In one of my Advanced Level Literature classes I was emphasising on the need for brevity, and use of concise, well-chosen words when writing essays.
One of my students posed the question, “Mr Mhlanga, are you able to sum up the collection ‘Somewhere in this Country’ using a simple word?” My mind raced a bit, and quickly I said, “Accessible”.
The narrative is within reach in scope and variety in techniques; employing short sentences, playful language, use of words that create vivid mental pictures and the narrative establishes itself in the interface between poetry, folk lore and the short story. The collection takes literature to the people; its story is like a thread of a gem that touch the human heart; using down–to-earth characters.
The collection uses clear, descriptive narrative, delves into themes of universal appeal and magnitude, and employs simple characters of diverse rank and file.
Short, descriptive sentences
The sentences resemble the short, stabling spear called an assegai. The effect of these sentences is pertinent; they harp on the nerve of the intended point. The sentences employed in the collection are descriptive in nature.
For example, in the story Maize, the celebratory aura associated with the acquisition of land is expressed as follows:
“She was nevertheless, satisfied that she had come here and beneath her feet was her land, soil. Her own virgin earth where one could dig without striking a rock.”
The description shows the reader rather than tell. Chirere is so adept when it comes to painting pictures with words.
Repetition of the subject at hand
Chirere is at his best when he incessantly hammers on words that shape a subject under consideration. That is known as the choric effect. In the story Beautiful Children, Chirere keeps harping on the word home until it becomes engraved in one’s mind as the following illustration captures that, “Home , home , home , home . . .”
Chirere achieves that in virtually every story in the collection. He wants to carry his readers along. It’s like he is saying, “You may forget everything but keep these important words”.
Some stories in the collection evoke a streak of folk lore. For instance, in the story “Beautiful Children”, the protagonist, Andrusha, who is in a quest for a home, away from people who despise him feels “he must go somewhere very, very far away!” We may conjure in our mind a folklore character in dire straits.
As can be expected in folklore, a magical bird came and took him far way, away from cares common to humankind and problems. The same effect is achieved by Pempani toward the close of the story Sitting Carelessly. To express his resolute stance to remain on the farm where his roots are, assumes the characteristics of his forefathers.
His posture becomes sort of a reincarnation of these departed ones and he give them agency and expression through him. Many readers with a folk lore tradition find such style appealing.
Chirere delves into a panorama of issues of universal concerns ranging from a search for love, a home, and meaning. The collection makes each story a thread where each character is in a search for something.
That strikes a responsive chord in each heart: Who of us is not in search for something in life – love, belonging, or just an idea? We find a small girl searching for her roots in Keresenzia, an old man searching for the land of his roots in “Somewhere”, “A man searching for belonging in Sitting Carelessly”, and many other objects of search imbued in many stories in the collection.
The characters in the collection are simple; they are not the gaffer type, the larger than life ones reminiscent of Shakespearean heroes. On the contrary, they are ordinary, found somewhere within this country. They are struggling with the daily concerns of life. They have frailties, hopes and aspirations common to mankind.
The characters all reflect a certain vulnerability – an ordinary goat, a young girl, an old man , a single lady, an old beggar, etc. They are anti-heroes. This, however, does not make them less of heroes; they are heroes judged by the strength and fortitude with which they content with their problems.
Many characters in the collection are fighting against forces which seek to steal and diminish their humanity and their right to be treated as human beings. Take the old man in the story “Suburb”, for instance: he , has to find a sense of decency in a place that resembles a wasteland and bereft of decent amenities. He girds his loins in a manly fashion to ward off people who had come with bulldozers to demolish the place. To the many inhabitants of that seemingly wretched place the old man is a hero.
Thus, on a summative score, “Somewhere in this Country” is an accessible collection. It resonates with many readers based on the points already highlighted.
- Vuso Mhlanga is an experienced teacher in English Language and Advanced Level Literature in English. Feedback: [email protected] 0778674863