Title: Coming Home
Author:Olley Tsino Maruma
Publication dates: 2007 and 2008
Publisher: Gonamombe Press, Harare
(Book Review by Memory Chirere)
Olley Tsino Maruma wears many hats; a journalist, a legal person, a filmmaker, a socio - political commentator of note and now, a novelist. His debut novel, Coming Home is bound to take him a step higher and broaden his circle of admirers.
Coming Home is about the return of one Simon Nyamadzawo to Zimbabwe Rhodesia after an eight-year exile in the United Kingdom. It is set during the last few months before the attainment of Zimbabwe’s independence.
Maruma has chosen a subject and circumstances that he understands very well because he went through more or less the same experiences as his major character.
The ‘return of the native’ is a subject that has fascinated writers for generations because the returnee is a man or woman who looks at home from the point of past-present, doing a mental and emotional audit. He sees what those who have always been here can never see. Sometimes, as in Chekhov, he asks for people who are long buried at the local cemetery.
The very dramatic few months before Zimbabwe’s independence have tended, ironically, to occupy a blind spot in literature. Coming Home is very unique and useful. It captures the troubled mood of Zimbabwe Rhodesia that emanates from the uncertainties of the internal settlement, the breath taking Lancaster talks and the subsequent ceasefire.
Simon comes back to a shell-shocked Salisbury, where one thinks twice before making a single step or statement. The beer flows easily but beneath every gulp lurks the unknown. There is a huge calm before the storm and the newcomer is torn between defiance and submission.
There is the distant dissatisfaction emanating from coming back home to pursue individual agendas when the forces that one fled in the first place are still holding forte. This is not the return of a hero. But Simon is well redeemed because at least his nationalist - leftist sentiments are on the side of History. For instance his open clash with a hard core Rhodesian journalist, in front of timid black journalists, places him on a higher pedestal in the bars. He represents the new breed of black men; cosmopolitan, well read, articulate and ‘cheeky’.
Simon boasts of a good understanding of the lopsided relations between the North and the South and already he anticipates the new neo colonial struggle that will come through attempting to open a minority economy to the povo.
The easy availability of beer and the occasional white female international journalist who throws herself at his feet leaves him wondering whether he is moving forward or backwards.
Maruma employs a laid back narrative, not hurrying to prescribe or taking obvious sides. In many ways this is a filmaker’s novel. The narrator has the eagle’s eye, seeing without being seen. Here as in Sembene Ousmane’s The Last Of The Empire, you are being invited to think along, rest, and make a cup of tea before you can quarrel or agree.
But has the character come back home, you ask. Well, there are suggestions in this book that coming back home is complex. Nobody really comes back to the same home after long exile.The last days of Zimbabwe Rhodesia provoke a sense of shock whose waves cause questions that demand hard answers. This novel is a good alternative to the usually tortuous biography.
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