possesses a resilience that the exotic flora does not have. Those white Zimbabweans who treat the bush with reverence and who plant their suburban gardens with indigenous plants provide a space in which children, black and white, can play, a metonymy of a new nation.
review author:
Anthony Chennells
source:
Times Literary Supplement

id#

55

ISBN:

0-7974-3039-3
book title:
Hatchings

publishing date:

29.10.2011

country:

USA
review:
The incisively satirical novel Hatchings, by John Eppel, is set in the city of Bulawayo, during the doldrum years of post independence Zimbabwe. In it we find Elizabeth Fawkes and her family, a representation of the ever dwindling middle class and middle class values of solid family ties, sound education, hard work and integrity. The story centres around the Fawkes family, who are in a sense the barometer of normality against which the reader can measure all the other characters in the novel. Some of these characters are extreme criminals of foreign extraction whose predatory instincts bring them to the chaos that is Zimbabwe and become the opportunistic parasites feeding voraciously off the dying country. Such an unsavory character we find in the person of Sobantu 'the butcher' Ikheroti, who is devoid of conscience or anything that amounts to human sympathy. Ikheroti is involved in the business of providing illegal abortions to pregnant underage girls, who have been put in the family way, thanks to the rampant penchant for "Black pussy", by two British expatriate primary school teachers, Simon and Nicholas. Enter the Ogojas, Nigerians, who deal illicitly in stolen emeralds and who are in business with Ikheroti, who incidentally pimps the girls he provides abortions for so that they can pay him back for relieving them of their unwanted babies. The dead babies are passed on to the esteemed artist Ingeborg Ficker, who is creating an organic statue using hills valleys and trees called the Gwanda Giantess who will be birthing these babies.
Eppel's characters move along the natural continuum of class and racial composition of Bulawayo (and therefore Zimbabwe), sardonically invoking stereotypes of the various classes and racial groups. There are the residents of Cornwall Street in the city centre: the Amazambane and the Ilithanga families, Ndebeles who cohabit in one small flat, all 14 of them. There is the old coloured family, the Reeboks, whose one son was hanged for murder, the other was doing time and the mother of their 11 year old granddaughters was strung out on drugs. The bitter divorcee, Aphrodite Fawkes, and the bachelor Boland Lipp, in possession of pathetically good heart and a love for classical music and the colour green, complete the residents on Cornwall Street. Let us not forget the Indian landlord who is reminded of the plight that befell his kinsmen in Uganda when he inquires about the number of people living in flat 3 — the Ndebele flat.
Enter the Mashitas - the Shonas, who have turned their whole yard into a maize and vegetable farm, the Macimbis — the Ndebeles, who have assisted nature by denuding their yard of all vegetation and swept the ground clean of its topsoil, the Voerwords of Afrikaans ancestry and the Pigges, whose lineage hails out of England. All of them are neighbours to the Fawkes family and their children, Black and white play in the neutral zone which is the Fawkes' backyard. They are in what was formerly a middle class neighborhood but the clear delineations that defined such a neighbourhood have become somewhat blurred.
Then we move on into the world of the obscenely rich, those who can afford to waste water in a city whose resources are fast dwindling. It is the world of the born again Christians with their ostentatiously wealthy pastor whose powerful preaching of the gospel of prosperity induces mind numbing orgasms to the women folk in the congregation. It is the world of true believers who sing and dance and clap and in trancelike state sign huge cheques for the Lord. It is from this world that the Black Rhino elite private school draws its student population with the sole aim of "ensuring the high standards of Rhodesian education". At this school, the students, over indulged children of the wealthiest farmers and business men excelled in those aspects of Rhodesian education which mattered the most: "rugby, water polo, bullying and geography". In this setting we find the very ordinary Boland Lipp as the English literature teacher who strives to impart a love for the written word to his students, who are only really interested in brand new fast cars, motor cycles and sex.
In stark contrast to Black Rhino School is Prince Charming High School, embedded in one of the ghetto townships of Bulawayo. It is here that Simon and Nicholas the English teachers teach politics and have sex with the female students, getting a fair number of them pregnant, which results in expulsions and several fair skinned babies found dumped in different places around the city.
John Eppel sets the scene for New Year's Eve parties in the city of Bulawayo, by providing imaginative and hilarious descriptions of the idiosyncrasies of each of his characters. Each character, community, race and class brings a different but colourful dimension and meaning to the terms corruption, greed, slovenliness, debauchery and selfishness, which renders the story of the parties on New Year 's Eve in the various locations uproarious. Despite the dead babies that are a constantly being discovered throughout this story, Eppel succeeds in delivering a story about a city whose inhabitants have lost the qualities of Ubunthu: those qualities which form the fabric of strong communities in which the individuals care about the wellbeing of the others, demonstrated in simple acts such as preserving water during a drought, in order that there may be enough for everyone. This delivery is neither moralistic nor judgemental, but it is brutally honest, stripping individuals literally to their bare bottoms and institutions to reveal their rotten innards, all accomplished with humour, great skill and unparalleled precision.
The story lifts the reader out of the filth and one is deposited at a light, hope inspiring end. Young Elizabeth Fawkes' love for the ruthlessly handsome, devil- may- care Jet Bunion is finally reciprocated, and the egg she has been incubating for her father in her bra is hatching. Fresh beginnings and a new day are possible after all.
review author:
Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende
source:
amaBooks Blog

id#

56

ISBN:

0-7974-3039-3
book title:
Hatchings

publishing date:

24.07.2006

country:

ZWE
review:
I read John Eppel's Hatchings in one sitting. I read it in one sitting not because 122 pages is not what you could call hard reading by any good standards or not because I had nothing to do on that particular day, in fact I had plenty. I did it because once I started on it I couldn't put the book down. With each page and each character Eppel proves what most of us who have read his works already know, that he is a master satirist.
John Eppel, like the late Yvonne Vera, tells stories about Bulawayo and characters from Bulawayo. But while Vera, especially in Butterfly Burning, took immense pleasure and time in choosing the perfect words to paint Bulawayo as it was in pre-colonial times; the wide beautiful streets, the old buildings and its interesting characters whose lives were never far from tragedy, John Eppel's Bulawayo is seen more through the eyes of his characters and what an assortment. Whites, blacks, coloreds and Indians. The racist Rhodies, the liberal expatriates, the black elite trying to fit into white communities, the weird artistes who jump from one lover's arm to another without a twitch of guilt all make Hatchings a good read.
The book is set in Bulawayo, good, old drought-stricken Bulawayo that is not just representative of the whole country but of several post-colonial African States.
The story is simple. In a sentence it can be described as a love story centered on a young couple who discover the true power of love amid the social, economic and moral decay that threatens to swallow their love and everything else. Elizabeth and Jet fall in love. The two are, in a sense, different people. Elizabeth is a born again Christian while Jet is inclined towards atheism. But some how their love for literature and nature draws them together. But to say Hatchings is merely a love story would be criminal. It is more than that. Hatchings is a story about Bulawayo, about Zimbabwe, about corruption and cultural decay. The whole story is an "indictment of a society that has become culturally and even morally decadent".
In Hatchings John Eppel spares no one. With his sharp and yet witty pen he exposes corruption and pokes fun at those that are abusing power and this means literally everyone. The rich, poor, white, blacks, Indian, foreigner or local. In bringing out his issues Eppel uses the New Year Eve's as a backdrop to the story. We all know what New Year's Eve does to our hormones, and emotions. It is a time when we all want to throw a party and be extravagant. Several parties are thrown during the story and throughout Bulawayo and the surrounding areas. Anybody who is anybody is having a time of their life.
Interestingly sex and then baby dumping are used as symbols of decay. This decay which is shockingly visibly in the education sector, beginning at primary schools, pervades the whole novel. This decay is not confined to one community, or race or profession. It is everywhere, in schools, churches, the arts, politics everywhere. As one reads the story one can not help but applaud government's efforts in coming up with an Anti-corruption ministry. Corruption is a cancer that needs to be dealt with at government level. It is only shocking that since inception the ministry of anti-corruption hasn't come up with any high profile case by now.
Like most good novelists, Eppel offers no solution to the problem(s) but in Elizabeth and Jet (a serious born again Christian and a non-believer respectively) he, in a subtle way, makes us believe ( and we have no choice but to do so) that amid all the rot and decay it is possible for new and better things to germinate, that it is possible for some people to stir away from bad influences and remain pure and untainted. This is where the tittle of the novel comes in. The hatching on an Asil Khan egg signaling a rebirth, new beginnings, a new life. Hopefully from these two a solution will come.
Hatchings is nothing but a good read. If I were to pick the best 10 literary works set in Bulawayo and about people of Bulawayo Hatchings would be one of these books.
review author:
Raisedon Baya
source:
Sunday News

id#

57

ISBN:

978-07974-3645-9
book title:
Intwasa Poetry

publishing date:

30.04.2010

country:

USA
review:
This little book, almost the size of a thin poetry journal, contains some of the most captivating poetry published in Zimbabwe. The collection was published as a companion work to the annual Intwasa Arts Festival held in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city. Intwasa is the SiNdebele word for spring, so despite its size, here is a burst of diverse poetry, springing forth out of troubled Zimbabwe.
The poets here performed their works at the festival, and most of these are performance poets: Albert Nyathi, the ultimate Zimbabwean performance poet, and Chirikure Chirikure, a trendsetter in Shona performance poetry; Ignatius Mabasa, who was part of the 2009 San Francisco International Poetry Festival where he spellbound audiences with his electrifying performances; John Eppel, who is the master of satire; and others from outside of Zimbabwe, like Owen Sheers, whose poetry add diversity to the works in this volume.
It is important to emphasize performance in talking about this collection, which was born on the stage, but more so because to me Bulawayo has always been the city of performance, equipped with dozens of traditional dance and acapella groups and such fine artistic establishments as Amakhosi and Black Umfolosi.
Most of these are poems about contemporary Zimbabwe. The message of social justice is present throughout and the poets are voicing concerns about the ills of society, even where the work may seem introspective. In Julias Chingono's poetry there is lamentation and a blessing through words. We are called upon not only to listen carefully to "slippery words" but also to handle them with care. They are slippery through their delicacy and because of this, their message may easily be missed. Marginalized by society's large concerns of survival, the poet is once again married to words and does not give up in his effort to remind us of what matters, which can only be documented through words "falling / when mouths open".
I have been reading Julius Chingono since high school and he has never failed in his role as a voice of social justice. One of his poems in this volume, "They Are Picked", which is about Zimbabweans' struggles as they cross borders in search of opportunities, was selected by Amnesty International for inclusion in Fire in the Soul: 100 Poems for Human Rights (published by New Internationalist with Amnesty International). This is a collection of 'the best' 100 human rights poems from across the world over the last 100 years. The pronoun "they" at the beginning of the poem refers to people that can be from any country and their search for survival is a universal quest. They are from "troubled nations" and as they cross rivers to freedom, "they are picked by crocodiles" or they are "maimed by mines", and worse, they are picked in "foreign lands" whose politicians "cannot accommodate them anymore."
Chirikure Chirikure's Shona titled poem, "Mutserendende" deals with a new Zimbabwe where the people are taking great risks to survive, resilient citizens "leading life fast and furious / Landing with tattered, bleeding souls." In Chirikure's pieces the personal and the political merge, but the struggle for personal fulfillment triumphs over the dangerous, unproductive game of politics. We see this in "Time to Move on", although an earlier poem, "Dancing Mother" hints at this resilience in the image of a mother dancing even where her own rhythm is no longer in sync with the dizzying demands of the times.
Another important poet in the collection is John Eppel, famous for his satirical stings at corrupt governance. His pieces follow the voice of the voiceless mode in poems like "Border Jumping", "My Home Town", and "Waiting". What stands out in this installment is how the mundane is lifted to mythical and cosmic proportions. "Waiting" even ends with a note of pessimism: "I'm / afraid that change will never come," but that such a concern has been voiced shines a light towards a possible future of change; it's the poet's reminder to society that the status quo is failing the people, hence the need for change.
In Ignatius Mabasa's poetry, the metaphors and language use are a reader's reward. His poems here are short, packaged dynamites. In "Epitaph" the message clear and as sharp as a blade:

We used to have a life
And an economy
Running on dollars and sense.

The lamentation rises to a funeral dirge in which the poet tells us that "ravens disemboweled corpses/Singing a harsh type of dirge" characterized by the absence of dignity, rites, tears. This harsh image of death is replicated in "Ghetto Lights", and in "Poetry", Mabasa depicts the confusion caused by rapid socio-political change.
There are other great poems by Albert Nyathi, whose piece "My Daughter" is a warning and a word of advice from a father to a daughter. Here the poet focuses on building hope, as we see in "Struggles", where the persona talks about how those in power crush the spirit of the people, "but still dawn will break." This has been Nyathi's message since the early 90's, and he continues to project the image of poet as prophet, entertainer, and voice of social consciousness.
I enjoyed Pathisa Nyathi's "Upon Mzilikazi Bridge" with its strong sense of place. The images used are vivid, the details are concrete, and I couldn't help imagining myself in Bulawayo again. The poet depicts disintegrating infrastructure in the township, but there is still a sense of pride in the poet's focus on an indefatigable sense of belonging. This message is amplified in Mthabisi Phili's "Sunset in Mzilikazi", which paints a picture of a beautiful sunset in sharp contrast to the chaos depicted in Nyathi's poem. Even with different concentrations, both poets show a love for their landscape.
This poetry collection from amaBooks is a rich sampling of contemporary Zimbabwean poetry, rewarding reading for anyone who cares about international poetry.
review author:
Emmanuel Sigauke
source:
Galatea Resurrects

id#

58

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3645-9
book title:
Intwasa Poetry

publishing date:

05.07.2009

country:

ZWE
review:
Intwasa Poetry is a pocket book size collection of 'memorable poems from inside and outside Zimbabwe.' All this work has at least been read at the Intwasa Festival in Bulawayo. Intwasa is Bulawayo's premier Arts festival held in September each year since 2005. Intwasa is Ndebele word for Spring. Intwasa Poetry contains fifteen poets.
Julius Chingono's poetry has always been 'short' poetry. He sees the world through the eyes of the weak and the disadvantaged of society. His philosophy seems to be small matters are big matters and big issues are understood through small issues. You see it in poems like 'About Words' and 'Ditched'.
Chirikure Chirikure's poetry has always been one that lends itself to both silent reading and performance. Like in his anthology Chamupupuri and his musical album Napukeni, Chirikure is keen on exposing the ironic side of life of ordinary people especially as they 'misrelate' with those in various forms of power. In 'Dancing mother', a woman dances, vigorously ploughing the earth with her feet so that the powerful IMF could be excited and donate money to restore the 'dignity' of the mother and her society.
John Eppel's is 'a roundabout poetry'. He tells one story so that you begin to gradually see the other more important story inside the insides of the story. And when you get to it, the poet leaves himself the leeway to say, J. Alfred Prufrock style, "No, that is not what I meant at all", maybe with a wry smile on his mustachioed face.
The poetry of Owen Sheers 'who was born in Fiji in 1974 and brought up in South Wales' is diverse but central to it is the pursuit of and search for values that are permanent and enduring. There is here the life of a Maths teacher who away from the logarithms goes home to look after hens that lay the occasional egg. In another poem a child comes across the picture of its mother at the age of seventeen and cannot believe what it sees on the face of the girl from far back. In yet another piece, a man goes back to his birth place and finds the umbilical tree is long gone, swept away 'by a hurricane all these years'.
I have never met Deon Marcus but I think he is an old wise man or he is an old young man! He knows that words cost a lot of money. His short poems are over laden with meaning, depending which time of the day you read them. His three line poem Love talks about love as an old and over trodden emotion that remains, if you have the time to touch it, 'soft like a butterfly'. In the poem There is something Marcus demonstrates an ability to derive universal meanings in mundane things like 'the sound of a closing door', 'the way a curtain draws' and 'in the root of an age old tree'.
The poets featured in Intwasa Poetry are: Julius Chingono, Chirikure Chirikure, John Eppel, Ignatius Mabasa, Shepherd Mandhlazi, Judy Maposa, Deon Marcus, Albert Nyathi, Pathisa Nyathi, Mthabisi Phili, John S Read, Lloyd Robson, Owen Sheers, Véronique Tadjo and Joelle Taylor.
The book helps to show that 'amaBooks could be fast becoming for Bulawayo what Weaver Press is to Harare. You see it in the very meticulous editing and inspired choice and arrangement of artists.
review author:
Memory Chirere
source:
Arts Initiates

id#

59

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3645-9
book title:
Intwasa Poetry

publishing date:

05.07.2009

country:

ZWE
review:
It is said that simplicity is at the heart of most things innovative. This is true of the 2008 Intwasa Poetry collection; whose cover design and the poems in it reflect the spirit of a new beginning. Intwasa means Spring in the Ndebele language. This is a collection of acclaimed and accomplished local talent, enhanced by the contributions from writers from outside Zimbabwe. All the writers in the book have read from their work at the Intwasa Arts Festival koBulawayo, which takes place each September. The Zimbabwean poets in the book are Julius Chingono, Chirikure Chirikure, John Eppel, Ignatius Mabasa, Shepherd Mandhlazi, Judy Maposa, Deon Marcus, Albert Nyathi, Pathisa Nyathi, Mthabisi Phili and John S. Read. From outside Zimbabwe, the poets are Owen Sheers and Lloyd Robson from Wales, Véronique Tadjo from Côte d'Ivoire/South Africa and Joelle Taylor from London.
Far from being frivolous entertainment or a mere intellectual exercise, it is clear that these poets regard their work as a serious art with a serious aim. For example Julius Chingono's poem, About Words, opens the book with a subtle warning concerning the use of words, how they can be used in a devious way, and for people to be wary of their dishonest use. This is particularly important at this time when some politicians take advantage of the gullible to have their own way.
There is also a fundamental seriousness in the writings of the poets that is perhaps indicative of the times in which they live and their accompanying experiences. Upon Mzilikazi Bridge, by Pathisa Nyathi, underlines this fact succinctly as he writes of looking down upon 'the sprawling dusty townships' of Bulawayo and the daily grind of the people surviving in harsh times. Amongst Chirikure Chirikure's contributions to the book is his poem Time to Move On, which questions the political status quo that sees people oppressed merely because they have 'strayed in the wrong area' or blurted 'the wrong party slogan'. Ignatius Mabasa's aptly titled poem Epitaph offers a poignant reminder of the injustices that have befallen society in Zimbabwe and the resultant loss of hope.
Not all is gloom and doom, however, as many of the poems show a spirit of resilience and make for fascinating reading. The merciless fire of the poets' tongues brings out a song of truth that expresses the poets' imagination about their society and what they desire it to be. This is amply demonstrated in Judy Maposa's How About? In reading Intwasa Poetry we feel the poets' desire to lead a free life, where they are able to chart their own destiny.
The Iraqi poet Jamil Sidq al-Zahawi once declared that 'the best poetry is that which interprets the heart and its sorrows', and that 'in poetry, lying is not sweet and deceit is not permissible'. This is true of this collection of Intwasa Poetry, whose poems of love and sensuality expose the writers' ingrained feelings for their subjects whilst on the other hand their sadness, loss and outrage at the status quo cannot be ignored.
In his opening address at the recently held launch at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo, prize-winning poet John Eppel quoted President John F. Kennedy, 'When power narrows the areas of man's concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.'
Eppel continued, 'Well, there will always be power so there must always be poetry. When the poet stops speaking that is the time for us to despair; and that is why we should welcome this slim volume of poetry in all its diversity.
'The diversity can be indicated by looking at a few examples in the book, the overtly socially committed poems of Véronique Tadjo and Ignatius Mabasa; the introspective deeply personal poems of Deon Marcus; the ironic playfulness of Julius Chingono; the lyrical beauty of Owen Sheers.'
This is a wonderful book that deserves to be in any serious reader's collection.
review author:
Walter B. Dube
source:
The Zimbabwean

id#

60

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3644-2
book title:
Intwasa Poetry

publishing date:

25.05.2010

country:

GBR
review:
The poetry… discloses the saturating effect of the social crisis in Zimbabwe. Content and form alike are subject to heteronomous determination. The poem that opens Intwasa Poetry, Julius Chingono's 'About words', establishes immediately not so much that what one says can get one into trouble, but rather that, in the prevailing context, words have the dense materiality of goods: they can 'slip' or 'slide away', potentially wounding their users or their receivers: 'Handle with care/this side up/contains words/Stand well away/falling words/when mouths open'…
Much of the verse in Intwasa Poetry is impressive: moving, imaginative and resourceful. Chingono's 'It denotes' juxtaposes images of the body in pain or under duress with punctuation marks, thereby enabling a connection to be established between writing and the socially dispossessed: 'And when you find me/coiled/my head between my legs/round like a full stop/it denotes … /stop and tender first aid/subject freezing'. Chirikure's 'Dancing mother' allows shock to do the work of criticism: 'that rugged, shrivelled woman/dancing with a vigorous smile/just for a cup or two of home brew/is my mother, beacon of my life/the IMF structured her dignity'. Shock is, indeed, a pre-eminent means through which the poets featured here attempt to conjure new insights into being. There is also, as might have been anticipated, a recoding of the language of nature and the countryside, whether inhabited or not. Eppel's 'Waiting', for instance, has the falling frangipani leaves in early April reminding him 'that the day has come and gone for ballots/to be counted, results announced, and I'm/afraid that change will never come'.
review author:
Neil Lazarus
source:
The Warwick Review

id#

61

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3644-2
book title:
Long Time Coming

publishing date:

01.12.2008

country:

GBR
review:
A man tries to find Z$5,000 for his bus ride home. A woman about to get married waits with her fiancé for the results of an HIV test. A defeated president gets ready to vacate his palace, but his wife refuses to leave until she has found her favourite pair of yellow shoes. In a powerful and timely collection of short stories and poems about Zimbabwe by 33 writers, Long Time Coming offers snapshots of life in a collapsed country. It is a collection straining with suspended hope; change has taken too long to arrive. "My country is like/ an empty but attractive/ plastic packet," writes poet Julius Chingono, "being blown by the wind/ along the road that leads to a rubbish dump/ by the cemetery." Zimbabwe's plight is perfectly suited to the short story and offerings come from both celebrated writers like Petina Gappah, Christopher Mlalazi and John Eppel, and a clutch of emerging talents from Zimbabwe and the diaspora. Political frustration, brutal violence and painful loss is met with practical resignation and grim humour. Despite the patient optimism in the book's title, little of this makes its way into the stories. Unpicking the loneliness she has noticed in everyone lately, in 'Arrested Development' Sandisile Tshuma calls it a "pervasive and virus-like affliction" borne on glimpses of a life and future we can feel "slipping through our fingers". In a country, where Raisedon Baya writes in 'Echoes of Silence', "silence became a way of life", Zimbabwe's writers are trying to incite its people against it.
review author:
Gemma Ware
source:
The Africa Report

id#

62

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3644-2
book title:
Long Time Coming

publishing date:

24.09.2011

country:

USA
review:
Synopsis: Jane Morris assembles another collection of short stories from the best contemporary writers of Zimbabwe today entitled Long Time Coming. Julius Chingono, John Eppel, and Brian Chikwava are noted contributors to this work, but there are additional Zimbabwean writers that are equally talented too. Sandisile Tshuma's selection Arrested Development serves as an introduction to all. This first-person narrative is an account of the trials of a young lady attempting to go from point 'A' to point 'B' via the unreliable, temperamental transport system of Zimbabwe. Self described, our narrator rants: "I am not hard to spot in this crowd at the barely functioning filling station. I am the sore thumb of a twenty-something year old woman wearing high-end sunglasses and trendy jeans, carrying minimal luggage and standing in a statuesque pose…" And indeed our narrator is the typical, young, mobile, and affluent one seeking a better route and a better trip out of Africa. The banter and the despair of Zimbabweans resonate well in this short 'snapshot' of their lives.
The writer Mathew Chokuwenga creates an expose on life that reads like an African version of Henry James' Washington Square. This is a complicated, many tiered story about complicated people and complicated lives. The title of the work is Lanigan Avenue. The residents of Lanigan Street and Washington Square share many secrets, intrigues and little love.
One of John Eppel's contributions to the collection is entitled The Awards Ceremony. Eppel's selection pairs well with the poem My Country by his (deceased) comrade Julius Chingono. The medium of satire is often illustrated in John Eppel's writings. The Awards Ceremony is a short creation of the author that satires a farce within the hypocrisy of a government award ceremony. There is some dark humor in this one. A reader will find overt humor supplied by the ample wife of the Minister too. The poem of Julius Chingono pairs so well with The Awards Ceremony because it focuses upon the same theme. My Country is a cry from Julius Chingono. He bemoans the reality of his cosmetically attractive… but barren… homeland reduced to a disposable state that… "leads to a rubbish dump/by the cemetery." Powerful is the word. Readers will find that this book contains short writings requiring extensive deliberations.
Critique: I was enthralled, mesmerized, intrigued, and enamored with this collection. Zimbabwean writers deserve the center of the literary stage. I have reviewed several works from this genre and my fascination and appreciation continues. I truly know that educators in the fields of language and history will find this collection useful for adult education. The readings flow easily and well, but the issues are suited for mature readers. I recommend this book to all!
review author:
Rosetta Codling
source:
European Literary Scene Examiner

id#

63

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3644-2
book title:
Long Time Coming

publishing date:

19.03.2011

country:

ZWE
review:
You don't have to be in Zimbabwe to know or experience what is happening in Zimbabwe. All you have to do is get yourself a copy of 'amaBooks' Long Time Coming and plough through it. At the end of your reading you'll, without doubt, have gone through the total Zimbabwean experience.
This publication pits together thirty three writers from different backgrounds, races, experiences and genres. Thabisani Ndlovu, Pathisa Nyathi, John Read, Monireh Jassat, Brian Chikwava and Petinah Gappah are some of the contributors to this anthology. Thirty three writers as different as their names, writers with their own individual voices and styles. Old writers who have done it all share this platform with young and new writers still trying to get on their feet in the literary world.
Thirty three writers painting their thoughts, feelings, dreams, fears and nightmares about Zimbabwe, a country Julius Chingono aptly describes as "an empty but attractive/ plastic packet . . . / that leads to a rubbish dump/ by the cemetery."
Old wounds refusing to heal, scars yearning to be scratched, fresh and open wounds begging for attention, diseases, drought, betrayal, and a lot of other issues afflicting the former bread basket of Africa are unpacked in this poignant anthology whose stories are connected by their setting, the interlinking themes and a shared responsibility by the writers to be the voice of those that are still searching for their own voices or too afraid to open their mouths.
Bhekilizwe Dube writes about an abusive relationship created around the squalor and ugliness of a township slowly being reduced to a village. City people are seen fetching water from boreholes like in the rural areas. It took Thandi "near death" to realize she has to get out of a violent relationship. There is obviously another layer of meaning to this story, some kind of political connotation. The writer is not just angry at his sister for allowing the abuse to go on for so long. He is also angry at his fellow citizens who have allowed politicians to abuse them to a state of near death. The story is, perhaps, a wake up call to say its time people changed their situation by getting out of politically abusive relationships.
King of Bums has the streetwise Chris Mlalazi examining post independent Zimbabwe and what it means to a new generation of born frees. It is a story of anger and betrayal where the young feel they are being held at ransom for not having been born or being old enough to take part in the liberation war. In this story post independent Zimbabwe is seen more as a living nightmare instead of the land of honey and milk promised during the war of liberation. Ian Rowlands, a casual Welsh visitor to Zimbabwe, comes face to face with the rape of innocence during a visit to a township in Bulawayo. At an Aids orphanage he comes across young orphans whose only crime is to hope and dream for a better Zimbabwe. And at the end of his visit Ian Rowlands can only ask: "What manner of man would allow such innocence to be destroyed?"
There is so much going on in Zimbabwe that sometimes it is difficult to maintain one's sanity. The pressures are just too much. Ignatius Mabasa explores the theme of temporary insanity in Some Kind of Madness. One of his characters wakes up to the realization that he has forgotten who he is. Although he can remember his hunger, the smell of hospitals where relatives are taken and never come back, of the colour of death on people's skins (obviously AIDS related), he can't remember who he is. A very worrisome experience.
But then all is not gloom and depressing. There are lighter moments in the anthology. Moments like the ones Mzana Mthimkhulu creates with Not Slaves to Fashion. A wedding and preparations for celebrations. Moments of hope. Like all citizens of Zimbabwe the writers know the importance of hope. A hope for a better tomorrow. This is explored by Judy Maposa in First Rain. In her story she wishes for "rain to wash away all the corruption in the land. A rain to cleanse and restore all that has been touched by the dark side of man." This rain is long overdue. It has taken a long time coming.
Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Zimbabwe is about hope, about resilience, and how the people have waited for so long to be delivered from their suffering. A fine read.
review author:
Raisedon Baya
source:
The Zimbabwean

id#

64

ISBN:

978-0-7974-4228-3
book title:
Together

publishing date:

15.03.2011

country:

ZAF
review:
In a country that is ruled through fundamentalist narratives along racial, tribal, political and property ownership lines, Together is not only refreshing but highly symbolic. The book brings into conversation, Julius Chingono and John Eppel, a black and white Zimbabwean respectively. Through their poetry and short fiction, both writers strike the pose of a jester in their views of what has come to be known as the Zimbabwean "crisis". Following the axiom that the truth is told in jokes, the two writers use humour as social commentary to explore, amongst other issues, abject poverty, shortages of basic commodities, state brutality, the travesty of justice, the abuse of political power as well as the complicity of the oppressed in their oppression. The two are satirists who poke fun at the "absurd", exposing folly amongst the oppressed themselves but more so amongst the oppressing clique. They reserve their contempt for the latter. The two writers focus on the everydayness of life to illustrate that, in a situation characterised by fundamentalist attitudes, the truth lies in between; that in fact, the very stuff of everyday life exposes the vacuity that so characterises the rhetoric of racial and political extremism. Similarly, their work evinces that, in the face of adversity, ordinary Zimbabweans have been most creative and resilient.
Chingono has a deceptively simple style that he uses to devastating effect. His sympathies, like those of John Eppel, lie with the poor and downtrodden, who may be wantonly killed in cross-fire, kept waiting by politicians only interested in getting votes, made poor and hungry through political machinations or have their houses bulldozed by the government in a "clean-up" exercise. In short, life loses dignity. Yet in this depressing and depraved condition, Chingono sees the funny side of life. The misery is "not without laughter", to borrow from Langston Hughes. For example, the female toilet cleaner in the story Shonongoro waylays the male narrator and asks for a tip or "shonongoro", gently at first ("She even looked down like a shy daughter-in-law") and then most aggressively by blocking the doorway. Shonongoro is a term associated with marriage payments and the female toilet cleaner is now asking it from a stranger whom she calls her son-in-law, and in a toilet too! The moneyless narrator escapes through holding the woman's waist in a sexually suggestive way, making her jump out of his way.
In buses, people make fun of their misery, as seen in The Dread Gentleman in which people joke about the "man-made tsunami" ( Operation Murambatsvina ) and how people may soon be deemed "illegal structures" and demolished just as the buildings that had been labelled as such! It is the "Dread Gentleman", whose mind appears to have been unhinged by the tsunami, who nonetheless demonstrates the most optimism about the future by starting an outdoor electrical goods shop.
In The Toilet Issue, Chingono is at his best. Through self-levelled mockery, typical of the attitude that enabled most Zimbabweans to survive the "crisis", he shows how overcrowding, itself an expression of a lack of decent and affordable accommodation, leads to the beating up of the narrator and someone called Patches by bigger and stronger lodgers. The narrator is clobbered by Marubber when the former unintentionally bumps into the latter's wife in the dark toilet and she cries "out loud like she was to be raped". Patches urinates on Saddam's face in the poky dark toilet and the incident nearly costs the former his life as he is pounded by the latter. In the midst of entrenched poverty and lack of basics, billboards that exhort people to buy are seen by Chingono as "harassment" as captured in the poem This is Harassment.
Irrespective of people's ability to see the funny in their dire situations, one senses an underlying sadness threatening to suppress the humour. No piece in Chingono's writing captures this as poignantly as the poem A Caged Lion. The metal number plate of a car that makes up part of a makeshift door in the poem 20-044L, the jostling for space in a bus in At the Bus Station, and the emptiness of greetings occasioned by extreme deprivation in Greetings all suggest a deep-seated sadness from which one of the means of escape is excessive drinking of alcohol. In the story Leave my Bible Alone, Mudhara Gore, the lay preacher, does not only rely on potent illicit alcohol (even beer is in short supply) to get by but symbolically clings to his bible as well. High and frequent levels of drunkenness become almost a necessary respite for some. The persona in Drunk captures this:

In the photograph
I was so drunk
that I would stagger
out of the picture.

Thus, alongside Mudhara Gore who finds himself sprawled on the ground but still holding on to his bible, drunkenness is used by Chingono not for its own sake but to suggest a hankering for respite, for a better life.
Chingono suggests, in an indirect way, the causes of the "crisis/crises". In We Waited he employs that archetypal trope of waiting in Zimbabwean literature as epitomised by Mungoshi's Waiting for the Rain. The waiting in this context is symbolic not only of arrested development but decay, entrapment and destruction. The "povo" sit on the rubble of their houses demolished on the orders of the ruling party, whose officials keep even their party faithful waiting for a sham election. Empty songs and slogans cannot change the situation. The ruling party emerges as lacking in integrity, with hardly any functional structure of command. Its main driving force is personal greed and cheap slogans against the West.
John Eppel's wit is more direct and acerbic. Most of his pieces speak of deprivation. The first, Malnourished Sonnet, epitomises Eppel's keen sense of observation, especially the dearth of responsible leadership with a vision. The poem Afrika shows such vacuity. The spelling of Africa with a "k", thought to be symbolic of a fresh start by some Africanists, is nothing but a false start. In his typical tongue-in cheek style, Eppel challenges such empty absolutist rhetoric whose essentialism speaks of mediocrity and, in the worst case, downright duplicity aimed at duping, to borrow from Marechera, "the silent majority". Similarly, Eppel in the poem Culture scoffs at people who attempt to lay a claim on a fundamentalist and warped conception of culture by writing, "When someone smugly says, 'In our culture we do this!'/I recall a stink of carpets worse than Tom cat piss."
It is not surprising then that Eppel deals with the ridiculous or absurd in Zimbabwean politics. In The Debate, the three candidates are battling to see who will be "allowed to dish out cabinet posts, including the newly established, and coveted one, of Minister of Rural Beauty Pageants." The problem facing the country during the setting of the story is cash shortage and run-away hyper-inflation. One candidate, Mr Wynken, suggests that when the country runs out of bank notes "all transactions should be carried out in the country's most stable commodity: empties." Thus, soft drinks bottles, wine and beer ones too should be accepted as legal tender, with the opaque beer container popularly known as the "scud", thrown in for good measure. The second contender, Professor Blynken, demonstrates the poverty of thought accruing from his high level education by proposing "a logical extension of the current system", which essentially means photocopying banknotes for those with access to photocopiers and those without "access to modern technology" can sketch lower denominations on any surface including wood, stones and banana peels. The third candidate, Comrade Nod, sharply veers off at a tangent, completely avoiding the problem and launching instead, a diatribe against the West. Those familiar with Zimbabwe can clearly identify these candidates and the ridiculously essentialist stance that those who claim to have fought for the liberation of the country have, as Eppel puts it in the poem The Coming of the Rains, the "freedom to make a mess" of the country.
Eppel also addresses Zimbabwe's troubled past, raising the issue of Gukurahundi in Democracy at Work and at Play, Floating Straw Hat, Shards and Bhalagwe Blues. The writer is pointing at the hypocrisy of the country's leadership in attempting to erase large scale state perpetrated murder that was ethnically motivated. In a sense, Eppel shows how fractured Zimbabwe is along tribal lines because Gukurahundi has never been genuinely addressed. The polarity of the Ndebele and Shona is typified through Democracy at Work and at Play. The constitution making outreach team that visits a part of Matabeleland hard hit by Gukurahundi comprises Shona speaking people who have been "instructed to speak in English". At best, one of them, the Reverend Jojova can speak "halting Ndebele". A further travesty in this process is the presence of ruling party thugs roaming in the crowd, carrying sticks and machetes. Not surprisingly, the exercise deteriorates to hate speech against gays, the youth and so on. The outreach team itself is threatened by party thugs, is accused of supporting the opposition and told to leave for all that the people want is "a president for life". Fear and coercion rule. Matters are made worse by the fact that, like Reverend Jojova, the members of the outreach team only have either an extremely remote or academic interest in the history and fate of the Ndebele. Witness that Reverend Jojova is more interested in Yvonne Vera's fiction than the actual people. After thinking of a title for his PhD thesis, "The Reverend Benate Jojova MA, smiled happily, closed his book, blew out the candle, snuggled against the warm expansive body of his good wife, and fell into a deep, untroubled sleep." .
Aware that in Zimbabwe, ZANU PF aims at excluding whites from the nation and further, to vilify them, in Yet Another Flower Poem, Eppel exposes the shallowness of such mentality. He writes,

"For I have neither wit, nor words, nor worth",
as politicians have, and academics (a white poet
should restrict his content to the flora of Bulawayo), .
'to stir men's (sic) blood'. My settler friends and me, our destiny.
is obscure. We measure out our lives in platitudes, clichés, .
watching the sun set on Zimbabwe, as it set on empire."

Thus, the definition of the nation echoes Eppel's sentiment in the story The CWM that "When governance breaks down, anarchy looms, and nations revert to tribes, some dominant, many subordinate."
John Eppel also explores the fate of elderly whites in Zimbabwe through the stories The CWM and The Pact. The CWM starts with a quintessential John Eppel opening: "Somalia has its warlords, Zimbabwe has its CWMs or cheeky white madams." It is the "cheeky" Valery MacSnatch who restores a bit of order to a neighbourhood that had become comfortable with disorder and decay in the form of noisy parties, overcrowding, crumbling and ill-built structures. Again, Eppel is hinting at the lack of both personal responsibility as well as progressive political leadership when he writes:
"Nobody complained when we had noisy parties, which went on all night and well into the next day; or when we built huge, threatening bonfires; or when we felled trees; or when we extended our houses using building materials that even the most tolerant of city councils would condemn. Nobody complained when our roosters began issuing challenges at one another, continually, from midnight onwards…."
When Valery MacSnatch complains about some of the disorder, decay and neglect, it is only then that some of the backward habits are curbed.
In The Pact, four elderly and lonely white women amuse themselves through writing. Eppel explodes the myth that white Zimbabweans are rich colonialists with no interest in the country other than selfish motives geared at self-aggrandisement. The four old women run a shelter (the house was donated by one of them, Mavis) for the elderly that doubles up as a soup-kitchen for streetkids. Harriet is on a pension "that barely sustained her pets". Thus, both Chingono and Eppel show that, irrespective of race and political affiliation, all Zimbabweans have been reduced to unprecedented levels of penury in a country whose ruling elite always mouth phrases about sovereignty. The loneliness felt by the four old women is typified by Dorothy, whose husband had died of lung cancer, her youngest child in an accident and "four of her five children (and seven grandchildren) were in the Diaspora."
Through The Pact Eppel raises two painful subjects that are the result of the "crisis". The first is the erosion of people's pensions to ridiculous levels. There is something very criminal about this situation, considering that it was caused by a clique bent on holding on to power, a clique that has not bothered to address such a crucial matter that continues to haunt citizens whose labour of many years dried up like dew under the sun. The second issue is the out-migration of Zimbabweans which resulted in the fragmentation and breaking down of families because of a need to escape "home". There is an element of criminality in that as well if one considers the emotional and other forms of turmoil that obtained from forced migration.
As expected, the charity work of the four old white women is disturbed by ruling party thugs who accuse them of theft in the same language used to dispossess and discredit white Zimbabweans: "You whites are thieves. That soup comes from the land, which you stole from our people." Mavis, the old white woman who donated the house, is near death from hot soup that pours on her when the leader of the thugs upsets the table on which is the big pot of soup. Her friends, following the pact that, if one of them was in unbearable pain, all four would die together, commit suicide by taking poison.
Chingono and Eppel not only remind us of a hard time in Zimbabwe's history but also remind us that the bond of suffering that Zimbabweans share has a common source of misery — a corrupt self-serving oligarchy. The bond of suffering also suggests a wider conception of nation beyond race, ethnicity and political affiliation. We laugh at the humorous handling of incidents that both writers employ, but we do so uneasily. We see ourselves as wretched individuals and as a wretched nation, and at the same time see what we could become if we avoid some of our divisive follies. Above all, in showing us the ridiculous and absurd, Chingono and Eppel remind us that indeed both leadership and life in Zimbabwe did sink to ridiculously low levels and seem to suggest that it is up to every Zimbabwean to either slide back there or laugh with a shake of the head and say "never that again".
review author:
Thabisani Ndlovu
source:
amaBooks Blog

id#

65

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3644-2
book title:
Long Time Coming

publishing date:

05.07.2009

country:

ZWE
review:
Long Time Coming carries stories laced up with short poems. It takes variegated glances at what has come to be termed the Zimbabwe crisis for close to a decade now. The glances are thankfully numerous and this is the blessing brought by bringing together many writers under one cover. In most of these stories there is the outstanding view that what bedevils Zimbabwe comes from the inside and outside and from the unresolved Zimbabwe past. Then, sadly, there is the uncomplicated view by a few of the writers here that all Zimbabwe's problems are due solely to misrule or due only to the evils of one tribe over another. Even more intriguing is the view by some writers here that the Zimbabwean crisis opens up new opportunities and ways of viewing Zimbabwe, present past and future.
You come across the multi talented type like Pathisa Nyathi, Ignatius Mabasa, John Eppel, Raisedon Baya and Julius Chingono. Then you have the immensely fresh and very talented like Judy Maposa, Sandisile Tshuma Linda Msebele and Thabisani Ndlovu who leave you wondering, even crying: where have these gems been hibernating all along? Then there are visitors to Zimbabwe like Ian Rowlands and Gothataone Moeng who felt touched by what we do to one another and what has been done to us in Zimbabwe.
Judy Maposa could be the greatest find in this book. Her story First Rain is a transcendental piece. Here the world is solid, gas and liquid. I have only met the equivalent in Jose Saramago of the novel called The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. I read this story five times for the sheer opportunity of being transfigured. In the end Judy Maposa's dry Bulawayo has water gushing from every tap.
Sandisile Tshuma's Arrested Development can work as an example of how good stories can only come if writers 'forget' form and structure and tell their story unhinged like you do to a close mate from the comfort of night and darkness when the door is shut. Pillow talk is how I could describe Sandisile's story. No wonder why the editor made this one the first story. In half a dozen pages she effortlessly takes you through issues of inflation, border jumping, tribalism, queues…
Linda Msebele is a writer of great courage. Her The Chicken Bus could be the most uplifting story in this book. Her characters 'refuse to turn sour, the ones who won't let fear cloud their brows, the ones who still smile.'
Thabisani Ndlovu's Stampede can win a prize any day. It is a surrealist work of art about how body, spirit and mind engage in a wretched struggle against one another before the final fall. It is about working for systems in which one remains invisible and one can never dare rebel or think about it.
The more well known writers bring depth and experimentation to this anthology. You see it in the poetry of experienced masters like John Eppel and Pathisa Nyathi. They make Bulawayo come alive with both its beauty and ugliness.
The 'Harare boys' cannot be outdone. Julius Chingono writes with a very well hidden tension that erupts from seemingly simple narrative. He begins with: 'I had no bus fare to take me home and it was 4:45pm' and all hell breaks loose. Chingono's story is about the desperate levels to which people can sink in the Zimbabwean crisis. A grown up man finds suddenly that he not even a single cent to get him onto the bus back home.
Ignatius Mabasa's story is about the shifting identities during the Zimbabwean crisis. Although Mabasa argues that he prefers the Shona medium, his story here in English shows why he is fast becoming the leading Zimbabwean writer of his generation. His poem called Poetry is goes:

Poetry is a white child
Lost in the darkness of a cinema house
Holding my black hand
Calling me daddy…

You should not miss the stories of the three writers of the moment in Zimbabwe, Brian Chikwava, Christopher Mlalazi and Petina Gappah. However, be warned! You need to read their short stories with both your eyes and mind open. In the end you may laugh and cry at the same time.
The book helps to show that 'amaBooks could be fast becoming for Bulawayo what Weaver Press is to Harare. You see it in the very meticulous editing and inspired choice and arrangement of artists.
review author:
Memory Chirere
source:
Arts Initiates

id#

66

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3644-2
book title:
Long Time Coming

publishing date:

01.05.2009

country:

GBR
review:
It is little short of miraculous that, despite the disease, oppression and hyper-inflation that is the reality of today's Zimbabwe, writers are writing and publishers are publishing. With even the much-derided official inflation rate in the multi-million per cent bracket, I have no idea how 'amaBooks, who are based in Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo, have managed to raise the resources to publish this volume but I do know they deserve the highest possible praise for doing so. They describe these short stories and poems by 33 writers who live in or have a connection with Bulawayo as 'snapshots… of a country where shops have no food, banks no money, hospitals no drugs, bars no beer.' Each piece here — and they are miniature marvels, with no story longer than eight pages — vividly illuminates an aspect of what it is actually like to live in a country that has been systematically looted and stripped of functioning organizations.
Daily life becomes a one-sided struggle against insurmountable odds; a recurring theme is the immense difficulty in simply getting from place to place when there is no public transport and petrol is scarce and ruinously expensive. Those lucky enough to have jobs earn less than the cost of their journey to work and those without work battle despair and hunger. There are odd glimmers of lightness and pleasure here, albeit tinged with gallows humour. It would be unfair to single out individual authors for praise but, taken together, these stories cohere into a panorama of Zimbabwe. Read Long Time Coming and remember the next line in Sam Cooke's song '… but I know a change is gonna come'.
review author:
PW
source:
New Internationalist

id#

67

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3644-2
book title:
Long Time Coming

publishing date:

01.03.2010

country:

WLF
review:
'I am spent. I am hollow. I am ready to dream, to fill up my mind with hope because without hope tomorrow is stillborn'. (Judy Maposa, First Rain)
Long Time Coming is a remarkable achievement. Published in desperate internal conditions by 'amaBooks , established in 2000 in Bulawayo by Ebbw Vale-born Jane Morris and Brian Jones, it brings together stories and poems from 33 authors including Zimbabwean writers and other international voices, as well as contributions from Wales by Peter Finch, Owen Sheers, Ian Rowlands and Lloyd Robson.
Throughout the collection, there are glimpses of private anguish and resilience. Urgent needs are continually frustrated by the consequences of a collapsed economy which has suffered a million percent inflation and that 'has spawned millionaire beggars and a billionaire middle class' (Judy Maposa, First Rain). The supermarket shelves are empty, the transport system is minimal and chaotic, and everyone, everywhere is waiting endlessly in queues for the borehole, the bus, bread, mealie-meal, sugar and fuel. There are those, like the woman in Linda Msebele's story who travel crammed and sweating on the treacherous Chicken Bus and others who drive the latest Mercedes. Where there is no public transport, passengers, like the young woman in Sandisile Tshuma's Arrested Development, wait in the searing heat at garages to hitch lifts costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. In a country left waiting and wanting, the element most keenly awaited for is rain. Water is rationed, women wait for hours with their containers in long scowling lines and rain is precious, as Pathisa Nyathi poignantly depicts in his poem, And the Rains Came:

The enchanting smell of fresh rain
wafts through the enduring odours
from loose rank sewerage from toilets and factories.
Swarms of swallows drift ahead in flights of bliss and rapture
and grand expectations.

Not only do the people struggle in the face of drought, poor sanitation and sporadic power supplies, they battle against the proliferation of AIDS. In Owen Sheer's story, Safari, a foreign journalist is escorted around a number of brothels by an NGO worker, Tiisetso, leading a project to protect women's health. Challenged by one of the prostitutes, Rosebud, as to the purpose of his investigation, and what difference he thinks it will make, he is unnerved by insufficient answer, and she leaves him with, 'Go home Peter. Go Home. And don't worry, I will stay here. Waiting for something to happen'. Ian Rowlands, on his visit to an orphanage for children who have lost both parents to AIDS, registers the same unease when introduced to an eight year old boy called Innocence: 'I knew immediately that, as a writer, he would be the seed of a story; words upon a page, a moment of intense irony, a moment I would drag out to illuminate a point'. These writers have the privilege of distance that others do not. In Fungai Rufaro Machirori's Rain in July, a young couple go for an HIV test before they get married. She is negative, he is positive. Their future together is destroyed.
The individual suffering of ordinary people is set within a broader context of corruption in business, the government and its military: the brutal rape of a village girl, Khayelihle, by soldiers, her son born with a silent tongue, 'his hands were rolled up into tiny fists holding tightly to the secrets' (Raisedon Baya, Echoes of Silence); The Awards Ceremony (John Eppel), in which the Deputy Minister of Borrowdale Shopping Centre and his wife are danced to by a group of emaciated ten year old girls before presenting awards to two Comrades — one for strangling five terminally ill patients to help 'solve the problem of urban overcrowding', the other for his vicious beating of seven women supporters, two of them expectant mothers, of the National Constitutional Assembly; and Justice (Wim Boswinkel) in which a daughter, forced into prostitution, takes revenge on the businessman, Phil Chibaya, who laid her father off and made their family destitute.
This is a hard hitting collection touched by moments of tenderness: an old man delights briefly in meeting his ex-wife again; a group of young girls fantasise about the personal lives of their teachers; the woman on the chicken bus exchanges a wink and remembers the joy of laugher. But these are flickers of light amongst a people who are grieving. They grieve for the loss of the past, loved ones, livelihoods, dignity, humanity, their sense of self, touchingly expressed by Ignatius Mabasa in Some Kind of Madness. Leaving home for work one day he knows he has forgotten something. On the bus, his companion asks:
' Who are you?'….
'I don't know,' I answer looking into her watery brown eyes. That's it, I realise with a start, that's what I have forgotten.
review author:
Jane MacNamee
source:
New Welsh Review

id#

68

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3644-2
book title:
Long Time Coming

publishing date:

25.01.2009

country:

WLF
review:
Zim - Just About Hanging On

Reading about a million percent inflation is one thing. Dealing with it is something else. In Bulawayo, south west Zimbabwe, largest city in Matabeleland, there's a publisher who has given up the idea of selling books for money. What's the point, Brian Jones tells me, you get a cheque from the bookseller, the bank takes a week to clear it and by that time inflation has made it worthless. Bulawayo might be away from Mugabe's sight but not his touch.
AmaBooks hangs in by its teeth. Those and the dedication of its owners Jane and Brian who see literature as the one salve still available to them in a universally deteriorating world. Long Time Coming, their latest collection of "short writings from Zimbabwe" offers a snapshot of what, with considerable understatement, they call "this turbulent period in history". The book has been financed by the Swedes, the French and the Dutch. The British Embassy loaned a laptop. Production was not without its challenges. Ama's computers blew when the electricity supply surged to levels dangerous enough to fry birds. Power cuts, locally known as "load shedding" have proved impossible to contain. The telephone and email have collapsed. Transformers blow up spectacularly and are visible for miles across the bush. Paper is as rare as a caring state.
When the books do appear selling them is not even contemplatable. If the choice is between a book or a loaf of bread then the bread always wins. Brian and Jane give their publications away instead. Back at base the water supply, delivered via electric pump from a borehole, has ceased. No power. Outside a bush fire rages. Beyond cholera threatens. Living on the surface of Mars would be easier. But ama continues because its owners won't give up.
In the new book are a fair roster of Welsh authors — visitors to Zimbabwe who have managed workshops there and written about the country, its colonial past and its medieval present. Ian Rowlands, Lloyd Robson, Owen Sheers. Among the native contributions reality stands behind a thin fictional veneer. But the horrors are obvious.
Christopher Mlalazi, Raisedon Baya and Mathew Chokuwenga are brave men. Already Mugabe's thought police have closed down Mlalazi and Baya's play Crocodile of the Zambezi. But they've yet to get to Long Time Coming.
In these bleak stories death stands everywhere — AIDS, drought, disenfranchisement, desperation. Western political freedom has not worked for Zimbabwe. "Bloody men. Bloody chicken buses. Bloody poverty. Bloody Zimbabwe", writes Linda Msebele in a tale where water supply fails, shoppers riot and days fill with violence and repression. Yet even she manages to end on a flicker of hope. Light remains in the human soul. Ama Books need all the support they can get. Try the African Books Collective or Amazon. Try now.
review author:
Peter Finch
source:
Western Mail

id#

69

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3644-2
book title:
Long Time Coming

publishing date:

13.09.2010

country:

WLF
review:
Tales of a troubled nation

An independent Zimbabwean collection reveals another side to this tragic country. In recent years it seems the only news stories coming out of Africa are about poverty, corruption, violence and misery, so it's easy to forget that the continent is more than just the disaster zone of the world. Fiction, poetry and art continues to flourish, although even in this day and age, many European readers' knowledge of black African writing begins and ends with Chinua Achebe, despite the high profiles in recent years of notable writers such as Purple Hibiscus author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. However, collections come along every now and then to remind us that Africa's literary life is not in stasis, and Long Time Coming is a welcome addition to this list, presenting a view of Zimbabwe infinitely more nuanced than the typical media vision of a bleak, depressing place presided over by a tinpot dictator.
Not that the authors in Long Time Coming, published by independent Zimbabwean imprint 'amaBooks, gloss over the difficulties of life in the country today. Themes of deprivation and hunger crop up again and again, but the capacity for humanity to find hope in otherwise desperate situations allays even the bleakest tales. The poverty-stricken narrator of 'The Chicken Bus' by Linda Msebele is cheered by a smile shared with a stranger in a bus. Sisters draw strength from each other after abusive marriages end in 'Loving The Self' by Bhekiliwize Dube, and a young woman driven to prostitution after her family are rendered jobless by an unscrupulous businessman exacts an extreme, but still satisfying revenge in 'Justice' by Wim Boswinkel. The cultural identity of white Zimbabweans is not ignored, with stories like 'The Pencil Test' and '10 Lanigan Avenue' featuring sympathetic white and mixed-race characters. The only group that face universal, and deserved, opprobium are the corrupt political leaders and their business cronies, portrayed to a man and woman as venal, greedy and self-justifying. However, one of the best stories in the collection, 'The First Lady's Yellow Shoes' by Peter Ncube, gets inside the mind of a Mugabe-like dictator forced to flee his country in a fictional revolution and reveals the skewed, but real humanity behind the delusions of authority.
With over 30 stories and poems in a slim volume and some stories only running to a couple of pages, the collection has a somewhat unfinished feel to it, and certainly plenty of the stories count as little more than impressionistic sketches. But there is enough new talent here to keep the casual reader interested, and enough decent characterisation to provide context for the recurring themes of hunger, HIV and inflation that naturally crop up. There have been shake-ups in the Zimbabwean government since the collection was first published in 2008, but in other ways very little has changed. It will be interesting to see how the next 'amaBooks publication deals with the country's story.
review author:
Clare Lanigan
source:
Politico

id#

70

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3644-2
book title:
Long Time Coming

publishing date:

13.09.2010

country:

WLF
review:
"2 l8 4 crisis"

Who — among Brits — gives a shit about Zim? (Hello there, Zimbabwean Raconteur readers in exile! And hello to other readers with Zimbabwean roots and ties! But apart from you… ?) During the campaign to kick out white farmers, in 2000-2002, British media were full of Zimbabwe. Now we just get occasional reports about cholera, and crazy inflation figures. The latest: 231 million per cent. And unemployment: 94%. And life expectancy: 37. Zimbabwe was a rich agricultural country. Now the people are mostly starving, and violence and disease are endemic.
A few do prosper, under what John Eppel calls "a government of the obese, by / the obese, for the obese". In his poem a roadside vendor offers for a sale "a cigarette, a handful / of peanuts, and a blighted onion. [—] Sick, her child is the colour of ash, / a rag doll of hopelessness, symbol / of the new Zimbabwe." This poem is in a remarkable, inspiring book published inside the country: Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Zimbabwe. It's a simple act of solidarity: buy it! You'll be repaid with some brilliant writing. The editor is Jane Morris, originally from Ebbw Vale. She co-directs the publisher 'amaBooks in Bulawayo. Long Time Coming is one of about twenty titles they have published. It contains stories and a few poems, all of a very high standard, by 33 writers, most young. Some publish here for the first time; some are well-known (most of them in exile), such as Petina Gappah (here with a devastatingly detached story about AIDS) and Ignatius Tirivangani Mabasa; a few pieces are by Welsh and other international visitors, including Owen Sheers and Peter Finch. The writings are very varied — satire, domestic realism, fantasy, reportage, adventure — but all share a beating heart of political resistance. And the name of Robert Mugabe is never once mentioned: out of caution, no doubt, but also out of contempt.
In 1980, when Mugabe was sworn in as prime minister, Bob Marley sang at the ceremony: "Africans a-liberate Zimbabwe, yeah! / No more internal power struggle, / We come together to overcome the little trouble. / Soon we'll find out who is the real revolutionary. / I don't want my people to be tricked by mercenaries." Soon Mugabe fulfilled Marley's fears. Thousands died in civil conflict over the next years. Civilians were massacred both by government troops and by dissident militias and gangs. The red berets of the Fifth Brigade, directly controlled by Mugabe's office, were particularly feared. He called their task Gukurahundi, a Shona word: "the early rain which washes away the maize chaff before the spring rains". This metaphor of "cleansing" has ethnic implications: opposition is strongest among non-Shona-speakers.
In 1987, Mugabe became "executive president": in effect dictator. Conflict with the white farm owners came to a head from 2000, as "squatters" and "veterans" were encouraged to violently seize tens of millions of acres. The productivity of the land plummeted. International donors and banks withdrew support. Food, fuel, medical supplies, foreign currency, and all kinds of goods became scarce. The obese profit from the economic chaos (some of their tricks are detailed in Wim Boswinkel's story "Justice"). Infrastructure has collapsed: water and sewage, roads, health and other facilities. The usual methods of state repression are used: police and army brutality, disappearances, torture, extra-judicial executions, clamp-downs on independent media, educational and legal institutions.
A refugee who came from Harare to Swansea, William G. Mbwembwe, wrote a poem in 2005, "I guarantee": "I can guarantee that there is freedom of speech in Zimbabwe / But I cannot guarantee freedom after your speech [—] I can guarantee you long life in Zimbabwe / Just don't carry this poem around with you" (from Soft Touch, Hafan Books, 2005). That year, Operation Murambatsvina ("clean-up") began. Hundreds of thousands of people — mostly supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change — were evicted from urban areas, and street markets were shut down, destroying the livelihoods of millions. Still, in January 2009 the MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai became prime minister, sharing power with Mugabe. The crisis might be reaching a climax. Surely, as Sam Cooke sings, "it's been a long time coming, but a change is gonna come".
William Mbwembwe was a charismatic community volunteer. Not long after getting refugee status, he fell ill and died in 2008. In Soft Touch we also published his story, "From the South South to the North West". He tells how his family decided to leave: "When the invaders invaded the farm across the road and started demanding food and water, I knew vamoosing was the best advice. We packed up all our stuff including the roaches (you don't leave those behind, they are family) and we headed off to live somewhere else (which I won't say coz I don't trust you)." Many stories in Long Time Coming have that chatty gallows humour, joking with the reader. Tales of suffering — but survival — are told with an engaging twinkle in the eye. The twinkle's also challenging, if you're from the global "North West": the rich, comfortable zone.
Up here, people protest if fuel prices rise. In Long Time Coming several stories are about travelling on overcrowded "chicken buses", or with people who still have cars, who sell rides to the highest bidder at the roadside, to pay for fuel. Sandisile Tshuma's autobiographical "Arrested Development" opens the book. She pays 800,000 dollars to get from Bulawayo to Beitbridge, on the South African border. First, she has to wait for a ride: "I had to wait two hours to get money from the bank to pay for my journey and now here I am waiting. Again. It's what we do. We wait for transport, for electricity, for rain, for slow-speed internet connections [—] but you know how hope is. It never dies. So we tell ourselves that there isn't anything yet. We'll find a way out; in the meantime let's wait." While waiting, she gets a text from a friend, joking that "since life expectancy in Zim is reportedly quite low, she reckons she is entitled to a mid-life crisis". But she has miscalculated. Tshuma replies: "Sori m8. In mid-20s nw so u hav abt 10 mo yrs left 2 liv. Thz r the sunset yrs. 2 l8 4 crisis."
Finally on her way, "as the kilometers go by I am struck by a loneliness that I have noticed in everybody lately." This loneliness is conveyed by many of the stories. Ignatius Mabasa perhaps captures it best, in "Some Kind of Madness". The narrator leaves home and waits for a bus, vaguely feeling he's forgotten something important. Through interactions with neighbours, passengers, the driver, and police at a roadblock, Mabasa gives a detailed snapshot of the social conditions, evoking both tragedy and hilarity. Someone at the back of the bus asks why they've stopped. Someone else shrieks: "What, are you blind?" The reply comes: "Actually I am blind." Into the embarrassed silence, the narrator laughs and quotes aloud from the Bible: Jesus telling his disciples that a man was born blind "so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." All the passengers look at him. One asks: "Who are you?" He answers: "I don't know." And then, he realises: "That's it [—], that's what I have forgotten." It's a brilliantly chilling final twist.
I don't have space to mention many of the good things in the book, but two extraordinary, visionary stories stand out for me: resonant visions of feminine hope and masculine horror, suggesting alternative futures. Judy Maposa, in "First Rain", recounts a dream of a proud, naked, goddess-like woman amid torrential rainfall which cleanses Zimbabwe of its traumatic history, flushing away Gukurahundi and Murambatsiva, feeding the turbines of Kariba, bringing a rich harvest and an end to power cuts. Finally the narrator is woken by her daughter — "The taps are coughing. Get the containers" — and smiles: "Everything is going to be alright." Here, visionary hope transcends everyday reality. By contrast, Thabisani Ndlovu's "Stampede" recounts the nightmare of a young soldier walking for days through moribund wilderness, to and from his mother's abandoned hut, in search of weapons he seems to have lost, to join an uprising against the regime of the "Great Leader". The uprising is is crushed before it begins, and he joins a terrifying stampede of faceless fleeing figures, stamping soft body parts underfoot, before collapsing in a dry riverbed. Torrential rain falls, only to bring more horror: he must take off his uniform to avoid detection as a rebel, but it sticks to him wetly. His mother appears, trying to help him, but is crushed in the stampede… This story ends with a bitter laugh and the deeply ambiguous question: "Was there anyone left with the Great Leader at all?"
review author:
Tom Cheesman
source:
The Raconteur

id#

71

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3589-6
book title:
Mambo Hills

publishing date:

01.12.2009

country:

ZWE
review:
The Mambo Hills northeast of Bulawayo have long been an important locus in Zimbabwe's history, perhaps rivalled in Matabeleland only by the Matobo Hills. The history of the region has turned upon these ancient granite domes on more than one occasion, yet they have received little attention in both academic and popular writings until fairly recently. This booklet is therefore perhaps the most important document yet published about the history of the hills. Given its scope, it remains a slightlyflawed but impressive pointer to necessary future work.
If you wanted an archaeological history of this important area, coupled with a discussion of the various challenges encountered by heritage managers, you will have to wait a while longer. Instead, we have a valuable historical discussion of the changing religious and social importance of the area. The booklet begins with a highly compressed archeological history of the site followed by a summary of the principles of the traditional Shona faith, known locally as the Mwari religion. The Mambo Hills were (and are) a major shrine for this religion, which may be why the hills attained an importance out of all proportion to their size and location.
The crux of the book is a discussion of the War of the Red Axe, an event that has been under-represented in the literature of Zimbabwe's first liberation struggle (Umvukela). The irreplaceable role of Mkwati, both as a coordinator and organiser of the fight against settler forces, has until now been downplayed or ignored in most accounts of this crucial historical event, but Clarke does a masterful job of putting him in his rightful place as one of the true heroes of the first struggle for independence. As significantly, Clarke concentrates on the role Mkwati's wife, Tenkela, revealing not just her achievements, but the wider importance of women in the struggle. This is an aspect of the first independence war that cries out for further research.
The later story of the hills is a sad one, as the shrine was isolated when the surrounding area was declared commercial (and thus privatelyowned) farmland. Unfortunately, we do not find much about the hills in more recent times, including the alienation of the shrines, the Bush War of the 1970s, and Gukurahundi (civil war) in the 1980s. The booklet ends with a sign of hope, discussing the revival of traditional ceremonies in independent Zimbabwe. In my opinion, a major flaw is a lack of discussion of the impact of the fasttrack land reform exercise after 2000, which has seen the local communities invade the farms and take back their land in order to 'safeguard it'. This has had a major impact on the archaeology of the country (Chakanyuka 2007) and the booklet could have made a significant contribution.
review author:
Paul Hubbard
source:
The Digging Stick

id#

72

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3589-6
book title:
Mambo Hills

publishing date:

01.12.2008

country:

ZWE
review:
If you were hoping for a book on the archaeology or the monument, Ntabazikamambo, and its contestation as a heritage site this publication is not for you. In fact I don't think this was ever the author's briefing and instead we have a particularly valuable contribution on Mkwati and the broader family and cult relationships in which this important figure of the 1896-7 anti-colonial campaign featured. Surprisingly, there are few detailed histories of this man despite his importance in the anti-colonial and post-colonial historical discourse. Unlike Zezuru mediums of Nehanda and Kaguvi, Mkwati has hitherto been a bit of an enigma; mentioned only when necessary to bring Matabeleland into nationalist historiography and with the odd building named after him, but he not really known by most people unlike his Mazowe Valley counterparts.
Discussed briefly in that all-important book that has shaped Zimbabwean historiography, Terrance Ranger's (1967) Revolt in Southern Rhodesia, Mkwati is presented as a regional instigator of the insurrections of 1896 in Matabeleland. Relatively few details are however given and he is depicted as much the same as the more northern spirit mediums of the Shona heartland. Mkwati is further short-changed in later nationalist publications where he becomes a mere adjutant to events in Mashonaland. In fact that bastion of nationalist "history" A.S. Chigwedere relegates him to the mere status of a mujibha (runner) for some mystical central leader (Murenga) who supposedly instigated events across the entire modern nation (Chigwedere 1991). Chigwedere's blatant Shonaisation and reinterpretation of events to suit current political patronage should always be remembered.
Clarke now presents a more a thorough picture of Mkwati and his part in regional events outside of modern nationalist concerns. He was not local, being born a Leya in the Zambezi Valley who was captured in his youth by Ndebele raiders. As one of Lobengula's "Black ants" he rose to importance through his marriage to Tenkela, the all important iwosana, messenger of Mwali, in this area of central Zimbabwe who acted as the local voice and transmitting of information for the Mlimo Cult based in the Matobo Hills. The importance of Mkwati was therefore not as a Shona medium, in the sense of Nehanda, but it was it association with Tankela and her family. It seems that the influence of the Mlimo Cult may have expanded further in the post-Ndebele era as people tried to come to terms with the intrusion and impact of colonialism. Mkwati would have spoken out and encouraged the local events of 1896 but he was not some cog of a massive nation-wide conspiracy against the colonial regime. I recommend reading this book to get a better understanding of the man and events of that era.
My main quibble about the book is the dearth of solid information on the Mambo Hills. We never get to know the broken hilly area which is after all the landscape in which these events were set and which, through its heritage associations with the past (the last Mambo and the once all powerful Rozwi State), determined who was living there, why and their actions. The ruin of Ntabazikamambo is shown on the cover but there is scant detail on it. Its being one of many Khami-type ruins in this part of central Zimbabwe could have been analysed more thoroughly. Clarke comments as to Zhizo and Leopard's Kopje rock art (p.1) are curious and one can only assume that the fault lies with uninformed informants. I don't know any other serious researcher who would think that the art can be attributed to these farming community groups.
I was also very disappointed with the lack of adequate comment on the events that post date 1896. The hills were alienated as white farmland. How was this done, what were the relationships between the settlers and the locals and did they change through time? Access to the site was not restricted at all times and the competing interests of different parties who all lay claim to the site and its said spiritual associations could have been better analysed.
Clarke places too much emphasis on the interpretations and heritage explanations of one group, the Mambo Cultural & Sacred Places of Zimbabwe Advisory Committee of the late A.S. Moyo. There are other groups and individuals who are involved who dispute the legitimacy of this organisation. In this book there is an overreliance on a few commentators, sometimes a failure to separate contemporary concerns from those that may have counted in the past and the complex multivocality and the contested nature of the hills and the heritage site is not adequately covered by Clarke. More recent events in the Rhodesian Bush War or Chimurenga II in the 1970s and the Gukuruhundi of the 1980s would also have been very informative. Pathisa Nyathi in his foreword hints as much but the author seems to have avoided the issues completely.
All in all this is an interesting and important work that focuses on local areas and agency rather than broad sweeping panoramas. The author and publishers are also to be congratulated on ensuring that it is made available locally. Too often now our history is written and published elsewhere, so that we at home are denied access to it; we are studied and written about but the results are never shared with the actual people involved. May this trend initiated by Clarke continue.
review author:
Rob Burrett
source:
Prehistory Society of Zimbabwe Newsletter

id#

73

ISBN:

0-7974-3047-4
book title:
Sonatas

publishing date:

30.09.2005

country:

ZWE
review:
It is fitting that this anthology should begin with a tribute to the great nineteenth century American poet, Walt Whitman. Like Whitman's, Deon Marcus' poetry advocates a democracy of the heart; like Whitman's it is suffused with love- love of country, love of family and friends, love of self:

I sing myself a song, a Whitman song,
I sing the words that have made me a man
of the world, that have kept me as me for time
to be. I sing of flesh and air and sky and leaves as


soft as clouds, as sweet as dreams of
her and me, of you and me. I sing of root
and rain and grass and gusty breaths of sweat
and summers piled as high….

Few Zimbabwean poets have managed to move convincingly beyond the contradictions that colonialism has imposed on us; but Deon Marcus does; and he does it over and over again:

I want to be as fine beamed dust, free to surf its way along

the summer breeze and conquer all
the things that puzzle me. I want to be as
the leaves of a lemon tree, and in their shade die
with all the happiness of knowing all was said and done.

There is so much wretched guilt, so much unrelenting accusation in the poetry of Zimbabwe and other Anglophone countries in Africa. Now here comes a voice, fresh as a "Monet morning with the sun / breathing warmth across an ochre sky". And it speaks of joy, the joy that grows out of a profound awareness that shadows don't exist without light.
Marcus shifts the conventional form of stanza building so that many of his line endings are raw with prepositions, articles, hyphens, and enjambment; and reader expectation is satisfied in mid-line climaxes: the rhymes, the pointed images that come upon the reader with what Keats called "a fine suddenness." This frequent foregrounding within lines rather than at the beginning or ending of lines creates a "count three" effect, which is the sonata from.
Marcus describes his technique in a haiku-like gem of a poem called "The Virtuoso":

The notes fall floorward in
confettied flight as fingers flick them
from a starry night

His poems delight the reader because they approach the condition of music, the sublimest art. As the "resolved soul" declares in his dialogue with "Creative pleasure" (in Andrew Marvell's witty poem): "None can chain a mind / Whom this sweet chordage cannot bind".
Sweet chordage is an apt description of this fine anthology, which recognizes with wonder, the starry sky above and the moral imperative within; which takes its inspiration from art and nature; which operates, indeed, on the threshold of that dialectic.

WHO? Who can fathom the space between
here and the nearest star, so far away to say
a million words would bridge no more than a breath
of what we know and have yet to sow?

Who can harness the poetry of the
wind as it swims across the summer veld like
hands across a harp, to hold captive behind pen-speared
paper staves bound with bits of card?

Who can tell the mystery of time and
as twine unwind its silken arms to weave scar-
ves of tick-tock knots for us to mock, as it would mock
tick-tocking by and by?

Who can work the maze of roots and
find the seeds from which our deeds recede to
light and ask the years why we are the way we are as
now, today and yesterday?

Who indeed can sooth the shadows falling
slim and tall across the eye with all their wanting
hands, and say to them the things we strive to find among
the stars, and wind, and poetry?

The poet can; and Deon Marcus is a poet — not from London or New York or Harare, but from Bulawayo — and we are very proud of him.
review author:
John Eppel
source:
The Zimbabwean

id#

74

ISBN:

0-7974-3047-4
book title:
Sonatas

publishing date:

30.06.2005

country:

ZWE
review:
The cover is lyrical and well constructed and the title, while a little self-indulgent, is nevertheless attractive and relevant.
Deon Marcus casts himself into the role of the people's poet as it were, and hopes to endear himself to the Zimbabwean reading public the way that Walt Whitman endeared himself to the American reading public, because as he says in 'I Sing Myself a Song' [p.1] he sings '…the words that have made me a man of the world…' and he sings of '… flesh and air and sky and leaves as soft as clouds, of you and me'. The question to ask is how successfully Marcus wears this mantle of 'everybody's poet'? Marcus also claims for himself the inspiration of the great poet of an earlier age, the ones who gave [his] '…song its words, its tune, its life….' My verdict is that he has a very good go at it and accordingly succeeds in creating a poetry that is impishly infectious. The collection is a rambling experience into worlds unknown and into worlds that could be and so undoubtedly widens a reader's horizons. There is no discernable structure to the collection, except perhaps with regard to the internal structure of each poem in the collection. The poet puts down his 'songs' and invites the reader to sing along. The poet is obviously well read and also imbued with a propensity for musicality. The result is an almost ubiquitous lyricism in his poetry, a lyricism as captivating as lend the power of anthems to some of his poetry. A delightful collection that has the effect of restoring faith in the good things of life: love, food, music, dance, art, history and culture, reminiscences…
review author:
source:
Zimbabwe Book Publishers Association Judges

id#

75

ISBN:

0-7974-2540-3
book title:
Short Writings from Bulawayo

publishing date:

21.09.2003

country:

ZWE
review:
Book puts Bulawayo on the Map

Bulawayo is Zimbabwe's cultural capital. And the recently published Short Writings from Bulawayo by 'amaBooks reaffirms that status.
Short Writings from Bulawayo is an anthology of short stories and poems that all have something to say about the City of Kings. Twenty-three mostly unpublished writers contributed the 29 articles that feature in the 134-page book. Reading through the articles, one gets a detailed picture of life in Bulawayo and its environs as seen and interpreted by the different authors. The writers touch on a variety of issues that include incest, queues, the history of bicycles in the city, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, Highlanders Football Club and the Vapostori women who have sprouted all over the city.
The writers see things differently. For example, writing about the women who deal in foreign currency, two authors describe them as follows:
"As he nears Highlanders Sports Club, he wonders why there are so many Vapostori women in the streets, so many of them. Maybe they are praying for the country?" writes Masimba Manyonga in A Seed of Hope.
Peter Hutton in Ever Smart describes the women in white thus: "… Apostolic Faith ladies, gleaming white and so innocent, twirl their parasols and whisper "money change?" as if offering illicit sex."
The contributors, including John Eppel, Pathisa Nyathi, Mzana Mthimkhulu, Terence Ranger, Shirley Tarr, Masimba Manyonga and Judith Maphosa, use different writing styles which the editor, Jane Morris, skilfully retains to give an individual feel to each piece.
My favourite story from the collection is The Queue by Bryony Rheam. In the piece Rheam tackles issues of loneliness among old white Zimbabweans and how they are trying to cope with the turbulent economic environment in the face of insistent demands from their domestic staff and skyrocketing prices of goods and services.
Another brilliant piece is The Witch by Farai Mpofu. The story looks at the contentious issue of witch hunting. How unscrupulous community leaders use women — especially those who are widowed and single — as scapegoats.
Short Writings from Bulawayo is an enjoyable book that should appeal to readers with varied tastes and interests. It is a book that children and adults alike can read anywhere. As Morris says, in selecting the pieces to include, she tried to ensure that there was "something for everyone" in the book. For those who find themselves stuck in long winding queues, the book will help kill time and take the stress from queuing.
The book is a pleasure to read.
review author:
Miriam Madziwa
source:
Tribune

id#

76

ISBN:

0-7974-2540-3
book title:
Short Writings from Bulawayo

publishing date:

21.03.2005

country:

ZWE
review:
A very encouraging project. The strength here is the wide variety of authors whose short and few pieces make sure that they do not stampede. This is one thing missing in most Zimbabwean anthologies. The idea that there is a mixture of short stories and poems in this book brings some immense glory to it. The variety of styles and themes pay credence to the concept of bringing together authors of different ages, race, tribe and gender.
Although the cover needed more imagination, this book is an eye opening project and is set to win more awards at home and abroad.
review author:
source:
Zimbabwe Book Publishers Association Awards

id#

77

ISBN:

0-7974-2896-8
book title:
Short Writings from Bulawayo II

publishing date:

02.11.2009

country:

ZWE
review:
Bulawayo is traditionally revered as Zimbabwe's cultural hub owing to the vibrancy of the cultural industry in that city, particularly in music and performance arts.
But in a development that has, in recent years, seen the extending of artistic and cultural frontiers, the city has also began churning out some of the finest literature in Zimbabwe today. A small community of writers is slowly emerging in the city.
The publication of 'Short Writings from Bulawayo II' this year ' a follow-up to 'Short Writings from Bulawayo' (2003) testifies to that emergent trend. And it is heartening to note that following what one literary fundi termed 'the drought' of the 1990s 'during which publishing 'fiction' was unfortunately considered as unaffordable luxury by publishing concerns ' some are still passionate about literature and are ensuring the country's traditional literary genius is not buried.
Just like its predecessor, this collection of short stories and poetry gives multiple perspectives 'cutting across race, gender and age ' on a variety of issues, mainly centred in Zimbabwe's second largest city. There is a delightful combination of the tried and tested pens of the likes of John Eppel, Catherine Buckle and Pathisa Nyathi with those slowly finding their feet on the literary path, notably Tinashe Mushakavanhu, Deon Marcus, Christopher Mlalazi and Farai Mpofu.
The last four are products of Crossing Borders, an ambitious e-mail based tutorial scheme run by the British Council and the UK's Lancaster University in nine African countries.
Of the 22 writers featured in the collection under review, 20 had had their works appearing in this collection's predecessor.
Though set in Bulawayo, most of the works here are national in outlook and transcend the boundaries of one city. To a greater extent, the collection is a mirror of contemporary Zimbabwe. Mzana Mthimukhulu's 'Everything is Gonna Be Alright' and Mushakavanhu's 'Amainini Wendy' explore the impact of HIV and AIDS on ordinary families in Zimbabwe.
Another story by Mushakavanhu, 'City Insomnia', delineates in detail Harare's transport blues spawned by crippling fuel shortages and the somewhat 'inhuman' speed at which everything seems to happen: "The place is overcrowded. People, people, people everywhere, all rushing about (to get to work), obsessed with time" (pp53). Addelis Sibutha's 'Between Two Men' also bemoans the economic woes bedevilling Zimbabwe, pushing others ' like the girl in Godfrey Sibanda's 'One for the Road' ' into prostitution as a means of survival.
Mpofu's 'I'll Fly Away' and Mlalazi's 'It's His Who Wakes the Hare' and 'My Meat!' capture in fine detail life in the 'ghettos' of Bulawayo and the often humorous antics people play on each other at their drinking holes. Mthimkhulu and Mlalazi have had their short stories, 'First Love' and 'Who am I?' respectively, published in the first edition of the Crossing Borders Online Magazine 'together with Ayodele Arigbabu and Fredrick Mulapa of Nigeria and Zambia respectively ' after they, together with 28 other interested CB participants had vied for the four slots available.
Catherine Buckle unleashes her passion to give the 'other side' regarding the burning land question in Zimbabwe. Her short story, 'Full Circle', explores what often transpired when a white commercial farm is 'violently' taken over, "the incessant shouting and whistling, the clattering and thumps of sticks and stones being thrown on the roof, the banging of rocks against burglar bars" (pp42). She castigates the corruption prevalent in the land reform exercise when those in high offices evict ordinary peasants from the land where they would have been resettled. The story reads more like a follow-up to her novel, 'African Tears' (Covos Day, 2000) which looks at the takeover of her family's Stow Farm in Marondera, and how her farm workers stood by her.
As noted by Wonder Guchu in a review published in a local weekly following the book's publication, the book "tries to draw a balance between the desire to hold on to the land and to leave, the wish to claim to be Zimbabwean and to denounce foreign citizenship; and the sense of being patriotic and unpatriotic, an act difficult to perform when there's a likelihood of death or injury."
Noteworthy about Buckle's writings is her preoccupation with contemporary issues, shown also through her other novel, 'Litany Bird' (College Press, 1999), which is a bold confrontation with what it means to live with HIV, both to the infected and their loved ones.
Mpofu's 'Whirlwind' looks at the moral decadence prevalent in society, Judy Maposa's 'Bathing with Tadpoles' celebrates the beauty of nature that comes out in the rainy season and Sibanda's 'The Coming' attempts to understand the senselessness of politics. The book pulsates with equally beautiful and engaging poetry by Eppel (My Dustbin), Tawanda Chipato (Past State House and Hope), Nyathi (Illuminating Flames), Marcus (Our 'Notre Dame'), John S. Read (The Messenger's Finger) and Anne Simone Hutton (The Baboon).
review author:
source:
The Southern Times

id#

78

ISBN:

0-7974-2896-8
book title:
Short Writings from Bulawayo II

publishing date:

19.12.2011

country:

ZWE
review:
Aristotle said politics is the highest form of art because other goods and services borrow their life from people who bow to the force of whips that are cracked in Parliament. This year the main political parties in the country, Zanu-PF and MDC-T, brought many people to attend their meetings in Bulawayo.
Hotels should have used this opportunity to interest them in reading Short Writings from Bulawayo II for the benefit of the whole hospitality industry in Zimbabwe. This collection of short stories and poems is about the life of people in the City of Kings and its surrounding rural areas. It deals with how people in high-density suburbs make ends meet in the face of economic hardships.
The guests staying in hotels can borrow books from the reception desk for reading in their rooms. Tourists enjoy reading books like this very much. An increase in sales of indigenous literature would have artists smiling all the way to the bank.
Its time hotels saw themselves as part and parcel of the culture of people. A family can go and watch a play at the theatre or it can go and sample an exotic dish at the local inn. Chefs know best that cooking is an art.
Eco-tourism binds art and culture and the hospitality industry together and books fasten that bond. It's natural for birds of the same feather to flock together for their mutual benefit. People of Bulawayo have a crush on Wim Boswinkel. He was born in Holland in 1947 and 'amaBooks published his first novel, Erina, in 2003. In his short story, 2084, he writes about a future that has no language and no alphabet. People express their feelings using their hands and faces.
The artist sees this weird world through the eyes of 17-year-old John and his sweetheart Nomakha. Theirs is love across the colour divide. As they walk through the park, they reflect on what life was like during the Dark Ages compared with the Light Age in which they live.
"People had all become equal," says the author, meaning equal in material possession. "Terrorism and crime had disappeared from the earth, and so had superstition and prejudice." The artist is good at evoking atmosphere.
"They loved," he says of the two, "to roam through the dense vegetation, to dig with their hands into the moist soil and to bring some to their noses to inhale the fragrant aroma of the top layer. It made them feel part of nature, as once mankind had been, in long forgotten primitive days."
Environmentalists should love this story.
Now, any woman worth her salt would feel what MaSibanda goes through when a gunman rapes her while Ncube is lying prostrate. The title of the story, Between Two Men, sums up the position of the husband. Hwange-born educationist Addelis Sibutha describes how the two of them leave the beerhall at closing time. A lone gunman accosts them along the wasteland and warns Ncube to be sensible.
MaSibanda asks herself why Ncube didn't do something to fight off the rapist. Ncube thinks that perhaps MaSibanda knows this man from somewhere. Children, knowing their parents to be boisterous when they are in their cups, ask them why they are in a sullen mood.
Ncube meets the rapist at the bar and other men help him to mete instant justice on the scoundrel. The artist leaves you to imagine how MaSibanda will revenge herself when she has remained at home.
Rapists in Zimbabwe go to jail for seven years. In other countries it's 40. Plumtree-born Christopher Mlalazi (39) is a product in creative writing from Crossing Borders project of the British Council. He tells, in My Meat, the story of Zama. He shows off to Nsingo the beer that Marx, who has come from South Africa, has bought for him at the bottle store. A dog makes off with braai meat that Zama had hidden in his jacket from the other guy. Zama runs after the dog as Marx buys himself a quart and talks of his girlfriend. Nsingo wishes he could go and work in Egoli. It's a sad story about youth and unemployment.
Derek Huggins joined the BSAP at 18 in 1959. He was CEO of the National Arts Foundation for 13 years up to 1988. Weaver Press has published his first collection of stories, Stained Earth.
P/O Greg Stanyon, in Crossing the Divide, is driving from Enkeldoorn back to camp in Sabi Valley. He finds workers poking a bird with sticks on the side of the road. Stanyon takes home this giant eagle owl and decides to put it down when he finds out that its wing is broken. He makes a bad shot and the bird takes a long time dying. In his remorse, a poignant past event pricks his conscience.
Seeing the bird fighting for its life becomes unbearable to him. This brings to mind the way the chicken tries to defy death when you have cut off its head. Horrible! The picture that Zambian-born Bezekela Mlilo (30) drew for the cover depicts the ideal woman by any standard - stout as a drum and strong enough to collar four oxen to the span single-handed. He won an award for graphics at the Mbira Art Exhibition and was nominated for Nama award.
The draw-card in the collection is Pathisa Nyathi. This member of the Zimbabwe Academic and Non-Fiction Authors Association has done justice to AmaNdebele culture through his works.
Pathisa Nyathi is first among equals in literary journalism in Zimbabwe. He ran columns in four publications at the same time and is public relations officer at Town House in Bulawayo.
In Illuminating Flames, this prolific writer pays tribute to the ancients who gave him wisdom.

The leaping crimson flames
Of mopane wood fires
Out in rural Kezi
Still flicker large in my city mind.

Another poet is John Eppel, born in 1947. His first novel, Great North Road, won the M-Net prize in South Africa. In My Dustbin, he says:

These children
have acquired the patience of queuing;
children of neighbourhood; suburban;
queuing at my bin for a lucky dip.

Books, rights activists should have Short Writings from Bulawayo II on the shelf.
review author:
source:
The Herald

id#

79

ISBN:

0-7974-3131-4
book title:
Short Writings from Bulawayo III

publishing date:

02.08.2007

country:

ZWE
review:
Short Writings from Bulawayo III is a collection of 25 short stories and seven poems by a wide range of writers, all with experience of Zimbabwe. These include award-winning writers such as John Eppel, Brian Chikwava, Owen Sheers, Albert Nyathi, Pathisa Nyathi, Deon Marcus — those who have featured in earlier Short Writings from Bulawayo - and those published here for the first time.
In publishing this collection last year, the Bulawayo-based publishers 'amaBooks sought contributions from writers further afield than Bulawayo or Zimbabwe, including pieces from, to quote the back cover, 'writers who have stayed in Zimbabwe, who have passed through or who live in the diaspora'. Zimbabwe has had a powerful impact on all.
I am not usually a fan of short stories: I prefer lengthy novels. However, this book combines all the features of a good novel but with the added benefits of stylistic and thematic diversity.
The writings have been well chosen to illustrate the wide-ranging artistic talent in Zimbabwe and the richness and depth of Zimbabwean culture during struggle, celebration, tragedy, laughter and trial.
I remember, someone called out at the launch of the book "Where are the laughs?", which was, if a little crude, a good question. However, this book addresses, with a great deal of sensitivity and appreciation of the present Zimbabwean context, issues ranging from HIV/Aids, Operation Murambatsvina and tribalism, to stories about school life and growing up.
I have my favourite pieces and have identified some writers from whom I definitely need to read more. Farai Mpofu's story is raw and real, touching on the issue of mental illness. At the other end of the spectrum, Mzana Mthimkhulu presents a light-hearted story about a school concert. His writing is refreshingly uplifting and his style is warm and witty. Judy Maposa achieves a rare thing — presenting, in a short four pages, an empathic portrayal of the suffering of so many women worldwide who lose children.
Another story that stays in the mind is The Boy with a Crooked Head by Thabisani Ndlovu, who ventures to write about the atrocities carried out during Gukurahundi in Matabeleland. Part of the power of the story is that the situation is seen through the eyes of a child.
Although Christopher Mlalazi's contribution to the book still sees him introducing the reader to his larger-than-life township characters, there is a maturity unseen before, as he skilfully interlaces the effects of Murambatsvina with the continuing impact of Gukurahundi on the son of a family and its members, resulting in tragic consequences.
The Short Writings series has given writers the platform on which they can write about things that affect their lives on a daily basis — themes that will reverberate for the reader.
I urge you to read this book and reflect on life in Zimbabwe in these difficult times. But this is not just a book about Zimbabwe — it draws on themes that affect us all — loss, grief, isolation and displacement.
review author:
BM
source:
The Zimbabwean

id#

80

ISBN:

0-7974-3131-4
book title:
Short Writings from Bulawayo III

publishing date:

08.10.2006

country:

ZWE
review:
GOING through 'amaBooks' latest offering, Short Writings from Bulawayo III, I could not help but recall a remark made by one literary critic -- that 'progressive literature' responds to society's demands as of 'now', and not 'then'.
Here, the realities of society are captured in motion, as they happen, with the socio-economic hardships in Zimbabwe today continuing to offer a fertile template for literary works.
The short stories and poetry collected here are a reflection of the diversity of cultures, races and generations from which Zimbabwean writers come. Noteworthy too, is the fact that some of the writers had just been passing through Zimbabwe, adding a deeper dimension to the anthology, as they offer an outsider's perspectives.
At a time when major publishers find it more rewarding and making 'business sense' to publish established---read 'easily marketable'---authors and 'fast-selling' textbooks, 'amaBooks have to be commended for giving upcoming writers a chance to break into the limelight. They have given a whole new generation of Zimbabwean writers that could have remained in the wilderness the space to display their 'wares' and in the process make their claim on Zimbabwe's literary space.
Tinashe Mushakavanhu, Farai Mpofu, Adrian Ashley and Deon Marcus belong to the fourth generation of Zimbabwean writers. This is a generation that, like its predecessor generation of the likes of Zvisinei Sandi, Ruzvidzo Mupfudza, Wonder Guchu, Nhamo Mhiripiri and Robert Muponde trapped in a "publishing jinx" (M. Chirere, The Saturday Herald, July 23 2005), that could also have been condemned into oblivion.
These are products of the ambitious British Council and Lancaster University writing project, Crossing Borders and - through all the three editions of Short Writings from Bulawayo - have announced their arrival, and continue to enjoy the sun, on the literary scene.
With Mushakavanhu's The Harare Hermit, Judy Maphosa's One by One My Leaves Fall, Mpofu's Your Burden, Mlalazi's enigmatically titled id i, and Ashley's The Request, they give incisive insights into the hardships people grapple with today, from battling to eke out a living in the city, right through a mother's agony as HIV and Aids claims all her children, a friend's battle with insanity, haunting memories of the dissident era in Matabeleland to a man's daily struggles to provide for his family.
In-between are fairly unknown voices, represented by the likes of Mary Ndlovu, John Simcoe Read, Godfrey Sibanda and Cornelius Sanders. But the instalments in this collection are in no way meagre. If anything, the diversity they add makes the anthology all the richer.
Mary Ndlovu explores the generation gap in Hands, where a father and his son's discussion about contemporary politics and socio-economic dynamics in Zimbabwe is very illuminating. Read contributes to the poetry dimension with Butterflies Drift into the Edges of our City Life. Sibanda, in Itekiya, bemoans the collapse of a nation's systems, which should allow it to function properly, with everyone wanting a 'kick-back' to do their job.
The voices of experience - well represented here by Pathisa Nyathi, Albert Nyathi, Catherine Buckle, John Eppel, Ignatius Mabasa and Brian Chikwava - add the cutting edge to this fine collection.
From the history of the City of Kings, the abuse of essential public health facilities, prostitution against a backdrop of HIV and Aids, the retracing of one's footsteps back to their childhood and the battle to fit in into the patterns of city life are all issues explored here.
But whenever a collection of this nature is put together, questions will always be raised about the quality of all the stories and the pedigree of all the writers.
No doubt, this anthology boasts of writers of international repute, with compact profiles, but there are also other new - fairly unknown, too - voices.
In that regard, the appeal of some of the stories is not very strong, with some of them reading like mere 'gap fillers', and others reading like mere political statements, pandering to neo-liberal whims.
In some of the cases, the writers tend to lose the opportunity to do justice to otherwise interesting topics.
Other stories to look forward to in this collection include The Boy with a Crooked Head (Thabisani Ndlovu), The Rhythm of Life (Byrony Rheam), Cain and Abel (Raisedon Baya), and The Concert (Mzana Mthimkhulu).
review author:
Phillip Chidavaenzi
source:
Sunday Mirror

id#

81

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3744-9
book title:
This September Sun

publishing date:

03.07.2011

country:

USA
review:
This September Sun is a searing account of family and "the ties that bind" as told from the perspective of a young woman trying to find her place within her family, her country and her world at large. The story is set in Rhodesia/ Zimbabwe and begins in dramatic fashion: "On the 18th of April 1980, my grandfather burnt the British flag. I remember because it was my sixth birthday and he ruined it." From this point on, Rheam reels the reader in to a heady tale of love, hate, deceit and betrayal, laughter and tears, anger and joy, destruction and renewal. Born into a family full of secrets, young Ellie quickly becomes aware of the coldness and the heavy, unarticulated emotions between her grandmother Evelyn and her grandfather Leonard. She is also aware of the tension between her mother Francie and her grandmother and is often bewildered, angered and terrified by the outburst of pure, inexplicable rage such as she witnessed from her grandmother towards her grandfather on the 18th of April, 1980. Traumatized by the divorce of her grandparents and threatened by her gran's new love Miles, Ellie's existence is one filled with insecurity, self doubt and unanswered questions, punctuated by occasional episodes of happiness.
Upon completing her A levels, Ellie leaves for England, convinced that she will find herself, her place in the grand scheme of things and finally attain that state of serenity that has so far eluded her. However she soon discovers that: "It is not enough just to travel, if one wishes to change who one is. The greatest journey we go on is inward towards ourselves, rather than outwards and away. You cannot change who you are unless you know who you are and what you are capable of, and that is what I had never known and why, finally, I couldn't move on."
Ellie shuttles back and forth between Zimbabwe and England, a troubled young woman who is at once comforted and disturbed by how some things back home do not seem to change. Her restless spirit continues to battle with the business of finding her place and she completes a bachelor's, a master's and embarks on a PhD degree.
The news that her grandmother has been brutally bludgeoned to death in her home in Suburbs marks the beginning of another phase in her journey which ultimately leads her into a quagmire of secrets and revelations that help to answer some of the questions along her journey to finding herself. Her grandmother's diaries hold the missing pieces to a very complex puzzle, one which her family had protected her from as an only child. She learns who her grandmother Evelyn really is, how she came to what was then Southern Rhodesia in 1946 and how she ended up married to Leonard, her grandfather. She unravels the mystery around the death of her uncle Jeremy and how this singular event irrevocably changed the family dynamics from what it was to what she was born into.
Rheam's brilliance lies in her ability to weave what seem like two completely different stories into a seamless work of art that is both evocative and entertaining. The attention to detail in her historical accounts of pre independence Rhodesia, along with the characters operating in this colonial era of cups of tea, morning and afternoon, sundowners, country clubs and exotic flower gardens, evokes and captures vivid images of what this era was like for the colonials and their civilized black stewards.
The story is told in beautiful prose, peppered with old world verse and philosophical musings. Her characters are sometimes funny, foolish, tragic, selfish and downright irritating. All are bound together masterfully in the messy business of living, and searching, adjusting and moving forward. In the hands of a lesser writer, this powerful story would have been lacklustre and tedious to read. However it is told by a true craftswoman, whose style, tempo and artistry in her use of language is outstanding and therefore the story simply shines.
review author:
Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende
source:
On Becoming Barbara

id#

82

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3744-9
book title:
This September Sun

publishing date:

20.09.2010

country:

USA
review:
Memorable Moments in "This September Sun" by Bryony Rheam

Bryony Rheam's first novel, "This September Sun" was published as a mystery/romance, which means that it is not literature, but genre; however, the novel has features, or, to use E.M. Forster's word, "aspects" of literary fiction. In an interview with me, Bryony said she still would rather see it as genre, but readers are free to categorize it as they wish. I read it as a work of literary fiction.
The novel has strong characterization, and it explores beyond mere genre into the complexity of human existence; it's a work that leaves you thinking. Not that genre does not leave you thinking, but this work leaves you thinking for a long time. Because I am still thinking about it, I have decided to discuss some of the key moments I found interesting.
Here are some of the key moments of "This September Sun":

1. The first sentence: "On the 18th of April 1980, my grandfather burnt the British flag." The sentence drew me in with its strong political statement, its inevitable symbolism. That flag burning, which happened on her sixth birthday, was memorable to Ellie, the protagonist, just as it will be memorable to the Zimbabwean reader who remembers the date. To readers not familiar with the context, the sentence is an invitation (flag burning is always an act of defiance and of self-expression, but happening in a work of fiction, it draws much attention, hence its effectiveness as an opening line). The pathos raised by the scene (they all must be celebrating a child's birthday)and the mood it creates arouse reader interest. But this act of defiance marks a time of change. Zimbabwe has just attained its independence, but to die-hard Rhodesians like the grandfather, it's not independence. To people like the grandfather, whatever the Zimbabwe is transforming into can be blamed on British intervention (Lancaster House, etc). Of course, Ellie is too young to understand all this, yet when she reflects years later, she chooses the moment as the beginning of her story. I was hooked by the first sentence, and moved even more by this one: "The day of my sixth birthday was the day Zimbabwe got its Independence…."

2. "Tea, my grandmother always maintained, was one of the great benefits of colonialism. In fact, she said, it was the one thing in the world that kept everyone together, the one thing everyone shared…." (10). The novel raises more questions like this, questions about the benefits of colonialism. If you were educated in the school of Chinua Achebe, you were made to see how colonialists justified their actions in Africa, offering development while underdeveloping the continent (Walter Rodney), asserting that they brought real culture to Africa, that they civilized, enlightened the Africans… and brought tea. You will be sensitive to some of the grandmother's sentiments throughout the novel, and you might even resent what she says about black Africans, but you also realize, without excusing her, that she is a grandmother educating her granddaughter… a duty she should play, yet in so doing, she might instill in the same child she loves her biased, rather affected view of the world. Ellie is exposed to the rhetoric of the colonialist mindset at an early age, colonialism being the context in which she was born, which has defined the lives of her parents, and continues to affect them. Very much in the present, Ellie is also deeply steeped in a past she cannot escape, and her attempts to escape that past have been disastrous.
The colonial drama that played out in Zimbabwe cannot be ignored, and often, it manifests itself through the country's literature. In an interview with Ambrose Musiyiwa of Conversations with Writers, Bryony Rheam states that she did not intend the novel to be read as a work of post-colonial literature, but that's exactly one way to read it, and interestingly, it covers an approach to post-coloniality that's often not heard, as the bulk of post-colonial literature in Africa is often by black African authors, tangentially featuring white characters who are seen only from the outside. It seems then, as the author confirmed in my interview with her, that the novel delves deeper into the personal and public lives of its white characters. It is as much a novel about their individual lives as it is about Zimbabwe.

3. The novel touches on the exclusionary sports clubs the white Zimbabweans (those who became Zimbabwean after independence, because, as the novel reveals, some remained Rhodesian): "clubs whose bar counters were weighed down with the beers of their die-hard Rhodesian clientele, those who would've won the war [in the 70's] if only Smith had not given in to Nationalist aggression, those who had always been on the brink of victory when Smith had surrendered." Here the narrator reveals a neo-Rhodesian sentiment: Africans could not rule them, but worse, could not rule themselves. They could easily argue that they were right, given the direction Zimbabwe has taken, and can easily claim that Zimbabwe was better in its Rhodesian days than it is today. But as the novel reveals, this sentiment was driven more by a die-hard spirit of resistance than by any proven failure of the new system. I am fascinated by this argument that results from people choosing to live in the past, but there is no disputing the fact that independence from the Smith regime was necessary, and it brought with it many benefits and disasters.

4 Regarding her memory of growing up in Zimbabwe, Ellie says, "When I look back on my life, the thing I notice most, and now miss in my present life, is the pattern. Predictability, maybe? The way one year rolled smoothly into the next. The way we didn't think of the future or question it, or feel separated from the time that had passed." But when she returns to the country after years in the UK, Ellie cannot see those patterns anymore as she now looks at the country like an outsider, unable to fit in. The point she makes about patterns sounds familiar; it's what I remember too about growing up in Zimbabwe, but especially the way time progressed, as if there was plenty of it, long days, long nights, vast life… something sharply contrasted to the thin veneer of the days here. But again, that must be the effect of age.

5. "In 1980, many people left Zimbabwe for places such as South Africa, Australia and England, and, in the absence of skilled labour, many of those white people left made their way swiftly up the ladder of success. They bought property in Bulawayo's sprawling eastern suburbs with swimming pools and tennis courts….They were the new white elite and their children were my classmates" (34).
This addresses the reality in Zimbabwe at independence, the rapid disappearance of whites, who, looking at historical trends in other African nations like Uganda, Zaire, saw the urgency to leave, but the novel successfully points out that most whites were not ready to be ruled by blacks, which makes one speculate that perhaps that early it wasn't the impossibility of black governance that most feared, but a fear from within, of their being not ready to be ruled by Africans.
Growing up, I quickly became aware of the disappearance of whites from literature, the writing of the country… and I never understood what the problem was. Were there new publishing policies that discriminated against a white sensibility in the country? Were they choosing not to participate in the new literary direction of the country? It was not until I reached the University of Zimbabwe that I learned that there were some Rhodesian literary works which were no longer studied, but they were there: you could write a thesis on Rhodesian poetry of the 70s, for instance. But it was clear, as Ellie points out here, that a lot of the white families were sending their children to school in South Africa and overseas, since most of the private schools in the country were finally invaded by black children, and the numbers of black students increased, those of whites shrunk, or where there was no change in numbers, the fees kept going up. Of course, this happens even in places like the United States too, where once black families start entering a suburb, white families start moving away.

6. Over and over again new Zimbabwean writing keeps gesturing towards the Gukurahundi issue, and there is a reason readers of my generation would be interested in this disturbing time of our history: some of us were very young when Gukurahundi occurred, which means even though we heard it discussed, if we were lucky to hear it discussed, we would not have understood what it was all about. I grew up in an area not very far from Matabeleland, an area which mixed intense celebrations of independence by day and dreadful whispers of Gukurahundi by night; in other words, some families in the area were affected because of their strong ties to Matabelaland… but we were too young to understand the exact nature of the conflict. Likewise, Ellie has heard the adults in her life talking about dissidents and farm invasions, but she does not quite comprehend the source of the fear that gives her nightmares when she and her grandmother visit a farm outside of Bulawayo. She says:
"I started to feel afraid and all the stories I had heard about dissidents came to mind… what if they murdered Gran and Miles? … Who would find our bodies?" In her childish way, she thinks of an escape plan. The deep sense of fear she feels is similar to other forms of fear we all felt amidst celebrations of a new era. On one hand, there was celebration of independence, but there were also occasional witch hunts in the villages; we sang songs of celebrations, but we the young were terrorized by former mujibhas (youth leaders) who demanded that we attended all night party meetings.

7."My grandfather was a difficult man to get on with… He was a hard man formed out of the place that had made him: Matabelaland. Land of stone and rock and dust. He was carved from its heat, country of kings, of wars, of triumph, of splendour… A land tamed by colonial subjugation and tribal retaliation, a land whose heart beat in time to its smarting pride" (84).
This connection to the land, depicted here in the context of the 80s, is very important in Zimbabwean literature; it has been a sight of ongoing conflict, and the beauty of this passage is in how it depicts an identity formed by the landscape, hardened, so to speak. No wonder as the belated land distribution would take off a decade later, arguments would spring up about who truly belonged to Zimbabwean land; and the answer, as this passage reveals, is not as easy as just simply saying the land belongs to the blacks; the issue is elevated to the meaning of the word belonging itself. Then, again, we haven't quite reached the complexity this issue demands, distracted as we are, by many outside and inside forces of the argument, yet, what complexity exceeds a heart attuned to the soil, and as Hove says in one of his poems, a heart attuned to the sound of the owl.

8. "White Zimbabwean society became less cohesive, more fragmented and unsure of itself, more paranoid, more watchful. It hid itself at the sports clubs… it counted its pennies from the distance of its suburban homes and every so often looked out to shake its head and feel better for its reclusive choice. Gradually it settled down to an all too comfortable snooze as the world passed by." This is self-explanatory, and elaborates on the issue of those who chose to leave. If one lived in a place like Highfield, Harare in the 80s and 90s, growing up there, going to school there, one could almost not be aware that one lived in a city shared by white people; not that one would have missed that aspect of one's life that much, but one might wonder where all the whites people were? And now picture one growing up and going to school in Mazvihwa, Zvishavane; the presence of white people was like a disappearing act, with the exception of a few expatriates who roamed the rural areas for one cause or another, often working for NGOs and occasionally teaching at a rural upper-top school. Such situations didn't just paint a fuller picture of a new Zimbabwe that everyone was attuning their hearts to; or were they, the whites and the black elite (page 89), equally distancing themselves from the ordinary people?
The novel points out: "The worst aspects of white society were also evident in the worst of black society, the new elite… often insensitive to the plight of others and never [thinking] of helping anyone who was less fortunate than themselves."

9.I loved this moment in the novel, when Ellie writes about September. The prose begins to sing, and every word becomes pure poetry. That's just because September "speaks of a new beginning", "it heals and soothes", and ultimately, words are not enough to explain September. A bit sentimentalized? Yes, but I didn't mind. My birthday is in September. Ellie mentions that September feels only this way in her hemisphere, in this specific place Zimbabwe.

10. At the end of Chapter 19 Ellie leaves for England. It is a moment of ambivalence. She is pursuing her dream, and with the encouragement of her grandmother, this journey is the beginning of many to come, many that will fulfill, yet also fracture her dream: "Through my happiness I could feel the beginnings of sadness. I wanted to leave but I didn't want to. I wanted to go to England and yet forever live in Zimbabwe" (120). It's an important moment because she is leaving the country when at a time in Zimbabwean history when staying was still a good choice. Years later those leaving the country would not think twice about it…leaving had become the most logical thing to do, especially if you had the means to leave. HEr doubts of course never leave her, and she later she will struggle with whether to leave England for Zimbabwe or not.

11. "[In England]I felt awkward, clumsy, afraid sometimes to open my mouth lest my accent gave me away… I answered all the patronising questions about Africa, about droughts and cannibals, lions and giraffes… Here my life was open to scrutiny and dissection" (126-27). This moment is very important to anyone who has been an immigrant, but most importantly an African immigrant in the West. First off, there is a tendency to homogenize the experiences of all Africans, to see them, as Chimamanda Adichie has pointed out, in the lenses of the single story… even for a white character like Ellie, who may not be distinguishable from the English at first, but once she opens her mouth, stereotypes about Africa pour in. The most challenging and damaging of aspects of the stereotyping of Ellie is her being associated with the stigmas about white Africa, as we see in the case of the South Africans white characters of the novel, who are always seen through the prism of apartheid.
Her experiences in England would form the basis for Ellie's disillusionment, that which ultimately made England unbearable and made home more appealing. In issues of home, identity and belonging, Ellie faces challenges similar to those faced by other Africans, black or white. But hers is a deeper dilemma because she had thought an easy passport switch or update (from a Zimbabwean to a British one) would turn England into her home.
review author:
Emmanuel Sigauke
source:
Wealth of Ideas

id#

83

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3744-9
book title:
This September Sun

publishing date:

01.03.2010

country:

GBR
review:
The house of Zimbabwean letters is haunted by a ghost that few of its writers have been able to exorcise. Settler colonialism — in particular the culture of minority racial rule, with all it entailed in terms of fiercely polarised ideas of nation, race and class — was deeply embedded in the fabric of everyday life for all Rhodesians. So deeply embedded, in fact, that for a generation of writers after independence, black as well as white, Zimbabwe seemed a foreign land. Fixated on the colonial past, these writers appeared unable to conceive a liberated present: their imaginative world was haunted by the spectre of Rhodesia.
With this ambitious first novel, This September Sun, Bryony Rheam joins the ranks of a small but growing number of writers who seem intent on laying this ghost to rest. But that is not to say that This September Sun does not also dwell on the past. To the contrary. In its forensically detailed, and at times unapologetically wistful, exploration of Bulawayo's suburban white society from the 1940s to the present day, Rheam's novel at first glance appears exemplary of this sepia-tinted trend. What sets this book apart from others in this vein, however, is its focus on two characters whose intertwined stories illuminate an under-represented milieu of both colonial and post-colonial Zimbabwean society.
These two characters are Evie Saunders, an English migrant who arrived in Rhodesia in 1947, and her granddaughter Ellie, born in Bulawayo in 1974. The novel is narrated by Ellie and begins with her recollecting the circumstances of her sixth birthday, the day Zimbabwe gained independence:

On the 18th of April 1980, my grandfather burnt the British flag … Many white people had already decided to leave by the time the Rhodesian flag was lowered and the new Zimbabwean one hoisted. Grandad said we were in for trouble; this was just the beginning.(1)

This passage is noteworthy not so much for the tragicomic portrait of the inebriated grandfather and his moribund 'Rhodies never die' attitude, but because it also marks the day that Ellie's grandmother left this man in search of her own freedom. Ellie interprets a scar Evie receives from the flag-burning ceremony as a portent:
It looked like the shape of Zimbabwe etched on her arm. I think Gran was always a little proud of the mark, a symbol of the price she paid for freedom. Many years later, the man who murdered my grandmother would remember that mark as the last thing he saw as she raised her arms against him before he brought the butt of his gun down on her head.(2)
This remark and the subsequent narrative focus on Evie's 'independence' offers a completely novel — and indeed controversial — way of allegorising the history of post-colonial Zimbabwe. Rheam risks serious censure in choosing to compose such a symbolic narrative from the perspective of its historically privileged, yet increasingly embattled, white suburban population. Judged against the quality of what follows it is, to my mind at any rate, a justified gambit.
With a nod, perhaps, to the renowned South African writer J.M. Coetzee, Rheam creates a memoirist in her own image. Though not as felicitous or compact as Coetzee's 'memoirs', through this writerly conceit Rheam explores to compelling effect the secretive and self-absorbed world of a minority culture she was born into yet is unsure if she wants to belong.
The book is divided into three parts. Ellie's attempt to banish family ghosts through the act of writing — the framing 'now' of the book — is the motivation for recording the memories of her formative years in the first part of the book. This section deals with events and themes fairly typical of the bildungsroman genre: innocence, in time honoured fashion, cedes painfully to experience. The emotional maelstrom of youth — in particular of coming to terms with being, In Coetzee's famous phrase, 'no longer European, not yet African' — is affectingly conveyed.

There is a marked change in tone and pace in the second and third parts of the novel, corresponding to Ellie's discovery of different batches of her murdered grandmother's letters. The discoveries enable Ellie to cut through the veils of secrecy that shrouded her childhood. Transcribing the letters, Ellie reassembles her grandmother's life story — quite self-consciously — as a hybrid narrative: part romance, part mystery. Most importantly, we learn of an affair started in the 1940s which had a profound, albeit hidden, impact on family life for the next half a century.
In uncovering the secret life of her grandmother in this way, Ellie also embarks on a journey which leads to the gradual discovery of her own, complex, post-colonial identity. Unlike the romantic mystery she wants to write, however, Ellie finds that the uncomfortable truths she discovers deny resolution to this deeper mystery: 'I stop writing. Is it all too personal, too subjective, too me?' (89) Yet by continuing to write — by confronting and so coming to terms with the past — Ellie is able finally to envisage returning to Africa. '"See Zimbabwe for what it is," her Zimbabwean suitor Tony implores, "not as some failed annex of 1950s Britain. People carry on living … Write a different story, Ellie." His voice was suddenly soft, the anger subsiding. "A different ending, at least."'(358)
And so the novel does end with a resolution, and in both senses of the word: 'I don't want to have a Rhodesian flag up in my living room and I don't want to write the memoirs of my African childhood. I don't want to live in the past.'(359) To no longer be haunted by the past — to live fully in the present — it seems Ellie must first confront and demystify it. While other reviewers will no doubt take issue with her exclusive focus on white Zimbabwean society in September Sun, I would argue that by presenting us with characters from this minority with whom we can empathise as well as criticise, Bryony Rheam takes a bold but necessary step toward exorcising the ghost of Rhodesia from the house of Zimbabwean letters.
review author:
James Graham
source:
The Warwick Review

id#

84

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3744-9
book title:
This September Sun

publishing date:

01.05.2010

country:

ZWE
review:
I must begin this review by confessing that prior to my reading Rheam's This September Sun I had very little knowledge of the fictional works of white Rhodesian and Zimbabwean authors. As a university undergraduate majoring in English in the late 1980s I was formally introduced to Doris Lessing's The Grass is Singing, Arthur Shearly Cripps' poetry and T.O. McLoughlin's Karima and that was all. On my own I later read Lessing's Collected African Stories, The Four Gated City and African Laughter, and I also delved into Ian Douglas Smith's autobiography Bitter Harvest. This September Sun impressed me as a new refreshing breeze that offers an incisive insight into the Rhodesian and, later, Zimbabwean psyche.
The book is divided into three parts, though there is a chronological sequence in its progression. One is skilfully ushered, often through letters and diary entries, into a rich but complex tapestry of both Zimbabwean history and a family's history and secrets. It is an intriguing and riveting story of the protagonist Ellie McIntyre and her grandmother Evelyn Saunders. The novel reminds me of Chenjerai Hove's apt observation that one can best learn the history of a country by reading its fictional works, rather than visiting its history textbooks. This book, which reads as if it is autobiographical, is a great tale of the bond between Ellie and Gran Evelyn, a bond which goes beyond the latter's death.
Part One opens with Zimbabwe celebrating its independence on 18 April 1980, which date coincides with the protagonist's sixth birthday. This transition from the old world (Rhodesia) to a new one (Zimbabwe) mirrors the change in Evelyn Saunders who leaves her husband and embraces her own independence. In a peculiar way the separation also signals an independence of sorts for Ellie who can now pay frequent visits to her beloved Gran who now lives alone. Henceforth we witness the growth and blooming of this very strong relationship. Part One closes with Gran's gruesome murder, which also reflects the end of a chapter in the protagonist's life. Parts Two and Three of the novel make use of Gran's diary entries stretching from January 1946 to October 2004, shortly before her death at age 77. These diary entries gradually provide the missing blocks of the jigsaw puzzle of Gran's eventful life as well as those of the others in Ellie's family.
Through the diary entries Ellie embarks on a journey to unearth the great mystery that her family is. She confesses that 'all my life my grandmother had been a mystery to me. I was perhaps the dearest person to her, yet I knew the least about her.'(p 233) We witness Ellie moving from naivety and gullibility in the process of 'dismantling the woman I thought I knew' and her confrontation and interrogation of a 'childhood of lies'. In the process she resurrects a life littered with 'the ghosts of yesterday'. It then dawns on Ellie that 'the greatest journey we go on is inward towards our selves, rather than outwards and away.'(p 127) How true this statement is for both for Ellie and Gran's lives! Much as Gran detests being 'surrounded by the ghosts of yesterday'(p 265), she cannot exorcise these ghosts and the past haunts her relentlessly. It is a past mired in cuckolding her husband Leonard through her relationship with her lover with whom she has an affair reminiscent of Heathcliffe and Catherine's in Charlotte Bronte's Wuthering Heights. There is also the ghost of her son Jeremy, the facts of whose death come to light in the novel through Ellie's reading of her grandmother's diaries.
One cannot miss the political undertones that colour the pages of the novel. These political undercurrents, which constitute a subplot, offer an incisive insight into Rhodesia of the late 1940s right up to 18 April 1980. We are allowed glimpses of the racist mentality of the hardcore Rhodies who then refuse to come to terms with the reality of a new Zimbabwe. These are shown to have inflated egos and insist on sustaining a life constructed around fantasy and an irretrievable past. Rheam sums up these whites as those who 'could've won the war if only Smith had not given into Nationalist aggression, those who had always been on the brink of victory when Smith had surrendered.'(p 24) There are those like Granddad who feel betrayed by the 'bloody British… sold us down the river. Fought for King and country. For what? Where is their Empire now?'(p 86) There is also an indictment of the government of Zimbabwe by way of counterbalance. Its shortcomings are portrayed through the culture of fear and instability it inculcates, through the government's handling of the dark period of dissident disturbances in Matabeleland and in correcting land imbalances. There is however hope in the book that the two races will coexist happily.
The way the book is structured adds to the richness of the narrative. The novel, just like the lives of the characters, does not have a clear beginning and a clear ending. There are constant shifts involving the present, the past and the future. One is reminded of the narrative style of literary greats such as Virginia Wolf, James Joyce and Dambudzo Marechera. When asked by another character about her life, Ellie retorts that 'the beginning keeps changing.'(p 268) There is a frustrating search by Ellie for a beginning, for rejuvenation. It is from this that the novel gets its title: 'There is a poetry to September, a song, a promise. It speaks of a new beginning, yet it heralds an end.'(p 115) Such is life, Ellie learns.
Minus the extensive use of extracts reproduced in the book that give it an air of being contrived and unnecessarily add to its volume, This September Sun is a rich addition to the canon of Zimbabwean and world literature. Bryony Rheam's powerful voice must be accorded a niche in college and university syllabi.
review author:
Francis Mungana
source:
The Standard

id#

85

ISBN:

978-0-7974-3744-9
book title:
This September Sun

publishing date:

09.04.2010

country:

ZWE
review:
'This September Sun' a worthy read

BRYONY Rheam may sound an unfamiliar name to some readers, but those who follow the trends in contemporary Zimbabwean literature will appreciate that she's no newcomer in the local literary circles. Some of her stories have appeared in the 'Short Writings from Bulawayo' series. The Zambian-based Zimbabwean teacher-cum-writer had just had her debut novel — 'This September Sun' — published by 'amaBooks.
The book tells the story of Ellie, intertwined with the tales of her loved ones, and how fate often interferes with people's well-laid plans.
Over the past 10 years, many Zimbabweans have fled socio-economic hardships precipitated by an unstable political environment, in pursuit of the proverbial greener pastures and, as an icing to the cake, a better life.
But Rheam successfully punctures the romantic illusions that many locals have about the European Diaspora — especially in the UK — showing that London is, after all, not the paradise of our dreams, as those fleeing a collapsing nation would quickly admit. When the protagonist, Ellie, gets a chance to go to the UK, she's overjoyed, but her stay there gives her a rare opportunity of introspection. What I found striking was the fact that despite her joy at leaving Zimbabwe, when she gets to the UK, she felt "a dislocation" from her "surroundings" and learns that life "was unreal there".
The general assumption is that white Zimbabweans who go to the UK are better off and can fit in better than their black counterparts, but Rheam successfully enables the reader to disabuse themselves of this notion.
It would appear that dislocation from a familiar environment forces people to hold on to anything that keeps them firmly attached to their roots and this comes out strongly as Ellie begins to think so much about her home. She confesses: "I found myself reading African novels more and more: Nadine Gordimer, André Brink, Doris Lessing…".
Rheam also poignantly captures what I would call the terror of the abortive land "reform" in Zimbabwe. Ellie's return from the UK coincides with the people's attempts at an artificial escape of the horror on the ground through turning to foreign news and locking themselves up in their homes.
The book is littered with deeply-felt, moving scenes such as Ellie's last encounter with Miles, when she receives the sad news of her grandmother's murder and when she discusses the family history with her mother as well as the time she spends with Wally dying in a British hospital.
For the greater part, Rheam uses the epistolary style to narrate the story, with letters written by Ellie's late grandmother revealing a lot of details about the family history and secrets as well as the grandmother's past love affairs. It is clear that death unveils a lot of information and secrets as you rummage though a deceased person's belongings. Although 'This September Sun' starts rather slowly, it's an engaging novel that's worth reading.
review author:
Phillip Chidavaenzi
source:
The Zimbabwean

id#

86

ISBN:

978-0-7974-4228-3
book title:
Together

publishing date:

05.03.2012

country:

ZAF
review:
'Together' is perhaps the most remarkable book I've read in the last year, lending credence to the certainty that stories insist on being told, especially those stories that the authorities deny. Published by the University of KwaZulu-Natal Press [in South Africa, by the University of New Orleans Press in North America and by amaBooks in Zimbabwe and elsewhere], 'Together' is a collection of poems, flash fiction and short stories. It comes from distinguished Zimbabwean writers, the late Julius Chingono and John Eppel. It will shake you to your core, exploring as it does the travesties of justice done to the authors' fellow countrymen and women under the rule of Robert Mugabe.
Bearing witness to the elusive nature of and power of story-telling is Eppel's poem 'Haiku with One Extra Syllable':

All stories are true
Even those that didn't happen
Once upon a time

That extra syllable in the middle line that exists despite the rules of the form symbolises the nub of discomforting narratives. However, it is the very urge to tell one's story that will not go away. How do writers write when the threat to those who express their discontent looms hideous and terrifying? This question is subtly encapsulated in Chingono's brief poem 'A Buzz'

Art does not thrive
on half truths
like politics,
prepare the real thing
honey!

The two writers form a formidable duet and the various narrators that people the poems and stories in 'Together' refuse to be silenced. The late Chingono, who was a rock blaster in the mines for many years, teamed up with Eppel, a high school English teacher from Bulawayo in 2007 and the end result is this stunning publication. All the more stunning because as you reel from an account of brutal intimidation as in the story of election violence, 'We Waited', you are suddenly relieved by tales of extraordinary existence, entirely unrelated to trauma. Woven in the mix are stories of football shenanigans and big game hunters, tender love poems and reflections on birds and flowers, wacky eccentrics and the loss of a false tooth. One of the highlights for me is Chingono's hilarious account of a briefcase businessman who, taking a call on his cell phone, borrows a pen from the poet who is immersed in scribbling a new poem. The narrator notes wryly

I lost a verse
he got an order.

Chingono's writing forms the first half of the book, Eppel's makes up the rest. Formally a stylist, Eppel's voice is wry, sardonic and ironic. His reflection on the cheeky white madam is a playful dig at the resilience of those who remain in Zimbabwe and survive with their racism intact despite all. His poem 'He Shakes More Than He Can Hold' is a poignant expression of the anguish of writing these dark stories and 'Broke Buttock Blues' is a stylized call and refrain lamenting the tortured body and soul. Covering the taboo of the 5th Brigade massacres at Gukhurahundi post-independence, this collection is not for the faint of heart. It is however a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit and the capacity of writers to make meaning when this is denied, to transform suffering into art and to survive despite the grimmest encounters. Harrowing and haunting, but also beautiful and most surprisingly tender, 'Together' offers the reader a chance to hold on to hope when everything seems to be most horribly undone.
review author:
Liesl Jobson
source:
Fine Music Radio

id#

87

ISBN:

978-0-7974-4228-3
book title:
Together

publishing date:

13.01.2012

country:

ZWE
review:
Zim's collective memory, conscience preserved in Together

Modern African writers and poets, like the griots or praise poets in earlier times, hold a special place in society. While the job of the griot was to give praise to the traditional chief of the tribe, by virtue of his important position, the griot was able to throw in a fair amount of criticism, without being called to task. Today's African writers have a similar function: by telling it like it is, they are able to preserve the memory of the nation, while acting simultaneously as a collective conscience.
Two such writers are baby boomers, Julius Chingono and John Eppel. Both spent their early years in Rhodesia, survived the liberation war and enjoyed the heady first years of an independent Zimbabwe. The stories they tell in Together, a joint publication by amaBooks Publishers of their poems and stories, date mostly from the year 2000, vividly recalling the country's 'lost decade'. In these troubled years, land reform displaced almost a million farm workers and their dependents, savings were lost forever, and an ageing population whose children fled to the Diaspora in search of jobs, was left to fend for itself in a country without food security or law and order.
In 2012, medical aid societies are functioning again, and supermarkets stock every kind of food. Memories of past privations are but dimly remembered, until the reader happens upon The Pact by John Eppel. Four elderly widows, Jean, Mavis, Harriet and Dorothy, pool their resources by moving into Dorothy's 'large, rambling house in Burnside.
When a large pot of soup the ladies are making for thirty street kids is overturned by troublemakers, Mavis is severely burned. Not being able to afford medical aid, her friends treat her burns with aloe vera cut from the garden. Their ministrations fail, and before Mavis dies, the ladies enforce the pact they made, that 'if ever life became too much of a burden for one of them, all four would die together, by sharing one of Harriet's milk tarts, laced with a deadly Chinese-made rat poison.'
What begins as a jolly narrative of four good friends playing at becoming writers in their 'Scribbling Club', doing good deeds and managing to get by, descends into mass suicide and tragedy.
The Dread Gentleman by Julius Chingono recalls 2005, a year of elections and violence, and the notorious 'Operation Murambatsvina' when thousands of displaced city dwellers lost their livelihood and the average age expectancy for Zimbabwean women dropped to 34 years. The hero of the tale is a dread-locked businessman who had lost a business in the 'tsunami' of Murambatsvina. He undergoes a purifying process performed by three Vapostori in spotless white robes, their heads clean-shaven and shining with 'an abundant application of petroleum jelly.' Talking loudly above the sungura music 'churning' from a nearby jukebox, the apostles throw holy water on the pavement and nearby Durawall and declare that the gentleman's future enterprise will be blessed and that 'the public will see good in the goods that will be sold here'.
Chingono's light touch and humour make him a good companion to any avid reader. As a man of the people, he makes us aware of the difficulties of surviving in Zimbabwe: but he also brings the life and laughter of the townships and the ready wit of conversations during long ET rides into our immediate experience.
At times John Eppel's elegant and stylish prose lulls us into a false sense of security. Beautiful images in his poetry evoke the scent of buddleia, cestrum and syringa blossom. But before you can say Euphorbia pulcherrima, he shows us 'mounds of household rubbish dumped along our public ways', lamenting that our 'houses reek of poverty, anxiety . . . even terror.'
Whether Chingono and Eppel will be judged as activists, writers or poets, will depend on you, the reader. Sadly, Julius Chingono passed away in 2011, but John Eppel is just getting into his stride. Keep a close eye on 'amaBooks Bulawayo for future offerings.
review author:
Diana Rodriguez
source:
The Financial Gazette

id#

88

ISBN:

978-0-7974-4228-3
book title:
Together

publishing date:

24.01.2012

country:

USA
review:
One question I remember asking in the late eighties and early nineties in Zimbabwe is: Where are all the white writers? I could easily have concluded that Zimbabwe had no white writers, or that white Zimbabweans could not write. But I remembered that when I started school in the 70s, before Zimbabwe's independence, I had read stories and poems by white writers in school. So, as works by black writers flourished in the eighties, what was happening to works by white writers? John Eppel hints at one of the many possible answers in a short essay in the poetry collection, 'State of the Nation': "None of the Zimbabwean presses would publish me; none of the South African presses. Influential academics (and editors) of anthologies, not only at home but in those countries starched with political correctness like post-independent South Africa, Germany, Canada, and England, dismissed me as morally questionable or simply ignored me."
I remember seeing Eppel at writers' meetings. I remember his [then] explosive poetry renditions, and when I travelled to Bulawayo to launch the city's branch of the Budding Writers of Zimbabwe, he was in the group of participants. He might not have been published, but he was there, together with others, participating, seeking publication, like most of us were. But where were all the other white writers? It's one of those questions that would not yield a clear answer in racially divided Zimbabwe, but things have gotten better, Zimbabweans have learned to work together in the face of the country's crises. And there is no greater witness for this --in literary circles-- than the landmark work 'Together', a publication in which two writers, one black, one white, came together to publish a book. Most of the anthologies published in the country after 2000 show diversity.
'Together' is here. It was co-published by amaBooks (Zimbabwe) and UNO Press (USA). Shortly after, the South African edition followed. Another demonstration of togetherness, of collaboration, among publishers. The book starts with Julius Chingono's writings followed by John Eppel's. It's a beautiful book; I have read from it at different poetry events in Sacramento. I have proudly carried it around. It is one of very few Zimbabwean books published in the USA, so there is pride in that. I love that it's locally available, easy to order in bulk, if needed. Many readers will love it for its humor, the kind of humor salvaged in a place where hope is uncertain. Then there is satire, and, even more surprisingly, blatant criticism of governmental authority. To me, the writings are so sad I missed much of the humor on the first reading.
Chingono's poems tend to be short and incisive. He grabs my attention immediately with "Curiosity", the first entry in the book, about a "He" who heard gunfire outside, opened his door and "never saw / the bullet / that killed his curiosity." The poem reminded me of a childhood friend I lost in the seventies; he was only twelve, but because of his height, he was allowed to attend those all-night party indoctrinations (pungwes). The base was ambushed, and as the people took cover and started crawling away, as they had been trained, my friend stood up to take a look at how well the brothers, the comrades, were firing, and a bullet got him and he died. A good work of art has the ability to transcend time, to be applicable to situations in different places. Nothing would stop this poem to resonate with anyone in Sacramento or Oakland, where shootings are common.
Chingono's story "Leave my Bible Alone" features Mudhara Gore, a drunkard who would do anything to keep his Bible, his most valued possession. Even though this is more of an incident that a fully rendered story (you get the sense that there is a lot more that's left unsaid), the piece hints at the state of affairs in the country. The most moving moment for me is not when the Gore falls and inadvertently releases the grip on his bible, nor is it when his wife carries him home in the family wheelbarrow; it is when this specific incident is introduced, in the middle of the story: "Gore joined the usual company of old time guzzlers. At this time backyard drinking joints selling illicit alcohol had sprouted up all over, as municipal beer halls were not operating and legal alcohol was too expensive… Afraid that the drinking hole would be raided by the police at any time, Gore and his friends hastily downed two 750ml bottles of kachasu. They parted in very good spirits, their bibles clutched to their chests." It's not even the social value of alcohol consumption that matters now, but the rapid guzzling meant to bury the larger problems of life. And right here in this paragraph you get the sense that people find solace in two major outlets, alcohol and church, and just as illicit alcohol places have sprouted, so have churches of all sorts and descriptions. Beer and bible are pronounced in the same breath in this story.
In the short story "We Waited", Chingono uses the voice of witness, which maintains the humor element we see in the poetry and his other stories. This is a story of the voter's voice not being respected, of the abuse of the electorate, but amidst such injustices, the voice manages to make us laugh: "We waited. We joked that the weather had joined the British and the Americans in imposing sanctions on us." Over and over again, the Zimbabwean writer has begun to tap into the humorous in the national rhetoric. It comes off as satire, yet too dire to always solicit our laughter with its humor element. The tragic looms larger: "We sat on rubble as we waited, rubble of the buildings destroyed during Murambatsvina when the shelters of the poor people who could not construct permanent structures were demolished by the government. We waited, keen to exercise our right to vote in the Goredema town council elections, a fledgling town west of Harare." Here, not only does the narrator assume I need a definition of Murambatsvina, he also reveals the exact location of Goredema in relation to Harare.
If the narrator is not reporting to a foreign audience, he is perhaps talking to posterity, future readers of this story who may not remember the time, or, suppose Goredema collapses altogether one day, given the rate of destruction in the world of this story, then it helps to offer level of specificity; it contextualizes the story and help reader visualize setting. But that's not all; there is a deep subjective interpretation of his world; the narrator tells the story as it is, from the way he sees it. He tells it in such a natural voice that he probably wouldn't care about the invasive editorial italicization of his points of reference: murambatsvina, maputi, freezits, since his exposition is so clear that italics or not, the details would still make sense to the reader. Anyway, things don't go on well in "We Waited." They wait for nothing; they don't get to vote for the candidate they want, and their demonstration ends with tragic encounter with riot police.
The voice of witness also narrates "The Dread Gentleman", telling us of transport woes and other hardships the people are experiencing in the country. Commuters wait for hours at the bus terminus: "Fuel was in short supply and government was continually 'in the process' [sic] of sourcing foreign currency to buy the precious liquid." Although the voice is still communal, talking about the experiences of the "we", the story introduces a specific individual, an object of everyone's curiosity. He too has been affected by the tsunami, which the narrator explains as "the wanton destruction of buildings by the government, named after the tsunami that devastated East Asia and Africa." The narrator, ever generous with detail, adds, " Most emergent business people had their place of work destroyed in the wave of politically motivated destruction carried out by the government to weed out dissent among the urban populace."
This reads like the prose straight out of the independent press' critique of government activities. Perhaps in a place where the press cannot report freely, literature begins to play the role of the independent press, and as readers, we are likely to accept the journalistic details that temporarily delay the story, or we accept that the reporting is the story. This is a common thread throughout this book and other works coming out of this period of Zimbabwean life; the voice of witness, the voice seeking what seems like a distant audience, the voice that's a cry for some intervention, the see-what-they-are-doing to us voice. It is hard to ignore; you connect with at an emotional level, and what you may suspend isn't disbelief but art.
The stories in the anthologies published in the first decade of this century carry this voice; voices reporting Zimbabwe, voices, in the words of NoViolet Bulawayo, "penning Zimbabwe". Perhaps the uniformity of reportage in most stories is a function of the limited publication opportunities in the country; the stories become an identity not so much of the writers but of the one or two publishers selecting the stories that tell the story of Zimbabwe's lost decade. As I have devoured these stories, I have also always felt that the full story, in its complexity, has not yet been told, and I don't want our publishing industry to make the mistakes made in the eighties, of pushing a uniform literature of liberation, laudatory poetry and blame-casting fiction chosen by just a few editors; some of the works then were driven by the euphoria of independence, and this guaranteed them a spot on the national curriculum. Those works that didn't fit in these modes were not promoted, were rejected, or banned."
The Dread Gentleman" is also about survival. Chingono gives us a snapshot of how people are making ends meet through the parallel market. One example is the suddent emergence, an eruption really, of projects like Sams Electrical Investment, where "we buy and sell all electrical goods. we repair stoves, ions, hitters and all domestic and industry requirements. And all kinds of risk watches." During the decade of Zimbabwe's hardship, many outsiders wondered how people survived, their source of resilience. In this story, Chingono attempts to answer that question. Talking about the crowds who have gathered to support dread gentleman's new enterprise, the narrator says, "They were a peace-loving people who did not retaliate with violence. They did not believe in the old law--an eye for an eye. They did not believe in destructive engagement." Assuming a voice of the voiceless stance, Chingono writes: "They knew that the authorities destroyed their homes, factories, offices, stores, butcheries… They destroyed their small vending markets, their livelihood, without compensation." The critique gets even more stinging: " They knew the government was a soulless machine that did not have blood flowing through its veins. That had not eyes. No ears. That had no heart."
Chingono's poems reveal their truths through humor and conciseness. His short stories, most of them short, are conveyed through the expository voice whose urgent need is to chronicle the experiences of their characters. These are stories whose strength is in content, not so much in form. Collectively, they are a memoir of the Norton community, yet the experiences of these people resonated throughout the country, and they grip the attention of readers anywhere. The collective voice is like a call awaiting our response, a voice seeking to awaken our humanitarian impulses. For other writers, the stories are a storehouse, a documentations of experiences that could trigger other stories, filtered through diverse artistic voices.
John Eppel, on the other hand, experiments with different writing techniques, especially in his poetry, whether he is writing a satire or a sestina, a haiku or quartrain. In fiction, his prose is highly readable, and the narrative is suspenseful, but the content often is presented in a rawness that begs for more filtering or execution. I haven't read his novels yet, and when I do, I will start with the one about the English teacher.
In the poem "Afrika" Eppel features a debate on naming, identity, and progress. One voice questions the use of the letter 'k' to replace the 'c': "Do you think, by spelling out it with a 'k' / that you will make it… well… more Afrikan?" This is a serious question in a world where names are used to show many interpretations of identity and belonging; and the naming system as it relates to Africa and its Diaspora has been used to establish ideas of authenticity, or in some cases, to establish a sense of sovereignty and independence, or just in negate past systems and administrations. Street names have been changed from those of former foreign settlers to those of the new African leadership. There have been jokes about a four-way intersection where all the streets signs bear the name of the country's president, confusing motorists and pedestrians alike. In the poem, the voice in stanza two tries to address the questions asked in stanza one: "Look, friend, sacrifices have to be made…/…let's make a start…let's spell it with a 'k'.
And what's in a name? A lot, no doubt. Even Livingstone was quick to name the Victoria Falls out of his queen, and to this day, that's the name used. And as names are changed, what harm is in that? Not changing names has been known to benefit tourism in some circles, but in others, name change or not, nothing seems to have benefitted the people. That's perhaps the message at the core of the poem, as is hinted in these lines: "[Do you think] calling it Robert Mugabe Way / instead of Grey Street…/…the vendors squatting underneath the sign / will somehow earn more money down the line?" It leaves one to wonder what question the persona would have asked back when it was still Grey. But as the persona points out, parenthetically, like an aside, "What's in a man?" And the question that's not asked is "What's in a woman?" The story that follows this poem also centers on a debate. "Debate" ridicules the whole idea of a debate in the context of Zimbabwean politics. It's a caricature of the debaters, whose real life identities the narrator does not work hard to conceal. It's a play (a word that will matter in the next story) on the Mbeki-led Zimbabwe talks, and it is very entertaining. That's what it is, entertainment, presented in inventive prose, but too much of a joke that evaporates soon after you finish reading. The story echoes the familiar sayings in Zimbabwean leadership circles. We can easily tell who Comrade Nod; he blames the problems of his country on former colonial powers and on America. He says, " The colonial sun set a long time ago; in 1980… and hence I … we will never be a colony again." Mr Nod does not believe the country deserves sanctions because the country he leads is "very African and sovereign." Then when he ends his speech, he shouts some slogans presented in an ungrammatical medley of Shona and English, which I suspect has nothing to do with the caricature of the speakers: "pamberi the economy, pasi the drought, pasi sanctions, pamberi…er…me". And all the Shona words are italicized, consistent with some conventions, but the issue here is, seriously, that's how the character said it? It definitely has to be part of the caricature: not only are these leaders so articulate in English as they dismiss British imperial tendencies; they are also inarticulate in their use of Shona. The story succeeds, however, in expressing the author's feelings about the political situation in the country.
The poem 'The Coming of the Rain' is clever. The sarcastic element that builds to the satiric tone serves the intention of the poem. Usually, in a place like Zimbabwe, the rains bring hope. In this poem, the coming of the rain is the only thing that endangers this society, not lack of freedom of speech, not the absence of freewill, not bondage and oppression… just the rain. The next poem, "Ghostly Galleon", deals with that familiar image of the Chinese ship bringing weapons to Zimbabwe. The poet praises Durban Dockers' Union for denying the ship entry. The celebratory tone is short-lived because "the ghostly galleon will be back-- / terror is here to stay". This is consistent with John Eppel's view, expressed in the essay I mentioned earlier, that Zimbabwe has not experienced real freedom since the Smith regime, but in reading these poems and stories, you get the impression that the situation has worsened in the Mugabe years; the euphoria of the eighties was shortlived, and, for some, independence never came.
The fast-paced story "Democracy at Work and at Play" approaches brilliance in the art of pastiche, or more appropriately, in what Henry Louis Gates calls signifying. In short, Eppel signifies on Yvonne Vera's work. Signifying includes a level of acknowledgement and appreciation of another author's work with some room to mock it; it's like a game, which might cause wounds, but in the bigger scheme of literary things, it adds to the value of literary engagement amongst authors or their works. Here Eppel critiques the occasionally unusual use of English in Vera's 'The Stone Virgins', questioning the awkward use of prepositions, what the protagonist calls "faulty grammar and mixed metaphors". The POV narrator seems to ridicule Benate's obsessive appreciation of Vera's work. He has an MA in Vera, and now is thinking of pursuing his doctorate with an emphasis on Vera again. The working title for his dissertation is Democracy at Work and at Play: The Subversive Function of Faulty Grammar and Mixed Metaphors in Yvonne Vera. Eppel believes that Vera's treatment of Gukurahundi in 'The Stone Virgins' is cowardly; it does not capture the horror, and you can see the same view expressed in this short story. I liked, however, how the story communicates with Vera's novel, and I feel we need more of such. Works of literature are related in many ways and at many levels; each work contributes to the multiple perspectives that form a literary tradition. Unfortunately, I couldn't find my copy of Vera's novel to compare notes with Eppel.
Eppel enters the non-fictional, reporter mode we saw earlier in Chingono. Once we reach the piece "Discarded", we are no longer pretending to be in the world of fiction. Reality has taken over, we are in the world of ZANU PF and MDC, political campaigns, AK 47s and Bloody Diamonds. I am reminded of that Orhan Pamuk narrator who abandons the story, and asks the author to just finish, to tell the reader details in the raw. Here, it's as if Eppel have contended with the fact that reality is more fictional than fiction in some situations. It's a story-telling mode he has perfected over the years. Perhaps that's the courage he wanted to see in Yvonne Vera? Forget art; tell us what happened. It's a matter of immediacy, the courage to capture the dangerous as it happens.
The editors concluded the book with one of the best Eppel poems, "Waiting". The topic of waiting is one of the thematic similarities between Chingono and Eppel in 'Together'. In Chingono voters are made to wait and wait, until disaster strikes before they even cast their votes, that deadly shift from ballot to bullet. In Eppel's "Waiting", we count the frangipani leaves while explosions from the neighbours' burning rubbish trigger memories of the so-called Rhodesia bush war, which led to the independence of a country in which votes don't count anymore. But where there is hope there is waiting, so we wait, until the narrator tells us, ""The falling leaves remind me / that the day has come and gone for ballots / to be counted, results announced, and I'm / afraid that change will never come." And as long as we know we are afraid, we also know that we can learn not to be afraid; some have called it the gift of fear.
Together, John Eppel and Julius Chingono chronicle the lives of Zimbabweans going through a difficult decade. In their unique ways, these authors bring the reader closer to what was happening in the country, and their collaborative voice is a courageous plunge into subjects many artists often dread. In their statements of necessity, literary craft was not always as critical as conveying the content. It is certainly a book to read, if not for the issues and style, then most definitely for the spirit of the project, the need for collaborative work not only among writers from the same country, but writers across color lines. And given where we are in human development, it's a shame that we have just discovered--in the past decade-- the beauty and strength in working together. In the words of Na'ima Robert, author of 'Far From Home', " if we are to survive as a pluralistic, tolerant nation, we must be able to weave a coherent national narrative, a common ground, a shared history, in light of [our] differences." Togetherness is Zimbabwe's literary imperative.
review author:
Emmanuel Sigauke
source:
Wealth of Ideas

id#

89

ISBN:

978-0-7974-4228-3
book title:
Together

publishing date:

22.01.2012

country:

ZWE
review:
Together is a collection of short stories and poems that were written by Julius Chingono and John Eppel. They tackle serious social issues with wry humour and flowery language. They explore aspects such as politics, Gukurahundi, religious hypocrisy. One laughs through and through. This is a must-read for people who have a good sense of humour and a no-go-area for those whose humour wires take long to heat up.
The book has a balanced narration as it is told from the mind of both a black and a white Zimbabwean, who live in different set ups. Chingono is from the eastern part of Zimbabwe and Eppel is from southern Zimbabwe but both believe that their main agenda is fighting poverty and social injustices. They castigate greed by those in power especially political leaders and blame them for the squalid conditions most citizens live under. This theme is felt in the work of the two writers.
Chingono's Leave My Bible Alone criticises religious hypocrisy. Gore goes to the Anglican services every Sunday but proceeds to the pub as soon as the Sunday service is over; taking his Bible with him and the scene is just hilarious. Adults and children alike make fun out of this weird scene and he makes a fool of himself.
His work focuses on the hardships and challenges of everyday situations in the lives of mere citizens of Zimbabwe where the poor get poorer in a socialist revolution and the rich get fatter and richer from exploiting the poor. This mentality is also challenged - that of the capitalistic value system in the poem I lost a Verse.
A business person thinks his business is more important than what the poet is writing and in the process the poet forgets what he wanted to write. All that matters to the business person is the deal he is working on with a caller on his phone while the poet's work is deemed less important.
However, there are times when the less privileged also exploit each other as in the case of the toilet cleaner in Shonongoro. She tries to supplement her meagre salary from the council by swindling the public of the money they have when nature calls - something they do not have control over.
His political commentary is felt in We Waited. Voters in Norton try to regain control of their party but the candidates they choose are disqualified by their party's elite.
They are forced to vote for someone who is imposed on them and when they expect to be helped by the local party leader they are taken aback as she gets them arrested. A number of them are run over by a truck but the newspapers report that only seven Zanu PF supporters were killed in an accident that they are yet to look into.

Eppel on the other hand dwells much on Gukurahundi events and the class struggle. Most of his work is satire and criticises the failures by political leaders especially in the Government of National Unity, their greed, abuse of power and self-centredness. Bloody Diamonds for instance emphasises the greed of the leaders who want to get all the diamonds for themselves instead of developing the nation. The main character is killed by helicopter fire as he fills his bag with the diamonds.
He even criticises his race in the story The CWM where the newcomer, a white woman terrorises older occupants of the suburb as she feels they are not civilised and make a lot of noise with their chicken, stray pets and children. The fight between the Blacks and Whites is captured in The Pact where the land issue takes centre stage.
The Debate tells of Mr Wynken, Prof Blynken and Cde Nod and these characters have an uncanny resemblance to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Deputy Prime Minister Professor Arthur Mutambara and President Robert Mugabe. They all get the same applause after presenting their different viewpoints on how the economy should be revived. The winner is determined by the magnitude of applause so no one wins this particular contest as all of them get the same volume of applause.
Democracy at Work and at Play tells of the futility of the whole COPAC process where citizens are told of things they do not understand. In this story, the COPAC delegation is sent to Matabeleland but amongst them there is no one who can speak IsiNdebele beyond salutations. The people do not understand all that is being said because it is in English and they end up bringing their own grievances which have nothing to do with the making of a new constitution.
The ex- combatants as always present their case that the want a life-president and everyone is forced to buy into the idea after threats that anyone who thinks otherwise will have their homes burnt down. The delegation is later kicked out because they are thought to be people from the MDC.
Gukurahundi stories include Two Metres of Drainage Pipe where the narrator tells of the story of how he and his brother and friend were captured and taken to Bhalagwe base where they were tortured day and night. His brother was tortured in a drainage pipe and beaten until he died. Then the victim was buried in a grave he was forced to dig. In a way it addresses the psychological trauma people bear from the Gukurahundi experience.
The narrator remembers the event because he sees his neighbours' children playing in an asbestos drainage pipe. There is also a poem carrying the experiences at the Bhalagwe camp; Bhalagwe Blues, where he talks of other ways of torture like castration and suffocation especially of ex-ZIPRAs that they suffered at the hands of the 5 Brigade after the then Prime Minister Mugabe urged them to destroy the Matabeleland part of the country.
The two writers present their work from the side of the general populace commonly known as the povo and expose the injustices they are made to suffer at the hands of those in power and those that have money amassed more possessions than the rest.
review author:
Sibusiso Tshuma
source:
Panorama

id#

90

ISBN:

978-0-7974-4228-3
book title:
Together

publishing date:

27.01.2011

country:

KEN
review:
Readers across the continent will relate to the characters and imagery conjured up in a jewel-filled collection of stories and poems by Zimbabwean writers John Eppel and the late Julius Chingono, writes Philo Ikonya.

'amaBooks is set to publish 'Together', a wonderful collection of short stories and poems written by Julius Chingono and John Eppel. The assortment, which in an equal share includes 24 poems and 11 short stories by Eppel and 25 poems and 8 short stories by Chingono, will be published in early 2011.Two contemporaries look at the same reality in 'Together'. These are powerful and well-chosen pieces. They include pieces written at different times. We get unique vistas, but these are linked. Each of the writers is absolutely singular and yet there are similarities. This affects details.
There are fine jewels here. For example the two conjure up images from small things, turning them into icons and vice versa — great things… into ordinary. Chingono writes a short poem about '20-044L', a motor car number plate which is now part of a door that is just holding together. Eppel writes about many little things, including an Ingrid Jonker award in an un-burnt pot. An award in a pot!
The word 'together' is metaphysically about much more here than two men — one white, one black — writing in a collection titled 'Together'. And, yes, there are racial tensions in some pieces that one feels have boiled over. Will they injure us or heal us? Racial, ethnic roots, politics and wealth have fuelled endless divisions.
This book 'Together' is for me a picture of Zimbabwe, a country that attracts much attention for many reasons — but it is also about other countries of Afrika. It makes us see Zimbabwe through two mindsets, almost simultaneously. The rest of Afrika is so near. There are many similarities with different countries but Kenya is the country outside of the Southern Africa region with which there is almost complete resonance in governance concerns.
The writing immediately communicates the great geographical space that Zimbabwe and many parts of Afrika are. Afrika is so rich. But our eyes are for much more than The Big Five, which you are used to hearing about in wildlife; in this book, animals are incidental. Instead the book explores how vehicles and nature relate to governance. Why are cars so important in terms of brands or makes? Can we have a remake — as with the un-burnt pot and the door with a car number plate — and succeed?
People are tortured by power here, and also by traditions of reverence for old age and chosen leaders. 'Together' deals with unforgettable ordinary people caught up in power games of different types. Look at Gore in 'Leave My Bible Alone', one of the many moving stories that Chingono contributes here. Gore may not die this Sunday afternoon but I am sure MaMoyo's thoughts and heartbeat are centred on losing him.
I love the church as depicted on a Sunday — how couples struggle to get there and impress the social classes, how some can only take that for a few hours. The scenes resonate with many African Christians. Sunday, rest and drinking seem to go hand in hand… and still the Bible in hand. I wonder how many Gores have lain in the mud or dust on Afrikan paths this Sunday on which I write. These poems and stories are submerged in such realism. You have to be strong! Death laces all life — everything here, including the imagination of Chingono, who pens 'No funeral'.
We go back to the same questions. What constricts Afrika's big space? Who steals her un-burnt pots and her scrap metal that can make doors? What is Afrika's real identity? What makes me feel so much compassion for the many Reverends — the many ordinary and gullible people who believe that things are being done, and well, for them: 'The Reverend Benate Jojova was thrilled that he would be playing an active role in Zimbabwe's constitution-making process…' People move towards formal and legal institutions of liberation but they do not get there fully. Some argue for traditional solutions in Afrikan governance but others warn that it leaves too much free space for abuse.
In the meantime, we suffer pain as they negotiate governments of coalition in suits. Suddenly, people's lives hang up — the way a computer does — choking growth, long before they die.
'We waited.' What threatens to steal Chingono's boundless humour and why does he guard it so zealously in spite of tremendous suffering? Who mocks us this long? The songs of Chimurenga forced on the lips of a people who are betrayed are killing all. The waiting is explosive. I have been in this kind of waiting. The dust that rises from the dancing is a sign that soon things will change. And yet, why are the people of Afrika held in the grip of those to whom they give power and who would reduce them to beggars? These questions are relevant from Tunis to Harare, Nairobi to Yamoussoukro.
The open and vast space in Afrika contrasts with the narrow political restriction and the stolen space of the whole cast: Women, men and children. For Chingono, you — and many in Afrika — may be in the photograph, and yet not be in the picture.

'In the photograph
I was so drunk
that I would stagger
out of the picture.'

Chingono's humour again. Once you finish reading his funny bone that nothing can bury, and are inclined to amusement ('Candy Mercenaries' and 'I lost a verse'), the huge and challenging context jumps at you, sometimes with bare fangs.
The Bible. Life and death. Alcohol. Life and death. Votes. Life and death. Rape and abuse in dimensions that one would hope a million times rather never existed. Death. AK 47. Life. Death. Waiting. Life. Dancing. Death. Support MDC. Death. Coalition governments. Life and death.
You can feel the strength of the writers' pens impressing the paper. The energy rises up to you from the pages. The images of lives that are tragically imbued with a spirit of freedom that seems to be all the time overcome by oppression is deeply moving. It persists. It keeps coming out in many stories and poems. Images in the stories are painfully etched on one's mind.
It is quite clear that Zimbabwe is dealing with the need of a liberation that is fully home-grown, rooted and yet aware of legal justice. We cannot afford to be at the Humpty Dumpty and Winkelyn and Broren level. It is also obvious that the vote never translated into what the democracies of the world expected. AK-47 rifles and 'No Opposition here' operations are too strong.
In my view, Eppel makes it clear that we simply are not who we think we are. It makes one think that Afrika made a huge mistake in negotiating its modes of governance after colonialism. Western democracy has not worked and does not look like it will work in some Afrikan countries — but we had our democracy, or the possibility of negotiating for one. It is clear that the people were never allowed to own their lives and politics after colonialism. The space shrunk far too fast. President Mugabe and Zanu PF kill for votes and power. Rape, murder going hand in hand with the most base of tortures, and everything is used as the stick with which to hit the opposition. Rape and the level of dehumanisation seen here would not fit in a traditional setting. The ancestors are frustrated. The people are not themselves.
Eppel's story, 'The Floating Straw Hat' is a very unique story in a class of its own, as is Chingono's 'Murehwa'. Both stories stand out not because the others are weak, but because they appeal very strongly to purity and innocence. 'Murehwa' will be new to younger generations and to Afrikans. It surely should remind many to pen some of the practices that are still on or that are dying in some places. And if that is how people still believe in what is traditional, how will they access these formalities such as elections and not see them as from the West? Yet, might the dead man not be Afrika that someone needs to undress and sing to?
In both the stories mentioned above, there is the persistent existence of something physical: It is the person who is gone that arrests people's attention. This also happens in 'Two Metres of Drainage Pipe'. The two writers have great mastery of mood and tone, not just language.
Eppel gets technical on religion and literary ways, as well as on philosophy as taught in the West. Yet, he is the one — even if quite clearly immersed in Christianity — who hits hardest at colonialism and the role of developed countries in what is going on in Zimbabwe. He is the one who had my breath held because I thought he would say that writing in Afrika with a 'k' as the first step in de-Latinising Afrika was of no use — when he endorsed it to my great joy, for I believe in that. Rome was not built in a day. Afrika has never been herself after colonialism. She lost her languages that still hum and sing like choirs in this literature. She lost. She needs to recover and have full confidence that before colonialism, she was Nubia that civilised the world.
The satire and irony in some of the stories may not make this easy reading for the ordinary street person but Zimbabweans are serious readers, save for the hard times they have endured in the recent past.
However, I need to say that 'Charles Dickens Visits Bulawayo', 'Via Dolorosa' and Pulcherrima — so much Latin — reminded me of our friend and Zimbabwean writer who died of rage in 2005, if I may say because of his originality and complete rejection of the West, in some ways. Dambudzo Marechera. The question of identity asking himself who he is, is key in Dambudzo. No one can forget the energy of his 'House of Hunger'. He tore the barriers of belonging that we Afrikans often hide in, the family, because he felt he did not belong even at that level. He believed in his mother's muti, a type of witchcraft. Dambudzo was calling on all of us to see that we have the solution if we have a vision and that we can do things on our own even when the immediate environment does not make sense. Can Afrika ask herself who she is and do the same?
But as Ngomakurira writes in the newspaper The Zimbabwean, we failed to hear Marechera, whose agenda is still on the table. Are we going to fail to hear both Dambisa in 'Dead Aid', a non-fiction work, and Dambudzo in 'House of Hunger'? We have to shake off the thick layers of dehumanisation and loss of ourselves to find our way Together.
But, at this moment, I would not pick poetry that is asking WOZA. WOZA (Women and Men of Zimbabwe Arise) has been screaming for freedom. Jestina Mukoko, Muzvare Betty Makoni and Tsitsi Dangarembga to mention but a few. Many women — as Eppel shows so clearly — and men too, have had the worst that could have ever happened to them, and so it is time to acknowledge and congratulate those who would still write and act without fear for change. Eppel and Chingono deserve every attention. I know a book that is meaningful and interesting on Afrika links to many thoughts. It makes us laugh. It shows you how true fiction is as it sits proudly among scientific and non-fiction books. This is one such book, and it challenges too.
review author:
Philo Ikonya
source:
Pambazuka

id#

91

ISBN:

978-0-7974-4228-3
book title:
Together

publishing date:

03.08.2011

country:

ZAF
review:
Celebrating resilience

The stories and poems in this brilliant volume will hit you in the gut with horror even as you relish their intelligent analysis and cogent wit.
They are written by two very different Zimbabwean writers, one a black former rock-blaster from the mines near Harare, and the other a white English literature teacher from Harare, both of whom have won international acclaim and have been previously published, but not together.
As the title implies however, they have much in common in their clear-sighted scrutiny of socio-political issues as they are evidenced in everyday life in Zimbabwe. Their differences bring both a diverse perspective and a critical solidarity, which adds to the reader's engagement.
The stories are set in a variety of situations, from the cramped confines of communal toilets to political gatherings, and from the down-at-heel homes of old white women to recently discovered diamond fields. The poems particularly catch the poignancy of a people caught up in the traumas of civil war, torture and poverty.
A primary response to the writing is enjoyment at the perspicacity of ordinary people who cannot rely on any form of formal social organisation to support them.
The writing strongly but subtly criticises the human penchant for self-aggrandisement and self-deception, and this presents a moral challenge that strengthens and sustains those who still have the ability to read distortions, misrepresentations and mismanagement clearly. In doing so, the writing celebrates resilience.
The volume has an informative introduction by Drew Shaw from Midlands State University, Zimbabwe, who I presume is also responsible for the arrangement of the poems and stories into a varied and yet linked collection. This is southern African satirical writing at its best and, despite the situations it describes, much to be enjoyed.
review author:
Hazel Barnes
source:
The Witness

id#

92

ISBN:

978-0-7974-4228-3
book title:
Together

publishing date:

10.11.2011

country:

ZAF
review:
In a groundbreaking joint publication project involving two Zimbabwean writers (one black and the other white), as well as three publishers, Together reflects the innovation that went into this collaboration, emerging as a refreshing and highly symbolic text. It presents short stories and poems by two veteran writers, disturbing the racial and political polarities that have come to characterize the rule of ZANU PF. Both writers strike the pose of a jester in their views of the Zimbabwean "crisis."
Following the axiom that the truth is told in jokes, both writers use humour as social commentary to explore shared abject poverty, shortages of basic commodities, state brutality, the travesty of justice, the abuse of political power as well as the complicity of the oppressed in their oppression. The two poke fun at the "absurd" that has been normalised. Focus is on the everydayness of life to illustrate that in a country characterised by extremist attitudes, the truth lies in between; that in fact, the very stuff of everyday life exposes the vacuity that so characterises the rhetoric of racial and political extremism.
Chingono uses a deceptively simple style. His sympathies, like those of Eppel, lie with the poor and downtrodden who may be wantonly killed in cross-fire, kept waiting by politicians only interested in getting votes, made poor and hungry through political machinations or have their houses bulldozed by the government in a "clean-up" exercise. Yet in this depressing and depraved condition, Chingono sees the funny side of life, for example in the stories "Shonongoro" and "The Toilet Issue." One senses though, an underlying sadness threatening to cloud the humour. The metal number plate of a car that makes up part of a shack door in the poem "20-044L;" the jostling for space in a bus in "At the Bus Station", and the emptiness of greetings occasioned by extreme deprivation in "Greetings" all suggest a deep-seated sadness from which one of the means of escape is alcoholism. In "We Waited" Chingono employs that archetypal trope of waiting in Zimbabwean literature as epitomised by Mungoshi's Waiting for the Rain. The waiting in this context is symbolic not only of arrested development but decay, entrapment and destruction.
John Eppel's wit is more direct and acerbic. Most of his pieces speak of deprivation. The first, "Malnourished Sonnet" signals his keen sense of observation, especially the dearth of responsible leadership. The poem "Afrika" shows such vacuity as does "Culture." Eppel exposes the ridiculous or absurd in Zimbabwean politics. In "The Debate," the three candidates are battling to see who will be "allowed to dish out cabinet posts, including the newly established, and coveted one, of Minister of Rural Beauty Pageants." Of interest to Eppel as well is Zimbabwe's troubled past, especially Gukurahundi in the pieces "Democracy at work and at Play," "Broke Buttock Blues", and "Bhalagwe Blues". The writer exposes the hypocrisy of the country's leadership in attempting to erase large scale state perpetrated murder that was ethnically motivated. The only thing that short story enthusiasts may be disappointed with is that the stories tend to be anecdotal with not much attention to development of character and as such emerge as "sketches". Perhaps that is the result of their expository mode. It is difficult though, to fault the poems. Overall, Chingono and Eppel not only remind us of a hard time in Zimbabwe's history but also remind us that the bond of suffering that Zimbabweans share has a common source of misery a corrupt self-serving oligarchy. The bond of suffering also suggests a wider conception of nation beyond race, ethnicity and political affiliation.
review author:
Thabisani Ndlovu
source:
Words Etc

id#

93

ISBN:

978-0-7974-4228-3
book title:
Together

publishing date:

10.11.2011

country:

USA
review:
Part I — Julius Chingono and the text Together

Synopsis: This collection permits the reader to gain an introduction into the art of Julius Chingono, a Zimbabwean poet and writer. As a political writer, unabashedly, he wrote of the times in which he lived. He wrote of the trials of his people. And often, one will find that his sentiments and findings are universal. For example, in this collection, there is a poem entitled 'Curiosity' which nearly 'protrudes' from the pages of this text onto today's headlines. This poem is about a man who hears gun shots outside his home. He opens his door… only to become a victim of his own curiosity. The current Arab Spring has claimed many victims or bystanders in the same manner. The short story 'We Waited' is timely too. Chingono writes of people waiting for justice. The people wait in the same manner as those in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. As you know, no one could recognize Godot even if he appeared in the play. No one would even know if he had appeared. Justice is just as aloof and unrecognizable by the waiting masses in Chingono's text. They await the opportunity to declare injustice and to claim justice. Justice never comes. In fact, tragedy awaits those who linger too long. In accordance with contemporary events, this selection of Chingono is too true. The Arab Spring has not brought justice to most who declared injustice.
The reader may shift gears and examine something a bit more personal in the 'I Lost a Verse' poem. It's about an interruption in verse. This selection may be illuminating because of the general trials that interrupt our own creativity and concentration. There is solace in knowing that Julius Chingono has suffered the same fate. But, he regained his tempo and wrote… once more.
Educators will enjoy the fact that Together permits you to teach the poems and short stories in installments. Readers, you will enjoy the fact that you can learn about Julius Chingono through his poetry and his short stories.

Critique: For those that enjoy the simple wisdom of Chinua Achebe, you will find it in Together. There are those who realize the cultural candor to be found in Langston Hughes and his 'Simple' short stories. You will find it in Together too. Sadly, Julius Chingono died too soon. There is much I would have asked him about his work and his life. But, Together will have to answer those questions… for now. I truly recommend this work.

*Part II of a review of the collection Together

**Fascinating note: Together is a collection of works authored by John Eppel and Julius Chingono. Earlier, I reviewed Julius Chingono's segment of the collection. This current review looks at John Eppel's contributions to the collection. Earlier this year, I read one of Eppel's novels. But, this new work provides a glimpse into the poet and short story writer known as John Eppel. Incidentally, Eppel is an English teacher too. His father was a rock-blaster. If you recall, I mentioned in the last review that Chingono was a blaster. This common ground of 'blasting' may explain the manner in which these men tread bravely in territories 'political'… without fear.
Genres: Poetry and short stories
Literary Elements: Imagery, wit
Comfort Level: Easy reading. but attention to detail is advised
Synopsis: The reader will find that John Eppel's political side is unleashed 'sans' the covert references noted in his novel Absent:The English Teacher (2009). Together is about the fraternity of two political writers. Julius Chingono's works are showcased in the early portion of the collection. John Eppel's works follow. The poems of John Eppel entitled 'The Coming of the Rains' and 'Charles Dickens Visits Bulawayo' stem from the vast literary repertoire of the English teacher. Eppel can summon Rousseau, Kafka, and Dickens in a manner that facilitates the reader's ability to implement 'relevancy' as a means of contrasting and comparing past political issues with those occurring in contemporary Zimbabwe. The author's methodological (*classic John Dewey style) skills, as an English teacher, surface here. The short story 'Who Will Guard the Guards' is quite universal in the message illustrated. Eppel fashions an honorable, White, Zimbabwean character (perhaps) filled with guilt for the past colonial atrocities suffered by his Black kinsmen. The White Zimbabwean displays enough compassion and empathy to provide residency for a needy kinsman. But, the 'needy' man responds to the noble gesture in classic socio-pathetic fashion. The compassionate character goes on to find that 'no good deed goes unpunished.' And the new keepers of justice are as corrupted as those of the past. Is this all a form of reparations for past victims or mere revelations for the new victims? The reader must judge this one alone. The last poetry selection in Eppel's segment 'Waiting' calls upon the reader to look back to Juilius Chingono's own short story 'We Waited'. In both selections, the writers Eppel and Chingono look and wait for change. The reader sees that these men are definitely of a similar, literary and political thread. Each man waits and beckons change in his writings. But will change come soon… or too late?
Critique: It was a pleasure to read this treasure. John Eppel continues to educate his students and readers. He is able to master the genres of poetry and short story writing with ease. This is no small feat. The works in Together appeal to the 'literary' scholarly set and those politically in tune with today's events. Each segment of Together is a joy to read and savor. I do look forward to future works from John Eppel. We need brave writers to remind us of our obligations as citizens… and humanitarians, universally.
review author:
Rosetta Codling
source:
Examiner

id#

94

ISBN:

978-0-7974-4228-3
book title:
Together

publishing date:

22.07.2011

country:

ZAF
review:
This collection of interleaved poems and short stories, half by James Chingono and the other by John Eppel, is an innovative compilation in a number of ways. Its balance of writers, despite their disparate backgrounds, works remarkably well, as does the liveliness resulting from poetry and fiction talking to each other. It feels like an advance on previous Zimbabwean short works, too, in the directness of its political engagement: the country's now well-established 'tradition' of everyday vignettes has tended to be more indirectly critical of broader political policy. Both these writers, however, possibly taking advantage of the new political dispensation (though repressive machinery remains legal and in place), courageously focus on the disastrous effects of the 2008 election campaign on ordinary people. In both cases, critique is trenchant but often leavened with humour of a bitingly satirical kind. In Chingono's case, this humour tends towards the slapstick, a churchman drunk, or people caught in absurd situations at a public toilet, for example. These vignettes are saved from being merely comic interludes, however, by the relative 'thickness' of their social and political settings. In Eppel's case, his characteristic satirical vein, up to now largely directed at the absurdist elements in his own white, often school-located milieu, is reined in with a new and powerful seriousness. In a number of stories, what appear to be actual cases from the Gukurahundi massacres or the election campaign are reworked into moving stories from the point of view of the victims. It is a bold and tricky gambit, imagining the inner lives of characters far removed from one's own community, but Eppel is on the whole convincing. Overall, the collection is a distinctive and distinguished potential addition to a burgeoning literature of response to human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.
review author:
Dan Wylie
source:
amaBooks Blog

id#

95

ISBN:

978-0-7974-4228-3
book title:
Together

publishing date:

21.07.2011

country:

USA
review:
Together is an exciting new offering that celebrates the writing of two of Zimbabwe's veteran authors, Julius Chingono and John Eppel. In Together, the Bulawayo-based publishers, 'amaBooks, the University of New Orleans Press and the University of KwaZulu-Natal Press break new ground in Zimbabwean English language writing; the anthology bridges the gulf between the black and white literary traditions. While the roots of this chasm lie deep in Rhodesian colonialism, the short stories and poems collected here literally bring the two traditions together in fascinating ways. Interestingly, it is the crisis of the past decade that seems to have revealed elements of shared experience across racial lines.
Julius Chingono brings a distinctive humour to his stories and poems about a country in the grip of an economic and political crisis. Despite the massive failure of the postwar government to deliver the economic fruits of independence to the majority, Chingono exhibits an uncommon ability to laugh at the absurd that now passes for the norm; a supposedly revolutionary party that imposes election candidates and arrests party supporters who question such practices, a lifestyle built around waiting where shortages are commonplace, the predatory behaviour of public toilet cleaners who practically rob the public and more.
But there is more than wry humour here. Against a background of lofty government programmes such as Housing for All by Year 2000, Health for All by Year 2000 and others, Chingono has no qualms satirizing these failures. In the poem, 20-044L , he writes:

The number on my door
reads 20-044L,
but it is not the number
of my house.
The scrap metals
that make the door
include
a motor car number plate.

Never losing his humour, Chingono's stories and poems comment on the lives of ordinary men and women — the working classes — who do not necessarily lose their ambitions because the government has launched Operation Murambatsvina to destroy their houses and places of business. In the story Shonongoro, for instance, a harmless-looking public toilet cleaner gently taps into traditional Shona speech registers between in-laws to trap a patron to part with a few dollars! In Chingono's world, there are few saints!
Read Murehwa, the story of an old bachelor who dies without ever engaging a lover and discover Chingono's hilarious narration of the sahwira's prescription to "fix" the dead man's stubbornly erect male member.
Although the humour of these stories and poems is an enchanting antidote to the depressing statistics of the news media, just under the surface lurks tear-jerking evidence of mass trauma of the past decade. In The Dread Gentleman, for example, one meets a mysterious man who goes through the motions of selling wares that are not there. That is until the man invites a group of Apostolic churchmen to bless the piece of ground on which he plans to start a new shop. The language of the churchmen's prayers takes an overtly secular ring; "Good God, your son, oh Lord, that his enemies may be vanquished. His children are hungry because the devil has destroyed their livelihood. Our sons and daughters sleep out in the cold because the devil has removed all shelter from around and above them." It becomes evident that the man is one more victim of the widely-condemned government forced removal effort ominously-called Operation Murambatsvina. And yet despite the evidence of trauma, his spirit is not crushed; he rejects the victim tag by re-establishing his retail business at the newly-blessed spot!
John Eppel is master of satire. His short stories and poems are more overtly political, displaying a certain anger at the turn of events. The stories and poems comment on the often contradictory political process in post-independence Zimbabwe. The outbreak of violence during elections is a worrying symptom of something more ominous for Eppel. In Broke-Buttock Blues, for example, Eppel reminds the reader of the violence of past elections:

They burned all our mealies, our chickens, our dog,
they burned all our mealies, our chickens, our dog;
my uncle, they hit him to death with a log.

Eppel sees a pattern of state violence against the citizenry right from the moment of independence. In Two Metres of Drainage Pipe and Bhalagwe Blues, Eppel evokes memories of the Gukurahundi massacres of the early 80s. In Bhalagwe Blues, which borrows its title from one of the Gukurahundi torture camps, Eppel relives the misery of detainees:

We dig many graves every day in the sun,
we dig many graves every day in the sun,
they tease us then kill us, they do it for fun.

In Discarded, Eppel shows us what can happen to institutions in the wider context of the chaos. The land reform programme is quickly hijacked by fake war veterans who have no real interest in farming and violence is mistaken for patriotism. The line between crime and political activism is blurred.
Who Will Guard the Guards? is an hilarious take on what happens when law enforcers become victims of an economic downturn; they turn criminal. A benevolent white Zimbabwean offers free accommodation to a young black police technician who later steals the good Samaritan's belongings. When the victim visits the police station, he finds the senior police officer investigating the crime actually wearing his stolen belt!
Bloody Diamonds touches on the controversy surrounding the recent diamond mining ventures in parts of Zimbabwe. For Eppel, the corrupt manner in which the diamonds are mined is symptomatic of the government's lack of responsibility to its citizens.
But it is not all gloom and doom for Eppel. He pays homage to ordinary Zimbabwean women of WOZA in Song for WOZA who stand up to government tyranny:

Women of this land arise,
fling your windows open wide,
let the breeze of change, denied,
let it take you by surprise.
Amandla omama!

Taken together, Chingono and Eppel's writings complement each other beautifully. They challenge the reader to reflect on Zimbabwe's lost decade. Together is a delightful — sometimes painfully delightful — read worth every penny that reflects on some of Zimbabwe's most pressing contemporary issues in surprising ways. It also is a volume that begs one to rethink how Zimbabwean literature has been read and theorized over the years.
review author:
Joseph Chikowero
source:
amaBooks Blog

id#

96

ISBN:

978-0-7974-4228-3
book title:
Together

publishing date:

18.04.2011

country:

NGA
review:
When I first saw the title of the book and the cover image, I was tempted to draw my own conclusion as to the essence of such a symbolical title: Together. I thought for a while that the message the cover image was trying to carry across was absolute and well thought of — thus — artistically. Together is a collection of uniquely written short stories and poems from two different authors — thus — different in the sense that Chingono is a black Zimbabwean and Eppel a white Zimbabwean, yet they come together to present to readers stories and poems with very pressing and unresolved themes that are so important in today's Zimbabwe and perhaps across the African continent. I personally admired the harmony with which these excellent pieces were put together as most of the messages they carry strike parallels at several points, leaving small pit-holes for divergence.
Put together, 'Together' contains forty-nine poems and nineteen short stories from the two writers and most of these stories and poems cast a sharp reflection on what is at stake in post-independence Zimbabwe, a country blighted with the legacy of conflict between white and black Zimbabweans. It is with this that I find the title worth embracing as the title itself suggests what ought to be thought of: unity, amalgamation, harmony, unanimity and all those elements that seek to bring togetherness.
Before I even got into the stories and poems proper, I was struck by some of the points highlighted in the introduction of the book where Julius Chingono said of the differences between himself and John Eppel — I quote — 'He is white and I am black, but we are all Zimbabwean… I believe in people living together in harmony. Fighting poverty being our main agenda.'
I must confess that I enjoyed the stories and poems in their entirety, yet there were those I will simply not forget for many years to come and which I may want to group under my favourites. I will highlight a few here:
Chingono's poem 'At the Bus Station' is a delight to read, well-crafted and true to our times, a poem revealing the harsh conditions and the splintered society where survival has become paramount. A traveller has to fight his way to get in there, to get into the bus at the bus station. There is a stiff competition at the bus station as stranded passengers compete for a single bus. The speaker is part of the scramble so as to get a share of what the bus has to offer. The first few lines read:

'When you arrive
at the bus station
pull down your tie
or remove the tie
to prevent strangulation.'

And the last few lines read:

'During the climb
attention to human sounds,
also bear in mind
words lose meaning
until you are inside the bus.'

'We Waited', a short story by Chingono, concentrates on electioneering, with its first line beginning like this: 'On the day appointed to hold the town council primary elections, we waited.' For the first waiting by the people to cast their votes, the men and women who were keen to exercise their right to vote were disappointed because the presiding officers did not show up. In their waiting, standing in the scorching sun for so long, they talked about all those amenities they lacked in their community: the poor water system, the unserviced roads, the lack of electricity and so on. In their waiting, little did the people know that there was a ploy to maintain the outgoing councillor, Mr. Chimbumu. By the end of all that waiting and postponements, it is clear that the leaders have disappointed their own people, cutting out and disqualifying their own choice of candidates. They protest against this corruption but their resistance is crushed with the aid of police officers. What a shame! This is a dark, disheartening story yet so real in the Zimbabwe of today, and perhaps even across the continent.
Turning to John Eppel, he explores different kinds of forms in the presentation of his stories and poems. For instance, he chooses to use various narrative forms with poetry, including Japanese haiku. In the poem 'Afrika', the speaker proposes that we make sacrifices in order to build the Afrika we so desire — for Rome was not built in a day. The speaker concludes, 'Let's make a start…' A start where a road built with the taxes of the masses of the people would not be named after just one man:

'that calling it Robert Mugabe Way
instead of Grey Street (what's in a man?)'

In ending, I am really impressed with the stories and poems and any reader who picks up this book is likely to be surprised with the power behind the words; for the stories and poems leave much to think about. I will leave you with Eppel's thought-provoking, rearranged haiku for you to think about:

'Governing in Africa
Is like sweeping leaves
On a windy day'
review author:
Geoffrey Gyasi
source:
Geosi Reads

id#

97

ISBN:

978-0-7974-4228-3
book title:
Together

publishing date:

24.01.2012

country:

USA
review:
It's a beautiful book. . . . Many readers will love it for its humor, the kind of humor salvaged in a place where hope is uncertain. Then there is satire, and, even more surprisingly, blatant criticism of governmental authority— Togetherness is Zimbabwe's literary imperative.
review author:
Emmanuel Sigauke
source:
Wealth of Ideas

id#

98

ISBN:

978-0-7974-4228-3
book title:
Together

publishing date:

03.08.2011

country:

ZAF
review:
This is southern African satirical writing at its best.
review author:
Hazel Barnes
source:
The Witness

id#

99

ISBN:

978-0-7974-4648-9
book title:
Where to Now?

publishing date:

21.10.2011

country:

GBR
review:
Where to Now? Short Stories from Zimbabwe was launched by amaBooks at the National Gallery on 24th September 2011 in conjunction with the Intwasa Arts Festival koBulawayo. It will also be published by Parthian Books in UK in 2012.
Editor Jane Morris and amaBooks of Bulawayo began publishing anthologies of Zimbabwe-themed short writings in the early 2000s. The current volume follows the success of Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Zimbabwe (2008), where thirty-three writers chronicle 'the lost decade' of political crisis, forced removals, mass migration, joblessness, starvation, hyperinflation, AIDS, cholera and other hardships.
Where to Now? Short Stories from Zimbabwe is a slimmer volume with half as many pieces. The photograph of a stone sculpture by Arlington Muzondo graces the book cover; and its roaming cracks suggest a myriad of tentative and uncertain routes — as if in answer to the question posed. In this transition period — where national crisis continues in slow motion — Zimbabwe's writers clearly grapple for a new sense of direction. Jane Morris said submissions slowed considerably from 2009. Even so, there are some excellent pieces.
Fifteen of the sixteen short stories catch the socio-political impasse and tell of its far-reaching effects. The exception is Bryony Rheam's The Piano Tuner, a Zambian story with a distinctly different mood. Though Rheam is a displaced Zimbabwean herself, the setting for her story is a hot and dry Ndola, where Thomas Jenkins Piano Tuners is now fronted by Mr Leonard Mwale who delights his client, a shy woman of Indian heritage, with a light piece of Beethoven. The characters literally connect on a positive note.
But this stands in contrast to the other stories overshadowed by Zimbabwe's fraught politics, which they cannot seem to transcend. Mzana Mthimkhulu's I am an African, am I? is exemplary. Accused by an anti-Western colleague of betraying African identity, a troubled company manager finds affirmation and gratitude for delivering mealie-meal to his needy rural relatives, but this will not ultimately resolve the deeper existential dilemma.
Five stories address political violence and dispossession, and are noticeably downbeat. Raisedon Baya's Her Skin is a Map details police brutality during a teachers' protest in Bulawayo. In The Accidental Hero, Murenga Joseph Chikowero tells the fate of young 'Comrade Advance' who distributes free eggs to the Party faithful during food shortages and gets a groundswell of support. But as crowds surge he falls to his death from a ladder; and absurdly becomes a martyr of the anti-colonial struggle — a 'HERO OF THE PIOPLE' [sic].
Christopher Mlalazi's They are Coming is a snapshot of troubled township life before an election, when the Green Bombers (Zimbabwe's Youth Brigade) rampage though a community, splitting a family and leaving a path of destruction.
In Nyevero Muza's The Poetry Slammer, a 'closet writer' creates an alter-ego poet named X, who leads a crowd of protesters against tyranny, but takes a bullet in his chest. X becomes a martyr, identified by his blood-stained poem of resistance. But the closet writer's own creative/populist aspirations fall flat.
Tomato Stakes, by John Eppel, exposes Zimbabwe's land grab and its human cost. War veterans, youths, and the Deputy Director of Youth Brigades drive a desperate white farmer to hang himself. Also his Malawian foreman is murdered and left with the word BLANTYRE carved into his chest to mark him, like his white boss, as one who does not belong on Zimbabwean land. The white farmer's surviving family find refuge in New Zealand, which ends their 350-year history on the African continent. Political violence, dispossession, and forced relocation still weigh heavily on the national consciousness, as the above five stories show.
On the theme of exile there are four thought-provoking pieces. In Crossroads, Novuyo Rosa Tshuma tells about starting a new life in South Africa — the hard choices and shattered dreams. She excellently catches the nervous anticipation, lonely struggle, self-sacrifice, unwanted dependence on relatives and bloody-minded determination that has characterised so many journeys across the Limpopo.
If disillusionment is the dawning reality in Crossroads, fear of xenophobic violence is the theme in Sandisile Tshuma's The Need. Visualizing an illegal immigrant set ablaze in a Johannesburg slum not long after the Football World Cup, the narrator fears 'the collective brain that told you that foreign is bad, that foreign steals jobs, that your brother is your enemy and that 'they' all deserve to die.' The Need explores the psychology of xenophobia, how friends can suddenly become murderous enemies, how it feels to be cast as an outsider in the so-called 'Rainbow Nation'.
In Sudden Death, by Blessing Musariri, we meet two enterprising Zimbabweans working as carers for the elderly in the UK. Agnes is not really Agnes at all: that is her fake ID. Simba, her partner, also poses as someone else to get through UK Immigration. After months of hard work, they believe they have finally sent enough money to Zimbabwe to build a house — but betrayal by a thieving relative wrecks their dream.
Trans-continental tragedy also figures in Diana Charsley's Mr Pothole, which focusses on a hit and run victim with dementia, found face-down in a pothole. His Bulawayo funeral is attended by his next of kin, who abandoned him for a life in London. The exile-themed stories express sadness and expose the huge social and psychological cost of Zimbabwe's mass exodus.
Moving to gender, several stories challenge female subordination. Mapfumo Clement Chihota tells of emasculation versus female empowerment in A Beast and a Jete. A jete is 'A woman who kicks her husband's bum around… who defeats her husband mentally and outwits him at every turn.' In this case Vanyemba cuckolds her husband with one of the villagers but is acquitted of adultery through lack of evidence, by the village headman, to the great amusement of all. She is also paid damages for what is judged a false accusation.
Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende continues the theme of female assertiveness in Christina the Colourful. Here Kudu, the young narrator, greatly admires her transgressive aunt, criticised for 'jumping from town to town' and disgracing her extended family. Cornered into an arranged marriage, Christina nevertheless outwits her forceful patriarchal matchmakers, becoming a strong role model for her young niece in a bitter-sweet resolution, which necessitates their separation.
A child narrator also tells Thabisani Ndlovu's story Making a Woman, which exposes appalling patriarchal violence, conducted casually within a small rural community. The young boy's Aunt Mongi is beautiful but deaf, unmarried and childless. Grandpa, aggrieved for having a disabled daughter, decides to 'make her a woman' which means organising her rape and impregnation by a chosen suitor. But Aunt Mongi defiantly chooses abortion.
Abortion also figures in NoViolet Bulawayo's Snapshots. (She won the 2011 Caine Prize for Hitting Budapest). Previously published in 2009 in New Writing from Africa, this is the sad story of a young girl who does not stand a chance against cruel patriarchal customs that drive her onto the street after the death of her father, away from a mother who is compelled to disown her, into the arms of a sexual predator when she has nowhere else to turn, and finally to a back-street abortionist, who seals her fate with a jabbing coat-hanger. Though the piece is exceptionally well-written, it is depressing to think a young girl's fate can be so thoroughly determined by circumstances over which she has no control. By contrast the other female characters in this collection, Vanyemba, Christina, and even Aunt Mongi, are not stifled or snuffed out by patriarchal forces. Alone, by Fungai Rufaro Machirori, also examines strength and resilience in the reflections of a single woman moving into middle-age without needing a man in her life.
While all of the content in this collection is engaging, my one criticism is that the quality is uneven. The short story is possibly the most difficult prose form to master; and it is apparent that some writers are more attendant to issues of structure and style than others. Some pieces are more sketches than short stories. On the other hand, the inclusion of writing that is somewhat rough around the edges, in juxtaposition to that of a more polished quality, lends the collection an authentic appeal. This is a rewarding read for anyone following the Zimbabwe story, for anyone concerned about Zimbabweans and their collective destiny.
review author:
Drew Shaw
source:
Mazwi Literary Journal

id#

100

ISBN:

978-0-7974-4648-9
book title:
Where to Now?

publishing date:

23.01.2012

country:

ZWE
review:
As long as there are storytellers writing and employing whatever medium or platform this question will not arise. Where it does, the bone of contention can only be the focus and direction that the writing assumes.
But as Where to Now? demonstrates, there are as diverse areas of focus as there are storytellers and in this case — everyday stories for and about everyday Zimbabweans.
So there will always be new mediums alongside the conventional ones thus ensuring that storytellers will forever withstand the test of time.
Autumn colours adorn the cover of this book, perhaps suggesting a forgone era or one in its twilight moments. But if you have a fascination with the environment or once poured over desert maps/topography the reaction is either that this is a tree trunk with its striations describing its growth pattern or alternatively the course of a dried river with each striation its tributaries or a narrative — an idea that finds space, shoots off on a journey of exploration or one that promisingly starts off in a chosen direction but perishes prematurely.
In Writing Free, a collection of stories recently published by Weaver Press I found myself re-reading The Novel Citizen by Ignatius T Mabasa. It is a compelling story told using rarely explored techniques. In Where to Now? I haven't stopped re-reading the collection — such is the level of engagement in the 16 stories.
This is a brilliantly woven mosaic of everyday stories about the daily trials and tribulations of Zimbabweans told in a fascinatingly riveting fashion. There is enough variety, technique and theatre to enthrall and sustain the reader's interest. For example, while Thabisani Ndlovu uses a rustic setting for his story, NoViolet Bulawayo uses a township environment, all to maximum effect.
In I am an African am I? Mzana Mthimkhulu deals with issues of locus standi that the African rising class has to contend with in its quest to embrace modernity while having the baggage of the extended African family. One man discovers his roots and in the process, himself.
In Christina the Colourful, Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende addresses a woman's quest to assert herself against a society that is firmly founded on traditions of patriarchy while in A Beast and a Jete, Mapfumo Clement Chihota tackles everyday issues revolving around infidelity among ordinary folk and their recourse to survival instincts.
Coming so soon after commemorating 16 days of Gender Activism, stories like Making a Woman - told from a male patriarchal perspective and its attendant male insensitivity - reek of crass barbarism. It's a story that haunts you as you empathize with the female who is being "made into a woman".
Aunt Mongi understands sign language — the result of a condition she was born with. But that condition unfortunately arrogates others — her immediate nuclear family and villagers — to decide "what's good for her". She must therefore be "made into a woman" so she can start to serve the needs of a husband even though she has categorically stated she does not entertain such thoughts in her immediate- or medium-term plans.
Thabisani Ndlovu's narrative focuses on how a whole family and village conspire in repeatedly raping a girl. Her greedy father, feigning concern for her unmarried status, is only interested in the livestock in the form of lobola/roora that he stands to benefit from. "Your Aunt Mongi needs to become a woman before it's too late. As God's own creature, she does," reasons the father.
Aunt Mongi is a victim twice. Firstly she is a rape victim and secondly she is a police victim or victim of laws that refuse to recognise that rape victims have rights not to be violated so violently and not to be condemned to live daily with the physical reminders of being raped, never mind the psychological trauma. She suffers in the silence that defines her world while also being victimized for infanticide yet her rapist and accomplices are allowed to go scot-free.
She suffers in silence on account of her unawareness of the existence of laws such as the Domestic Violence Act that should protect her against Gender-based Violence. The Act provides protection and relief to victims.
Sixteen writers contributed to this collection of short stories from Zimbabwe that defines issues that dominated what has come to be termed the "lost decade". It certainly hasn't been lost on our story-tellers.
review author:
Sonny Wadaw
source:
Panorama

id#

101

ISBN:

978-0-7974-4648-9
book title:
Where to Now?

publishing date:

09.12.2011

country:

ZWE
review:
In spite of the warnings and advice of our teachers and parents never to judge a book by its cover, it would be difficult to ignore Veena Bhana's cover design, based on a sculpture by Arlington Muzondo, for amaBooks of Bulawayo's latest collection of short stories, Where to Now?
The earthy colours and ancient striations of the stone carving give more than a hint of the dreams, aspirations and adventures of some of Zimbabwe's most important writers, all to be found within this slim volume. Most of the writings in this collection have been inspired by events taking place between 2000 and 2010, a time that has come to be called Zimbabwe's "lost decade". These were the years of violence, inflation and economic collapse, when many fled to the diaspora, seeking new livelihoods and ways to support their siblings and the ageing parents they left behind. These stories are important in their placing of Zimbabwe in a history of events, that will determine all our futures, and eventually provide an answer to the question "where to now?" Although the writers deal with serious issues, a light touch and sense of comedy often temper the darkness and despair wrought by poverty in the lives of the characters. In Tomato Stakes, John Eppel describes school holidays spent with his friend Lofty Pienaar in his parents' house, a pondok made of burlap coal bags sewn together that "flapped" in the wind. Adventures trapping mice in the bush and swimming in algae-infested reservoirs ended when the boys left school. Lofty trained at Gwebi Agricultural College and became a successful commercial farmer. When the farm invasions began, he was left with a mere 10 acres of his original 350-acre spread at Umgusa. The resourceful Lofty, like a character from Boys Own Adventures, then embarked on a five-year plan to grow catha edulis, a tree whose leaves and bark are used to make Bushman's Tea, a stimulating beverage with medicinal properties. Rejoicing that Lofty has remained on the land, and will be able to support his wife and four children, the reader is astounded by a turn of events in the narrative. The outcome is as shocking as it was unexpected.
"Your white masters must be delighted with you!" Mark hissed into my ear as we filed out of the general manager's office into the wide corridor, is the intriguing first sentence in a story by Mzana Mthimkulu, entitled I am an African, am I? Accused by his work mates of being un-African and a sell-out because he eats sadza with a knife and fork and because he returns his unused fuel allocation to his white boss, Timothy begins to question himself and his motives as a purchasing manager in a beer brewing company. When a colleague accuses him of preferring to watch satellite TV to visiting his relatives in the townships and rural areas, he takes this criticism to heart. Loading his Mazda 626 with two bags of mealie-meal, he drives to Pumula Township to visit his aunt. Delighted, the aunt calls down blessings on Timothy. He eventually returns to the city, happy that the spirits of his ancestors have spoken to him: He resolves in future to give up golf in favour of family visits. Like an enticing box of chocolates, there are many more stories in this collection to read and enjoy at leisure. Where to Now? is to be launched next year by Parthian Books, one of Wales' most respected publishers. Both amaBooks and Parthian are diverse and contemporary in their range. Publishing a wide variety of novels, short stories, poetry, local history and culture titles, they provide encouragement and support for many of Zimbabwe's established and budding writers. - (You can also visit the publisher's website: www.amabooksbyo.com)
review author:
Diana Rodrigues
source:
The Financial Gazette

id#

102

ISBN:

978-0-7974-4648-9
book title:
Where to Now?

publishing date:

11.10.2011

country:

ZWE
review:
The anthology Where to Now? Short Stories from Zimbabwe features a mixture of 16 Zimbabwean writers, some new and others well known, among them 2011 Caine Prize winner NoViolet Bulawayo and 2011 World Summit Youth Awards runner-up Fungai Rufaro Machirori.
Published by amaBooks, it is the fifth book in a series of short story writings the first being Short Writings from Bulawayo (2003)* and the most recent one Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Zimbabwe (2008).
Where to Now? casts autobiographical tales of life and living in Zimbabwe's lost decade when the economy crumbled, inflation reached dizzy heights, violence replaced the rule of law and most people fled the country.
What is autobiographical about these stories is different Zimbabwean authors delivering narratives that speak of events, phases, characters and images that are conspicuously Zimbabwean, creating a lingering reflection which prompts the reader to ask: Where to now? From the black purchasing manager who struggles with whether or not he is a true African — when a fellow colleague accuses him of being a sell-out for eating isitshwala with a fork and knife and only using the company fuel allocation he needs in Mzana Mthimkhulu's I am an African, am I? to the couple that goes to the UK, each assuming another identity, to work and send money home to build their dream house only to be swindled by a relative who had been sending them pictures of someone else's house in Blessing Musariri's Sudden Death — each story tickles the memory to recall that period and sometimes even crafts out a memory that will have you sad, in stitches, inspired, disillusioned or even questioning yourself.
For example, Raisedon Baya's Her Skin is a Map and Novuyo Rosa Tshuma's Crossroads, both writers tell the story of migrating to South Africa. One traces the events that lead most to leave while the other sketches out the tedious humiliating process many Zimbabweans went through for the promise of a better life, only to have that hope shattered by reality. Etched in these tales are themes such as violence, corruption, family disintegration, desperation, hope and disillusionment. Baya uses nature and the park to lament and trace the deterioration of human relationships in society, in Zimbabwe.
"The park has changed. The grass is no longer entwined together like lovers. The grass is gone, replaced by an angry gold that attacks the eyes. The trees look unhappy, betrayed. If they could walk they would have left the park a long time ago." (p56). Now, "The people that come to the park now are not lovers with spirits, they are not families that want a day out, but unemployed people who are hungry and tired of hunting for jobs and are here to rest and hide from prying eyes," (p58).
Baya remembers happier times where as a little boy they would have a picnic in the park at Christmas with his family, everything joyous with the promise of independence. Now when he takes his own family to the park they end up being badly beaten up by riot police who suspect that they are striking teachers. Then and there he makes up his mind to leave with his family for Durban.
Tshuma creates a vivid image of the process of migrating in a young woman's journey from Zimbabwe to South Africa in the hope of getting a job and saving up enough money for university. In Zimbabwe — no water, no electricity (depending on where you stay), a never-ending queue at the South African Embassy with enterprising individuals that sell their positions in the queue.
At the border — never ending queues, rude and indifferent immigration officers, stories of having been robbed in South Africa and the public toilets that read:

Toilet paper only
To be used in this toilet
No cardboard
No cloth
No Zim dollars
No newspaper

Baya and Tshuma clearly and skillfully capture memories of that sad period in Zimbabwe's history, painfully personal for most. There are some lighter stories like Mapfumo Clement Chihota's A Beast and a Jete which is a story within stories of clever women that out smart their husbands.
Other stories include themes such as xenophobia, poverty, marriage, lost hope, infidelity, love, misplaced hate, the new generation of women, a dishevelled society, loneliness, the pain of remembering, death, coming home, the born-frees, political machinations, life in limbo and black and white relations.
Other contributors include Barbara Mhangani-Ruwende, Thabisani Ndlovu, Bryony Rheam, Nyevero Muza, Christopher Mlalazi, Diana Charsley, Murenga Joseph Chikowero, John Eppel and Sandisile Tshuma.
review author:
Cynthia R Matonhodze
source:
Newsday

id#

103

ISBN:

978-0-7974-4648-9
book title:
Where to Now?

publishing date:

06.10.2011

country:

USA
review:
Synopsis: This work is a collection of complex, human dramas focusing upon the realities of Zimbabwean and African life. The writer Mzana Mthimkhulu contributes to this collection an intriguing question and excerpt entitled I am an Africa, am I? This African-Cartesian question is not easily answered in this short story. Mark, a colleague of Timothy, the protagonist, raises this question to his friend. Mark's query resonates throughout the selection. Timothy is a successful man. He adheres to the guidelines in his Western workplace. In doing so, is he betraying something? Tradition vs. Modernity is the conflict… here… and always in Africa.
Blessing Musariri's contribution entitled Sudden Death is a 'brief' about trust and kinship. The hopes and dreams of several women in the story become entwined upon a literal 'cross' borne by one man. Was it wrong to place such a burden of trust upon a person? Was it foolish not to assume that repercussions would occur?
The selection The Piano Tuner, by Bryony Rheam, stirs the reader's imagination. The main character, Leonard Mwale, is a Zambian piano tuner by trade. He goes to luxurious homes and tunes things into shape. Many patrons send a car for him and offer him a free meal in addition to his fee. For, Leonard Mwale is a skilful man. Tragic are the many ailments in the household that he services in this selection. In summary, there are no 'nicely constructed' plots or storylines in this collection. However, the readings will challenge your imagination and your concept of 'self.'
Critique: This is the best collection of short stories from Jane Morris so far! I did enjoy the stories and the complex plots. The African literary tradition is illustrated and represented well by these writers and stories. This is a collection for every lover of African literature. Educators and sociologists take note and get a copy!
review author:
Rosetta Codling
source:
Examiner

id#

104

ISBN:

0-7974-2539-X
book title:
Erina

publishing date:

30.11.2003

country:

ZWE
review:
Erina is a story of the Second Coming, a girl child this time, born not In Bethlehem, not in Rome, not in Waco (Texas), but in a remote village in the middle of Africa.
Unlike Jesus, who was born of a virgin, Erina is born of a barren whore, appropriately called Magda. Jesus dies into life, Erina lives (loves) into death. Jesus is a complex, paradoxical messiah, his teachings can be (have been) interpreted in many different w. For example, what do Christians who take out Insurance policies make of this advice. "Take therefore no thought for the morrow…" (Matt 6:34)? It is indeed Jesus' Sermon on the Mount where he comes closest to the sympathies of the black, female messiah whose simple message is spelled out in the last chapter of the novel:
… all that matters is happiness and it is available to everyone who is willing to embrace it. Surrendering to it, by showing love for others, is not a sacrifice but a start of one's own absolute liberation….
The novel highlights this message by contrasting it with a fairly savage, and often hilarious, attack against that well known pair of greed-mongers in Africa: the European colonizers and their post-Independence emulators like Kamuzu Banda. Here is a taste of that attack:
Robert Day formed, together with around forty other counterparts (who also were engaged in tea or in tobacco), the white elite in the country; they were rich, often away on foreign business trips, and had over the years become real pillars under the regime of Kamuzu Banda, who signified stability and financial security for them. Strikes were illegal and the few that had been tried were put down with great force by the Ngwazl's police. Although the inflation rate was high, only very minimal increases in wages were tolerated by the government. High profits for the companies meant high profits for the government, which often disappeared Into the private coffers of government leaders. All ministers now possessed farms, and had to exploit their labour force even more than the whites were doing, in order to try to stay viable. Independence had replaced one governing clique with another, but had not brought material advantages to the masses of peasants and city dwellers.
Here Boswinkel is in his satirical mode. In this matter-of-fact tone of voice, the irony bites. His characters, mostly whites, who have been corrupted by money, are grotesques: "Lying on stretchers in the shade of a tamarind tree, after a refreshing dive and while sipping a gin and tonic that they had just been served, they dreamt of a better time"
When he writes about the blessed people he shifts comfortably into a lyric mode: "eventually the singing subsided and the rain stopped, while the clouds rapidly dissolved in a vast blueing sky. In a short time, it became as light and as hot as before; the girls would have thought that it had all been a dream if it were not for their soaked clothes and the pools on the ground…"
The "unbelievable" story of Erina and the white plantation manager (the narrator) she redeems is given a certain verisimilitude by presenting it as the fulfillment of prophetic writings from the second apocryphal book of Tobias.
The novel is an interesting amalgam of genres, drifting in and out of allegory, satire, romance and myth. It will not be well received by the bigots and the hypocrites in our midst … and that is to its great credit.
review author:
John Eppel
source:
The Zimbabwean

id#

105

ISBN:

0-7974-2540-3
book title:
Short Writings from Bulawayo

publishing date:

01.02.2004

country:

ZWE
review:
Young and upcoming writers have always decried the problems they face when they want to have their works published. Well, they may have to say thanks to 'amaBooks, a publishing company that has somewhat brought an answer to the problem.
As the publishers come in as a new player in the publishing industry, it is hoped that they will deal with the hiccups that have been hampering the dreams of the country's future writers. The company has already published a book. In an interview with Trends, the editor of the company's recently published book of short stories and poems, Short Writings from Bulawayo, Jane Morris said the aim of the book was to celebrate the wealth of talent in the country.
'The book celebrates the talent that we have in this country, particularly in Bulawayo. Thus, you will find that most of the writings are set in the homes, streets and bars of present day Bulawayo and surrounding rural areas. The majority of the writers in this book are people from Bulawayo and those that have a connection with the people of the City of Kings', said Jane. She said the major aim of this particular publication was to give people a platform to display their writing skills.
'For most writers in this book it is their first time to have their works published and this stands out as an encouragement for them to continue writing. We hope to do other short writings very soon', she said.
Some of the 23 contributors, however, are known writers who include John Eppel, Pathisa Nyathi and Terence Ranger.
The pieces were chosen for their good writing, but also reflect and celebrate the diversity of life in Zimbabwe.
The inspiration for the book was to give a voice to new writers who might otherwise be unheard and through their writings, to bring together the different communities that make up Bulawayo.
For instance, one would want to pick a few examples of the stories in the book to justify the previous statement.
The first story, Shadows, by Godfrey Sibanda, written in simple English, clearly brings out today's life where young people in the rural areas have a desire to join others in urban centres. It is sad that they usually leave their parents wondering whether they will be able to resist the pressure that comes with life in the city.
Thus, Luba's grandmother in the story does not hesitate to advise her accordingly as she finds her way to Bulawayo.
'If your uncle cannot send you to school, get a job and go to night school. Education is life, child of my child. Do not rush to get married, do you hear? Men are no good to anyone. They were no good to me, they were useless to your mother, they are not even good to themselves. Education, child of my child and your Bible — that is all you need', said the grandmother who had already lost some of her grandchildren through death. They had left home for South Africa.
Another story, Evil That Fathers Do, by Matthew Chokuwenga written in a most skilful manner underlines the immorality of some fathers who find pleasure in raping their minor children.
review author:
Betha Madhomu
source:
Trends Magazine

id#

106

ISBN:

978-0-7974-4648-9
book title:
Where to Now?

publishing date:

09.12.2011

country:

ZWE
review:
Like an enticing box of chocolates, there are many more stories in this collection to read and enjoy at leisure
review author:
Diana Rodrigues
source:
The Financial Gazette

id#

107

ISBN:

978-0-7974-4648-9
book title:
Where to Now?

publishing date:

06.10.2011

country:

USA
review:
This work is a collection of complex, human dramas focusing upon the realities of Zimbabwean and African life.
review author:
Rosetta Codling
source:
Examiner

id#

108

ISBN:

978-0-7974-4648-9
book title:
Where to Now?

publishing date:

23.01.2012

country:

ZWE
review:
This is a brilliantly woven mosaic of everyday stories
review author:
Sonny Wadaw
source:
Panorama

id#

109

ISBN:

0-7974-2540-3
book title:
Short Writings from Bulawayo

publishing date:

1.11.2003

country:

FRA
review:
Short Writings from Bulawayo is an important series, one that shows that despite all the terrible things happening in Zimbabwe, writers and writing, and, perhaps just maybe in a larger sense, hope, is still alive. Whether one reads all or just some of the material collected for us here, the opportunity to identify with and feel for the people of this devastated land will be the end result. This is an important work to add to contemporary African literature collections.
review author:
source:
The African Book Publishing Record

id#

110

ISBN:

978-0-7974-5069-1
book title:
African Violet: The Caine Prize for African Writing 2012

publishing date:

2012

country:

GBR
review:
A vital collection drawing on a rich treasury of material
review author:
source:
The Guardian

id#

111

ISBN:

978-0-7974-5069-1
book title:
African Violet: The Caine Prize for African Writing 2012

publishing date:

2012

country:

GBR
review:
Dazzling and splendidly diverse
review author:
source:
The Times

id#

112

ISBN:

978-0-7974-5069-1
book title:
African Violet: The Caine Prize for African Writing 2012

publishing date:

2012

country:

GBR
review:
The winner of the Caine Prize 2012 was announced on July 2nd 2012 - and congratulations again to Rotimi Babtunde for his win. Bombay's Republic was one of my favourite stories (the other was La Salle de Depart) so I am glad it won. I would like to say thank you to the New Internationalist, publishers of the Caine Prize Anthologies, who gave me a copy of this years Caine Prize Anthology (can I say I still get super excited at being contacted by publishers and authors for books, and I don't think that excitement will ever go away). I really wanted to read and review it to coincide with the release of the anthology/announcement of the winner, but I didn't get a chance and so the review is coming in a few days later than I hoped.
Along with this years five shortlisted stories, African Violet contains ten additional short stories. Ten writers from six different African countries (Botswana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe) took part in the annual Caine Prize Writers' Workshop and produced some really amazing stories for the Anthology. As stated on the blurb at the back of the Anthology:
'these fifteen stories show yet again the richness and range of current writing on the continent. They underlined the primacy of the short story, with its oral antecedents, at the very heart of African literature'.
In addition to the five shortlisted stories, Bombay's Republic, Urban Zoning, Love on Trial, La Salle de Depart, and Hunter Emmanuel, there is a story about two brothers, Cephas and Erabus, walking into the city's 'downtown jungle of skyscrapers'; another about a young girl who loved watching her Mama's walk home, because it was 'a gentle reminder that said I mattered'; a boy who on his 18th birthday is finally able to move forward after the tragedy he (and his family) experienced 2 years ago; a mother struggling to cope with her new baby; a man named Buda, who in mid-January, needs work as everyone is broke after the splendour of December. Buda navigates the city with his lack of funds, until he meets Mwangi (a young man from the IDP camp constructed in his city), who he 'enlightens'; a nurse, who arrived in Cape Town five years ago, but had to work as a security guard because her qualifications weren't recognised; a lesbian thinking of leaving her partner because now 'she wants to spend more time with men'; a story about illegal mining in Zimbabwe; a story about an interesting relationship between a young black woman and an older white woman; and a story about a woman, who on a seven hour trip from Cape Town to Namibia, thinks back to a time when a tragedy happened.
I have said quite a few times I am not the biggest fan of short stories, but dare I say I might be slowly changing my mind. African Violet was a lovely Anthology and I really enjoyed all the short stories in it. My favourites from the workshop stories had to be 'Mama's Walk' by Grace Khunou, 'Moving Forward' by Lauri Kubuitsile, 'Table Manners' by B M Kunga, and I'm torn between 'The Verge' by Rachel Zadok and 'Pillar of Love' by Beatrice Lamwaka. I have to say I also loved the fact that some characters in African Violet drove Rav 4's, owned iMacs, iPhones and Leica's. There were wealthy Africans in the Anthology, but also Africans trying to make a living.
When talking about this year's shortlisted stories, Bernardine Evaristo said she was 'looking for stories about Africa that enlarge our concept beyond the familiar images that dominate the media, War-torn Africa, Starving Africa, Corrupt Africa - in short: The Tragic Continent'. For me there was no sign of 'The Tragic Continent' in the Anthology (both with the shortlisted and workshop stories). If anyone else has read the 2012 Caine Prize Anthology I would love to know which one(s) were your favourite, and if you have read previous anthologies has it moved beyond the 'tragic African narrative'? Now I really need to stop making excuses and read the 2010 and 2011 Anthologies that are on my shelf.
And something that made me smile. This year, the collection will be published by New Internationalist in the UK and by Jacana Media in South Africa, as well as in six other African countries ('amaBooks (Zimbabwe), Cassava Republic (Nigeria), Sub-Saharan Publishers (Ghana), Kwani? (Kenya), FEMRITE (Uganda) and Bookworld (Zambia) - a first for Caine Prize. I know Cassava Republic already co-publishes the Anthology for the Nigerian market and Kwani? for the Kenyan market, but I am really glad that there are more African co-publishers this year.
review author:
source:
Bookshy