Finding solace in the fading sun David Mungoshi

Elliot Ziwira-At the Bookstore

IN the timeless book, “The Fading Sun”, David Mungoshi explores the nature of such words as hurt, despondency and toil on humanity’s aspirations.

He highlights the quintessence of time as a leveller, and how human toils are shaped by the rising and setting of the sun.

Mungoshi insists that there is hope in the setting sun, and even more so in sunrise, for each day is always different from the other.

Going to bed each night, entails waking up to witness a new dawn laden with dreams, with hope becoming an elixir out of enclosures; either natural or manmade.

What happens then if hope fades away with the setting sun?

Mungoshi’s “Fading Sun”, is a touching and thought-provoking rhapsody of a yearning heart that derives solace in the rising sun, which totters towards the western rim where everything seems to end.

Ironically, it is here that everything is said to start. At the peak of it all, fruition appears to be in the offing. However, the sun begins to fade again, and abeyance sets in.

Using the metaphor of the fading sun, flashbacks and interior monologues, Mungoshi adeptly gives speech to the gagged and vulnerable voice of womanhood.

The third person narrative voice used purveys the story of a woman, who appears to carry all the burdens of the world on her fragile, yet resilient shoulders.

The heroine, Mary, finds herself at the deep end, although she is married to an affluent man, Cyril. Her husband hardly pays attention to her, despite her condition, which dissipates her emotionally, psychologically and physically.

As the story begins, she is a grandmother in her 60s, and Cyril, who has now assumed the moniker, Moth, also in his 60s, is obsessed with golf, whisky and cigars; the marks of affluence.

Mary realises that money alone is not the alpha and omega of the world, for she married into it.

The endless parties of the nouveau riche and their values, fail to move her.

She watches her dream of happiness fading with each sunrise, as Moth, whom he also refers to as The-Man-Of-The-House, is obsessed with what he has achieved.

Cyril gloats in the sunshine, while she moans in the fading sun.

Mary’s situation is exacerbated by the early loss of her ovaries after three close births, and that of one of her breasts to cancer. Unable to understand why the storms seem to be directed only at her frail self, she buries herself in reverie.

She constantly makes visitations to the past, which she cherishes, yet it somehow riles her.

Through flashback, the reader learns of the many battles Mary endures, as a girl child, young woman, mother, and grandmother.

Having been born into a polygamous marriage, she learns the essence of hard work, which catapults her to the apex of her career as a graduate teacher and headmistress of a girls’ school.

The values that she gets from her mother and namesake, Mary, Aunty Chenai as well as those from her father, Mudhara Bodzo, prepare her well for the expectations of matrimony.

Marriage has never been a bed of roses, and Mungoshi does not pretend that it is. However, he is conscious of the strains that kill or kindle it.

It is possible for two people to fall in love, marry and remain lovebirds, even in the face of adversity. 

They only have to be tolerant to each other’s weaknesses, be supportive of the divergent dreams that may shape their destinies, and remain true to their hearts’ desires regardless of time’s plans.

In the protagonist’s case, appearances overwhelm the reality on the ground, which puts pressure on the matrimonial base.

Cyril, the handsome and loving husband, who spent many years studying in America before he marries, climbs up the social ladder. He buys a beautiful house in Marimba Park, a suburban neighbourhood for affluent blacks in Salisbury.

At independence in 1980, he was already established as a man of means.

However, success gets to his head. He wants everyone, his wife and children included, to feel that he is the man of the house. 

The Cyril of yore becomes the conceited, negligent and selfish Moth.

The couple’s marriage suffers as a result of deceit, on both parties. Everything seems to be choreographed to suit the pervading setup of social strata, which somehow tilts in Mary’s disfavour.

Moth is more of a clown than a responsible husband; only honouring promises when it suits him. Mary, on the other hand, takes to feigning everything, even in the bedroom, as a way of getting back at her husband’s ego.

As the sun fades on Mary, it appears to shine brightly on Moth, whose physical appearance remains as dangerously alluring as ever, notwithstanding his age.

The heroine continues fading in almost all faculties. 

She has lost more than anyone should lose in one smooth swish of the hand of time; ovaries, eyesight, “the definitive feminine attribute”, and the man of her dreams.

To her, hope is an exercise in futility, continuously receding to the horizon.

In the prime of their marriage, they lose their children, Mary the Third and Darius, to the liberation struggle. 

Though they come back home years after independence as well-placed civil servants, their departure to the war zone as teenagers marked the death of the family dream, which fails to be resuscitated in the fading sun of Mary’s cosmos.

Although Mungoshi highlights the spirit of the liberation struggle and its aftermath, he somehow questions the integrity of some of the beneficiaries of the fruits of independence, like Moth.

He seems to remain clinging to the colonial minority gravy train, which has been overtaken by events.

Unlike his father, the patriarch, who along with his mother and wife, dies at the hands of Ian Smith’s heinous apparatus at the height of the war for their nationalist inclinations, Moth believes that the liberation struggle was coincidental.

Sadly, Mary yields to the malignant tumour that ravishes her surviving breast a day before her cherished holiday to the Victoria Falls.

Over the years, Cyril promised to take her to the falls, but he always reneged on that, until time’s hand snatches the dream from his ailing wife’s grasp.

Mary knows that she is dying, as the doctor candidly tells her: “Initial indications are that you could have another two to three months at most.”

She knows that she will “stand by the waterfall and renew a dream”—a dream that will give hope to love—a reverie which will give birth to a new woman. To her, this reborn woman will be loved, not for what she has to offer, but for who she is.

This woman can still be attractive and adorable even without breasts, with her aesthetic beauty blinding, even as age or death awaits at the fringes.

A woman, whose resilience outpaces that of the queen bee when everything is skewed against her, is the woman who dies in Moth’s arms on the eve of the Victoria Falls trip.

This anticipated expedition could have rekindled the embers of their dying love. Such is the story of famished hope, love, marriage, and death that David Mungoshi skilfully relates in “The Fading Sun”.

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