Monday, June 18, 2012
Zimbabwean gunner and helicopter technician writes fiction on the Congo war
Title: A Fine Madness
Author: Mashingaidze Gomo
Publisher: Ayebia Ckarke Publishing Limited, UK
(a review by Memory Chirere)
When an excited friend brought to me the manuscript of Mashingaidze Gomo’s A Fine Madness, at first I thought that there was something unfinished (and spooky too) about it as the jagged lines ran and ran seemingly incongruous. But I began to sense that the script was deceptive and I could have been fooled into dropping it. I started reading it in the middle of the night and I was alone and I never went to sleep afterwards. I felt that the room was peopled by all the heroes and traitors we read about in African History.
I remembered all the moments when a work of literary art had slowly dragged me to its depths in a similar way. Firts it was with Brathwaite’s The Arrivants. The second time was with Cesaire’s A Notebook of the Return to My Native Land. The third was with Armah’s Two Thousand Seasons. You pick a book, saying to yourself, ‘What do we have here?’ Then – gone!
The act of reading becomes a long and wide dream in which you are taken through the paths of human joy and agony, ending in a whirlpool of emotions. You want to curse. You want to laugh. You want to revenge. You want to walk about the room. You want to go away and be mad. You want to forgive and be forgiven.
Immediately after, I asked to see the author because I had been told that he was a gunner with the Airforce of Zimbabwe. I wanted to see him in order to ascertain that he had indeed written A Fine Madness. Then what I met was a soft spoken gentleman! It was really an anticlimax! Later, I concluded that Mashingaidze Gomo is an interesting case because he doubles up as a man of action and a philosopher. He lives at the cutting edge of history but he is able, meanwhile, to reflect on the African condition, piece by piece.
Then I gave the script to a colleague, a professor of Zimbabwean literature. He threw the script among his old papers saying, ‘We will see.’ He was used to many pretenders over the years that showed him things that they called stories. Things that ended up eating up one’s time for nothing. Then one day the professor came to me in the morning with red eyes and said, ‘I didn’t sleep, last night.’ It was because he had made the mistake of reading the first few pages of A Fine Madness. He was not able to stop!
We were both agreed that this script should be published because A Fine Madness is a charmed, mad and maddening prose poetry in which an armed man snoops into Africa’s history of deprivation and strife to do the painful arithmetic. Meanwhile, the Congo civil war of the late 1990’s rages on like a monstrous fire, eating and allowing brother and sister to get eaten by the syphilis of the West’s relentless desire to plunder. At the centre of this story is the anger and the question why the West is always at the centre of African conflicts, siding with one side and arming it against the other, as in the 1998 civil war in the Congo.
The narrator who is out at Boende in Congo sometimes reflects on his relationship with Tinyarei, an African beauty back home in Zimbabwe:
"The woman I am missing now is a beautiful woman
An older woman aged in beauty
A beauty that hangs on even as age takes its toll
Lingering on like a summer sunset… reluctant to go
A beauty digging in…making a last stand around the
eyes where her smile is disarming.
I missed Tinyarei with a wretchedness that was like
A very fine and enjoyable madness
And it always feels pleasant to miss a woman
Sometimes it is even better to miss than to be with her
And at Boende, it felt nice to miss Tinyarei..."
But, as you read on, you notice that Tinyarei is a lover, a mother, a trophy to be won and sometimes she stands for mother Africa herself.
Sometimes the narrator watches the Congolese men, women and children dance to Ndombolo and wonders why poverty sucks and stinks and erodes self confidence. The Congo war which pitied brother against brother and neighbor against neighbor, gives Mashingaidze Gomo opportunity to listen to human voices and messages from the Congolese flora and fauna and come up with multifaceted pan African philosophies. He also wonders why we often give in easily, why we think less about our dignity, why we are turned against the real substance and asked to take in abstract values, why we don’t wonder why we are considered ‘the whiteman’s younger brother’… and why… and why?
I agree with Ngugi Wathiongo when he says (in the preface) that this prose poetry book is not only about ‘the horror and loneliness of war; but also the beauty of resistance’ and that Mashingaidze ‘can yoke the most contradictory into a searing insight.’ And yet I do not agree with Ngugi that the emergence of postcolonial dictatorships and their actual relationship to the Western corporate bourgeoisie’ can always be explained better by always taking a class perspective. This book’s forte surely transcends explaining the emergence of postcolonial dictatorship in Africa. A Fine Madness dwells on the varied patterns of the relationship between the North and the South from before colonialism to date.
(the author: Mashingaidze Gomo)