Memory Chirere Arts Correspondent
The highest point in Zimbabwean Literature 2013 was the new section of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair called the “Literary Evening” which was held at the Book Café, Harare, alongside the Book Fair in September. We were used to reading about Dangarembga, Chinodya, Chiundura Moyo and Ticha Muzavazi but suddenly they were there with us.
We were not reading their books but they were reading passages from their books to us! We sat there and slowly sipped our drinks and listened. We could even ask them questions. We could ask for their contact details. This was a rare moment for reader and writer to directly interact.
Did I know that Tsitsi Dangarembga possesses such a clear performing voice or that; for some time now, she has been trying her hand at children’s literature?
Shimmer Chinodya has a broadcaster’s voice. He has such a beautiful teacher’s baritone that he needs to move on and read some of his stories on the radio, especially from “Can We Talk and Other Stories”.
I never thought Aaron Chiundura Moyo played the pen-whistle like Spokes Matshiyane! I didn’t know that he has the gift of the gab and could reminisce on his work and eventful life, deep into the night.
I came away from the evening even more convinced that Ticha Muzavazi will continue to be my favourite Shona poet. And elsewhere, I indicate that “Muzavazi is aware of the infectious force of the Shona verb more keenly than any other Shona poet that I have read to date.”
I thought all about him was books and books!
Maybe the least talked about event of the year (because it eluded the local media) is when David Mungoshi was invited to be guest speaker at a state function on November 12 in Minna, Niger State, Nigeria. The occasion was the third MBA National Literary Colloquium. Writers are rarely invited to officiate at state occasions. This was quite an honour.
I came across four very significant books by Zimbabwean authors in 2013 and I notice that each of them occupies a special place on my mind.
Footprints in The Mists of Time
As the year 2012 drew to an end, I read Spiwe N Mahachi-Harper’s “Footprints in The Mists of Time” from Abba Press in the United Kingdom. What first struck me was the sheer size of the novel.
I quickly made an estimate count and found a whopping 181 008 words. This outruns Wellington Kusena’s novel of 2011; “Dzimbabwedande”, which is the longest Shona novel at 108 264 words. Mahachi-Harper’s novel becomes the longest novel by a Zimbabwean, I declared, and there was no refutation from any authoritative quarter.
Footprints is a 419-broad paged historical novel, tracing about four generations of workers of Malawian origin, beginning with Bhaureni Nyirenda’s journey from Nuhono village in the Nkotakhota District of then Nyasaland in 1899 to settle at Southern Rhodesia’s Patchway Valley Mine in Gatooma District.
You move from Bhaureni to his son Masauso, through to grandson Chakumanda and great grandson, Mavhuto (in the present day) and their wives, children and neighbours who are variably from Northern Rhodesia and Mozambique.
Although I have come to know the author more and more, I have felt that this was the clearest show of sheer immense narrative tenacity and talent in the past year!
Even Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe deputy governor, Kupukile Mlambo, took note of this book and did an illuminating review which was widely read in the media.
The Deputy Governor wrote: “The novel, which is essentially about labour migrations in Southern Africa can be read through multiple lenses. There is an extended debate, often couched in broader economic, political and social terms, on the causes and effects of migration on the receiving and sending countries.”
We Need New Names
Later on, NoViolet Bulawayo’s “We Need New Names” came out to become the most celebrated novel by a Zimbabwean in 2013. I had harboured great expectations because I had known that the first chapter to this novel, “Hitting Budapest” won No Violet Bulawayo the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing when it was presented as a separate short story.
The novel’s central character, Darling, is always looking at foreign territory with eyes of home and glancing back at home through the teary eyes of new experience and beginning to re-read “home”.
The novel took the Zimbabwean literary scene into celebration as it was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. It was also to appear on the Guardian First Book award short-list and eventually won the South African Jenny 2013 Book of the year Award.
The novel does not spare even the pretentious Western world. This is a novel that demands very careful reading and, do not be quick to feel attacked or praised.
To read NoViolet Bulawayo’s new book is to take constant departures and arrivals, inside out and upside down until you lose count because she is constantly very aware of the numerous points of view to the subject of going away from Zimbabwe.
Branching Streams Flow in the Dark
Then there was the biggest surprise of the year — Charles Mungoshi’s “Branching Streams Flow in the Dark”, published by his family.
The prize-winning author of “Coming of The Dry Season”, “Waiting For The Rain” and “Kunyarara Hakusi Kutaura?” who had been “silent” ever since his major single publication, “Walking Still” in 1997, had chosen a special way of returning.
As his wife, the acclaimed actress Jesesi Mungoshi states in the dedicatory note, “it took Charles over 20 years to write this book and he was still perusing through it when he fell into a coma on the 30th of April, 2010”.
During her darkest and loneliest moment, when her baby dies of AIDS and her husband runs out of the house and her mother is virtually unkind, Serina Maseko sees through herself and others, as if she were beyond pain and reproach.
Those not adequately acquainted with Mungoshi literature beyond “Coming of The Dry Season” or “Ndiko Kupindana Kwemazuva” were left wondering if this was really Mungoshi’s pen even when Jesesi Mungoshi told them that she has the whole original script in Charles Mungoshi’s long hand.
Who could have the temerity to write a book and claim that it was written by Charles Mungoshi?
Then before the year 2013 really ended, veteran Shona novelist, Ignatius Mabasa, struck with his offering entitled, “Imbwa Yemunhu”.
Here you come across Musavhaya or Musa in brief. Usually Musa becomes jelly-kneed when he comes across beer and beautiful women.
This time he even wants to grab someone’s wife. She is called Juli.
Juli’s husband is an ordinary lay about and petty trader called Richard who is not fazed by his non-committal ways. Musa is pressed by his own mother and elder brother to marry Hazvi when he does not have any feelings for the girl.
He plays up in order to silence his community which expects him to get married. Juli wishes she had a man like Musa instead of Richard.
But she is stuck with Richard! Hazvi wishes she had not had the misfortune of knowing her father.
Richard wishes he had not fallen into this marriage with Juli because it is an apparent trap.
For me, “Imbwa Yemunhu” is the most experimental offering of the year. It is dream and reality. It flows like a jagged river.
You find here, to your amusement, some real life characters of Zimbabwe like the late Simon Chimbetu, musician Albert Nyathi, writers Shimmer Chinodya and Tsitsi Dangarembga, talking and being talked about.
They are all beautifully engineered that you stop breathing until you come to the very end.
I notice that as I write, the year has not really ended. But if it ends like this, some good books of 2013 will spill into 2014.
I know that there is something cooking at Booklove in Gweru. Emmanuel Sigauke, and your editor, Makadho, can you hear me?