Monday, February 19, 2024

KwaChirere reads Shards by Cynthia Marangwanda

Shards, a novella by Cynthia Marangwanda, published by Carnelian Heart Publishing Ltd, ISBN-13: 9781914287404, Price: US$12.99

 (A book review by Memory Chirere)

Before I came across Cynthia Marangwanda’s novella, Shards, which was first published in 2014 by A LAN Readers Publication in Zimbabwe, and republished in 2023 by Carnelian Heart Publishing Ltd in the UK, I had always associated the Dambudzo Marechera style and approaches with male writers only.

From my very close experience with students of literature in Zimbabwe, the excitement with Marechera is more pronounced in young men than in women.

The female students tend to find Marechera rather outrageous and frightening, too, because of some of his scenes that are full of violence against women characters. The female students feel that Marechera is “too macho” in his writings and that he does not pay much respect to “women’s sensibilities.”

On pointing out that Marechera’s work is, in fact, protesting against the dehumanisation of women, one of these female students felt that “Marechera protests, right, but he still writes about violence against women the way men do.”

However, Cynthia Marangwanda’s writing in Shards carries close and vigorous stylistic and linquistic echoes of Dambudzo Marechera. Marangwanda’s hypnotic and intense writing style, done in a language laden with abstract and acidic imagery, create a mood with very close echoes to Marechera. 

For example, describing the house servant, Marangwanda’s narrator says, “She casts me a slanted glance, the type a cat would throw a mouse asking for directions…” and later, “she throws me an angular look, the type a crocodile would cast a fisherman standing by the river…”

On describing her first meeting with Pan, the narrator says, “Perception rotated on its axis and tilted abnormally to the side. A revolution was abreast…the moment was shattered into scattering shards…The strange young man’s voice was like scissors…”

When the narrator is locked up in the mental facility, after what her family assumes is a mental breakdown, a Marecherean presence joins her: “As if from nowhere a youthful creature came and sat beside me. His hair was a field of short dark spikes jutting out like upturned nails, his build was awkward, as if his body had tried and failed to wrest itself from the clutches of adolescence, and he wore the most elaborate horn-rimmed glasses I’d laid eyes on. The air he exuded was both manic and moody.”

This figure she calls Benzi, as he calls her Mupengo. Together they discuss the poetry of Dylan Thomas and Christopher Okigbo.

When you set aside language and style, the Shards story has a lot of other intrigues. It is a story about a sensitive 23-year-old woman from the medium density suburb, relatively comfortable, cosmopolitan and erudite. She is in the midst of rebelling against the nationalist generation of her parents. She vigorously claims that they are failing to instill order in the community and all around them is a life that is bereft of dignity and integrity.

She calls herself a practicing nihilist. She thinks that “life is a gradual succumbing.” When the novel begins, she is clearly against everything and everybody.

She joins two institutions of higher learning as a student, and drops out because, as she says, she finds “formal education to be a sort of death of information.”

She wears tribal print dresses that sweep the floor. She likes township jazz and reggae tunes.  She is into black consciousness, reading a lot around the ideas of Marcus Garvey. She is also being courted by an elderly Pan Africanist filmmaker.

She has tried to kill herself once through self-poisoning but has stopped trying “because of a fear of failing again.”

She has a friend called Pan, a fine art practitioner who lives alone in a flat rented for him by an elderly woman in Russia in exchange of sexual favours whenever she visits.

The first time that the narrator meets Pan, it is love at first sight that jolts her to her roots. “And so we stood there for what seemed an interminable second staring sharply through each other… A revolution was abreast, and its focal point seemed to be an area of grey matter, a lace of blurred lines. The moment was shattered into shards by the voice of the unusual young man.”

Another exciting side to this novel is how the narrator is overwhelmed and haunted by the spirit of her dead grandmother. You may want to think that this is a version of spirit possession. She sees Grandmother and is immobilised by her. The people around her think that she has mental problems.  

Grandmother first appears to the narrator six years after her burial when the narrator is having her hair plaited by a talkative hairdresser who is going on and on about the men that she stalks. Listening to the woman’s escapades, the narrator appears to fall asleep and that is when she sees “my buried grandmother standing slightly to the side, in front of me.” The narrator is startled, and the hairdresser is silenced, assuming that the narrator has been stung by an insect.

Grandmother appears “with her hair soaring.” and “she was holding out an ochre coloured wrap cloth” which she is asking her granddaughter to receive. When the narrator does not accept this ritual gift, Grandmother becomes very angry and menacing.

Grandmother eventually flies out through the window!

The girl assumes that this may not take place again and that she has been going through a bout of schizophrenia. But grandmother returns three days later, as the narrator is in her bedroom, surfing the internet! This time Grandmother is holding a wounded white lion cub, but the narrator rejects this gift as well.

Grandmother advances towards the frightened girl as “she bared her decayed fangs, and her eyes began to flash in a manner suited to lightning…”

Sometimes, when the girl is intoxicated with alcohol, Grandmother’s visitations increase. Grandmother appears everywhere and more regularly. She wants the girl to accept something, but the girl is adamant. The duel continues and neither the Christian bible nor the psychologist is able to rescue the young woman.

This story is special in the sense that, to my knowledge, it is the first novel from Zimbabwe to explore the experiences of a character who is going through the early days of manifesting shave (alien spirit) or mudzimu (ancestral spirit). This is a process called called kurwadziswa or kusunyiwa nemweya (the early body and spiritual pains) experienced by a medium (homwe) until the shave or mudzimu are ritually accepted and welcomed. At this stage the medium may become sick, mentally and physically until the matter resolved. Marangwanda explores this with a postmodern brush, much like what Marechera does in House of Hunger, capturing how the boy in school hears voices and feels like he is being pursued by invisible strangers. However, in Nehanda, Yvonne Vera explores real spirit possession, the experiences of a fully established mudzimu.

The girl soon teams up with various other radicals. There is her former school mate, Sheba. She is “dazzling. Wondrous. Diabolically beautiful.” Sheba’s parents want her to study Architecture, but Sheba ends up choosing to go to Vienna where she studies Fine Art.

Sheba makes the narrator feel inferior as Sheba is more physically and mentally endowed. She has already tried to commit suicide three times with a razor and dozens of pills. She says she wants to die in order to escape from what she calls “the agony of a fraudulent existence.” Ironically, suitors flock around her, desperately. But she wants to die. She wants to extinguish herself like a candle.

There is also another radical, a sculptor called Shavi. He is “renowned for his grotesquely exquisite sculptures that hint at macabre areas of the subconscious.”  Shavi explains why people of his generation are suicidal: “Alienation is the root of it. A widening remoteness and detachment that refuses to be bridged. One can’t help but fall headlong into the gaping gap…. These are futile times we are living in… I remember the days a handful of us would meet in the park. We were all twenty something, jobless and godless…When one of us surrendered and slit his throat open on a sunny day in full view of our windowless eye, we knew the implosion had begun…”

While they are at it, Pan appears from the gallery where he has been trying to hand in his work. His news is that: “They said my work doesn’t fit the criteria. What f- criteria? They said it is difficult to categorise, it screams too loud…what in Satan’s bloody hell does that mean?” he bellows.

Soon they all feel futile and helpless, and they go away in search of anything exciting and they come across a demonstrating mob that they all happily join, crashing into cars and buildings until they fall flat. Anything that opposes the establishment is good for this generation.

The major message is that; when you are in a society which does not accept the contributions of your talent and skills, then you are doomed to go round and round the face of the earth.

Meanwhile Grandmother pursues the narrator. She has many offerings. She will not relent. How will the narrator knock off this intruder from her mind, or will she start to listen to Grandmother? But how can a rebel listen to an elderly woman from beyond? Is a return to tradition and roots the answer to all this angst?

Shards, vacillates between postmodernism and spirit possession. It races on with no calibrated chapters. We turn and turn in the cauldron like the old fisherman in Hemingway’s Oldman and the Sea.

Shards won the National Arts Merit award in 2015, in the Outstanding First Creative Work category. Cynthia Marangwanda is genuinely talented. She is spontaneous and writes madly. She is a writer and poet from Harare, Zimbabwe, who is passionate about decolonisation and uplifting authentic African spiritual identity. She is a holder of an honours degree in Women's and Gender Studies. Her paternal grandfather, Mr John Marangwanda, is part of the earliest generation of black Zimbabwean writers. The republication of Shards should give this shocking story a new lease of life.

 

 

 

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Andrew Chatora’s Literature award…a background


 

Mainstream media in Zimbabwe has announced that Andrew Chatora, the UK based Zimbabwean author of Diaspora Dreams, has won the 2024 Anthem Awards, Silver category, with his rabble-rousing third novel, Harare Voices and Beyond which was published by the Chicago based Kharis Publishing – an imprint of Kharis Media in February 2023.

Writing on his online X handle (formerly Twitter) a few days ago, Chatora said, “(I am )thrilled to share the news that my debut short story collection Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories is published today, which incidentally is my birthday. I am equally excited to finally reveal I am an award winning author courtesy of my third book: Harare Voices and Beyond which has recently been awarded The 2024 Anthem Silver Award on Tuesday’s cocktail ceremony in New York Thank you to all those who read me and my esteemed Publisher: @KharisPublish.”

This hat trick is just deep and will surely shine a bright light on Zimbabwean Literature and particularly the city of Mutare, where Andrew Chatora grew up. Currently he writes from his base in Bicester, England, where he teaches English and Media Studies.

The winner in this category is for “any published book or other written work that aims to document or raise awareness for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. This can include fiction and non-fiction literature, history books, children's story books, essays, op-eds, and more.”

In Chatora’s winning novel, a white Zimbabwean family; The Williams loses land in the Zimbabwe land reform and they are thrown into chaos and move from being previously well heeled and privileged white Rhodesians to being mere scarecrows, who are sometimes pitied by their former black employees. They have to go to downtown Harare and sometimes grovel to black people more like what you see in Nadine Gordimer’s July’s People. In Chatora’s novel, the empire is somehow deconstructed. The story is based on Robert Mugabe’s  post-independence Zimbabwe, exploring without restraint, a multitude of topics including family feuds, money, identity, love, substance abuse, mental health, and politic, among others.

This is a shocking glimpse into the lives of white Zimbabweans and their struggles in a country that is built on the corruption, part of which they entrenched before losing power by 1980. We see the ripple effect of the land reform affecting Julian, a young white Zimbabwean man who loses his father, wife and children. Harare Voices and Beyond tells the stories of the predator, the prey and everyone else in-between.

This is, to my knowledge, the first fully fledged novel by a black Zimbabwean writer to look at the setbacks suffered by white folk during the Zimbabwe land reform. Andrew Chatora searches delicately for the place and scope of the white community in post independent Zimbabwe.  Being a pathfinder of sorts, many may find this novel either unsettling or satisfying, or both.

Many critical questions shall be asked, however. How do you write white people effectively when you are a black writer from Zimbabwe? Would that tantamount to speaking on behalf of the enemy? Would you be able to show that their loss is as a result of complex events within and beyond Zimbabwe? The author’s real test was in tactically navigating this very contentious terrain.

However, Chatora speaks clearly about this matter in his acceptance speech: ‘‘Much as I’ve been denigrated in some quarters as taking the side of whites, nothing could be further from the truth. It’s not about taking sides really.”

With my novel, Harare Voices and Beyond, I was attempting to fill in the missing link, the constant question on how it could have felt on the other side, the landed white community during the land reform,”

So much had happened to white people during the land reform. Now, this should not be conflated with I am anti-land reform as charged by some of my detractors. But, to reiterate, that is the essence of the writer. I will always defend my right to write without fear or favour on any contentious issues affecting our society.’’

In his debut novel of 2021 called Diaspora Dreams, which was a national Arts Award nominees in Zimbabwe, the main character, Kundai Mafirakureva, is following up on his teacher wife in England, Kay. Her pregnancy is now very advanced and Kundai has come to be with the beautiful Kay in her time of need, something far away from Chikwava’s man in Harare North.  Kundai does not know that he has in fact come to ‘school’ to learn about what women can do, sometimes, to their unsuspecting men when the survival instinct rises above love ties. When you are used to the many books that dwell on how men typically abuse women, then this book is something else, in terms of how it treats the losing black male psyche.

In his second novel, Where the Heart Is, Chatora comes out as one of the very few novelists from Zimbabwe to fully imagine the joys and hazards of a physical return home from the diaspora. A man moves from Zimbabwe to the UK, returns to Zimbabwe but finding it necessary to return to the UK, as the centre can no longer hold for him. It is a charmed book about going to and fro. Its place in African literature is lofty.

In his fourth work, which is a collection of short stories called  Inside Harare Alcatraz and other short stories Chatora temporarily quits the novel to give us this charmed confluence of the novella, the short story, the vignette, and the poetic essay.  A collection of shorter forms usually allows the artist to tell his story in tit bits and with more varied urgency than what a novel allows.

Amongst some of the leading celebrities honoured in this year’s 3rd Annual Anthem Awards in New York were notable luminaries such as Hollywood actors Matt Damon, and Kevin Bacon. Other conspicuous recipients of the Special Lifetime Achievement includes Misty Copeland, Aurora James and Leon Ford inter-alia. These are people who have distinguished themselves in different spheres of life and thus honoured for their diverse roles and contribution in the field of Arts and popular culture and it is this group that Zimbabwean, Andrew Chatora joins!

Author Biography

Andrew Chatora writes novels, short stories, literary essays and hails from Zimbabwe. His writing explores multifarious themes of belonging, identity politics, blackness, migration, multi-cultural relationships, citizenship and nationhood. He lives with his wife Priveledge and their two children in Bicester, England where he teaches English and Media Studies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Tariro Ndoro reviews Andrew Chatora's short story book


 

Navigating Zimbabwe and her Diaspora: Through the Years

Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories Reviewed by Tariro Ndoro

 

When it reaches the bookshops in your neighbourhood soon in the first half of 2024 you may see that  Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories offers a fine assembly of different tones, voices, and settings, giving a view of a Zimbabwe and her Diaspora that is multifaceted writes Tariro Ndoro.

 

Zimbabwe’s socio-political landscape and the acutely complex circumstances of the Zimbabwe diaspora informs the eleven stories that form Andrew Chatora’s fourth book and debut short story collection, Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories. Told from the viewpoints of several narrators living in diverse locales, Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories touches on the themes of turmoil, tenacity, broken society and sometimes sheer desperation.

When it reaches the bookshops in your neighbourhood soon in the first half of 2024 you may see that Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories offers a fine assembly of different tones, voices, and settings, giving a view of a Zimbabwe and her Diaspora that is multifaceted writes Tariro Ndoro.

The collection opens with the scene of a man being thrown “kicking and screaming” into a Harare jail cell in the title story, “Inside Harare Alcatraz” which takes place in Harare’s maximum-security prison. The prison is nicknamed ‘Alcatraz’ after the now defunct impenetrable and infamous Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary Prison off the coast of San Francisco. In this story, Chatora weaves the tale of an unnamed man who is assigned to go to this prison and pretend to be a prisoner in the same cell as two “infamous” political prisoners, highlighting the harsh and politically abused environs of Zimbabwe’s correctional services. In this story, Chipendani the protagonist must make difficult and surprising choices that will change the shape of his life forever.

However, the bulk of the book is set in Dangamvura, a township in Mutare, Zimbabwe’s third largest city. Although Chatora has affectionately mentioned both Dangamvura and the greater Mutare in his first two books, it is in Inside Harare Alcatraz that he fully pays homage to his hometown. 

“Estelle the Shebeen Queen and Other Dangamvura Vignettes,” for instance, is the  story of a Dangamvura  shebeen queen who runs a not so covert brothel in which she employs her own daughters:

I was privileged enough to be neighbours with Estelle and only lived two doors away from her. Estelle was an unmarried woman in her late fifties with a brood of daughters, who mostly were single mothers crowding at her famed 4 roomed house; kwaMagumete as it was called; though it beats me how they were able to live comfortably under such squalid conditions of overcrowding, constantly stepping on each other’s toes. The irony growing up in my hood, Estelle’s house was termed four roomed house but in reality, they were two bedroomed houses itself an indictment of the colonial regime which never seem to take into account the big number of African families and how they could benefit from corresponding adequate housing.

Chatora fully describes the underbelly of township life as he details Estelle’s and her daughters’  methods of ensnaring hapless patrons and then mortgaging their debts to the hilt. These women are villains but, like in Yasher Kemal’s Memed My Hawk, the villain can as well be a plausible hero. Estelle and her daughters must be hitting back at society that has always disposed women.

In one other story in this book, one family, the Chatikobos, barely survives. Later on, Chatora delineates the foibles of the newly rich black middle class in “Of Sekuru Kongiri and Us” as one man sacrifices his cultural upbringing at the altar of upward mobility. His wife is a louder expression of what Kongiri is able to hide about himself. After the sinister matter-of fact tone displayed in “Estelle the Shebeen Queen,”Of Sekuru Kongiri and Us,” one has already experienced a more playful side of both Dangamvura and the author.

Chatora then uses the template of court hearings and legal procedure to illustrate gender politics and the violence that often surrounds sex. Two such stories are “A Snap Decision” and “Tales of Survival: Avenues and Epworth.” The former takes place in the United Kingdom, in which a woman; Pamhidzai has been accused of killing her mother’s lover. The story is, in many ways, reminiscent of Jag Mundhra’s 2006 film, Provoked, which tells the story of a young Indian woman who migrates to the United Kingdom for an arranged marriage and yet she only face years of abuse at the hands of her husband. Seeing no other way out for herself, she snaps and burns him alive. Chatora has a knack for steeping his stories in legal complications. You may want to coin a term legal-literature around Chatora’s works.

In “A Snap Decision,” the protagonist, Pamhidzai, endures abuse at the hands of a revolving door of men who date her mother. In the end, she stabs the last one to death. Pamhidzai’s story also highlights the effect of emigration on African families, a theme Chatora often visits in his other books:

 

It was moments like these when I felt myself spiralling into a dark pit of despair, I was unable to extricate myself from or to claw myself out of. Why did I have to belong to such a dysfunctional family as ours? I hated mummy more and blamed her for driving dad away in the first place.

 

 “Tales of Survival: Avenues and Epworth,” on the other hand, describes the life stories of several sex workers living in one of Harare’s diciest ghettoes – Epworth. Herein Chatora highlights the social and economic ills that force young women to take to sex work when they are robbed of other choices. But the most important thing is that several key people try to put a stop to all this. Whether this is achieved or not, is for the reader to decide.

Andrew Chatora’s Short stories remind me of what Elizabeth Bowen’s words that the short story, more than the novel, is able to place man alone on that "stage which, inwardly, every man is conscious of occupying alone."

 Chatora’s other books, Diaspora Dreams,  Where the Heart Is, and Harare Voices and Beyond are set in Thames Valley, England with several scenes set in Zimbabwe. The three  books have the story of one family told in long form fiction over a long period of time. Not so with Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories. In this instalment, Chatora uses more characters to inhabit more locales and the greater part of the book is set in his native Zimbabwe. From the jail cells of Chikurubi to the leafy suburbs of Harare, Chatora methodically reveals the desperate lives of the base.

Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories is available through https://kharispublishing.com and major online retail sites such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Christianbooks.com, Walmart, etc., or by contacting the author at: ajchatora@gmail.com Order your copy today!

 

Reviewer Biography

Tariro Ndoro is a Zimbabwean poet and storyteller. Born in Harare but raised in a smattering of small towns, Tariro holds a BSc in Microbiology and an MA in Creative Writing.

 

Her work has been published in numerous international journals and anthologies including 20.35 Africa: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry (Brittle Paper, 2018), KotazNew ContrastOxford Poetry, and Puerto del Sol. Her poetry has been shortlisted for the 2018 Babishai Niwe Poetry Prize and awarded second place for the 2017 DALRO Prize. Agringada is her debut collection.

 

 

Friday, December 29, 2023

KwaChirere previews Andrew Chatora's debut short stories


 

Inside Harare Alcatraz and other short stories

Author: Andrew Chatora

Publisher: Kharis Publishing

ISBN-13: 978-1-63746-234-8

Date of publication: 2024

I am privileged to reveal that this February 2024, Andrew Chatora, the UK based Zimbabwean novelist, is set to release his debut short story collection called Inside Harare Alcatraz and other short stories.

The author of Diaspora Dreams has temporarily quit the novel to give us this charmed confluence of the novella, the short story, the vignette, and the poetic essay.  

A collection of shorter forms usually allows the artist to tell his story in tit bits and with more varied urgency than what a novel allows.

This book of eleven pieces, is made up of briefly fleeting and powerful scenes. In his best moments, Chatora shows us the kaleidoscopic experiences of what it means growing up in Zimbabwe’s Dangamvura, Mutare, which breathes like Leopold Senghor’s Harlem.

One should not miss the exciting series of short pieces under the title Estelle, the Shebeen Queen and other Dangamvura vignettes because Estelle rules here. She arranges and re-arranges everyone in Dangamvura, without having to leave her seat! She can toss over the so-called man’s world the way a gambler tosses a coin.

Upside down. Inside out.

Much early in the story, we are told that; “Estelle was a woman in her late fifties with a brood of daughters, mostly single mothers, who crowded her infamous four-roomed house – kwaMagumete as it was affectionately called...”

It is early days into Zimbabwe’s independence and most mavericks necessarily have to belong to the ended war, the party, the suburb, the market, the shebeen and to… Estelle!

Dangamvura Township is a catalogue of characters. There is, for example, the police officer, Wabenzi who deliberately encourages gruesome tales about himself to float around, trying to cultivate a legendary folklore status in order to cow the community into submission. A cult hero in a city in a nation that is emerging from a gruesome war of liberation.

Then there is a respectable church man, Baba Makuwaza, who is dragged from Estelle’s shebeen half-naked, with his torn boxers on display, as Estelle hurles invectives to both hapless Makuwaza and his wife.

Do not miss the other story, Tales of Survival, which is set in Harare’s Epworth. Each woman’s narrative in that series carries the day with pathos, contradictions and humour. That way, the vignettes bring to life the plight of low-class Harare women and how they gradually find ways of grabbing at least little victories from their miseries.

They are struggling to struggle! And they struggle on.

Of Sekuru Kongiri and Us is a touching story. For me, it could be the best story in this whole collection. It is potentially a prize-winning short story! It takes the reader through various emotions.

The most delicate part of the story goes: “It’s important that I make it clear he was not always Sekuru Kongiri. First, he was Uncle Alfred…the once generous man increasingly became so tight-fisted and miserly with money, only to his side of the family of course, that Dr. Watson nicknamed him, “as tight fisted as concrete…” and so Sekuru Kongiri he became up to this day.”

The story has a unique pace and amazing African cultural depth too. This tragic-comic story will not fail those interested in the vicissitudes of African culture.

The other story to look out for is Smoke and Mirrors. It is set in the UK. At Wendover Heights care home where Zimbabwean man, Onai, works, looking after vulnerable adults, he meets Iffy, a Nigerian woman, and as workmates from Africa, they bond easily.

But, one day, Iffy brings an exciting business plan to Onai: “I know about your wife and family, I’m not an idiot. It’s not a real marriage I’m talking of here, Onai. You have dual Zimbabwean-British citizenship, don’t you? Right. So that’s perfect for us; we would pay you whatever amount you want to falsely get married to someone from any of the African countries we deal with. It will be a sham marriage. The idea is to get them into the country, allow them to settle into their own life; they get a job, acclimatize to their mundane lives here, after which you file for divorce. Or sometimes, it may be someone already in the country, and they don’t have legal status. Dead easy, Onai; all parties win. She gets her papers; you get your money. It’s a win-win for everyone. Easy peasy.’’

In the end, one of them gets into agony for all this! This story stinks! You may need a towel as you read it.

Fari’s Last Smile is a story that reads like something from the pages of Thomas Hardy’s The Distracted Preacher and other Tales. A man keeps on falling, but rising each time that he falls… in order to fall again. But each time that he falls, he does it in a more novel way than before. He is even conned by people back home in Zimbabwe. They tell him that they are using the money he is sending them to build a house. The story teaches through tears.

In the title story itself, which is an intriguing mixture of fact and fiction, there are the heart-rending experiences of political prisoners, ironically in independent and contemporary Zimbabwe. You stagger as you watch how those with power in Africa scuttle the chess board, forcing us to doubt African beauty, African pride and African wisdom. But the so-called terrible man actually confesses in that story. He is the story. He is the only hope we have. You want to kiss that story in the end. A terrible beauty is born.

But Andrew Chatora is relentless. He crosses the English Channel and marches into the African diaspora community of England and gives us a snap survey of racism which sits at the very core of contemporary England’s psyche. In one of the stories, which is actually an essay short story, child narrator, Anesu, bemoans the exigency of systemic and institutionalised racism. He is a first-generation Zimbabwean-British immigrant who confronts a system his parents submissively put up with.

Sometimes you want to puke because the land which purports to be the quintessence of Democracy is itself rotten at the very core and is full of "white savages!"

In the story A Snap Decision a girl, Pamhidzai, has to contend with the question: “Why did you stab your mother’s lover?” What follows is a mixture of the past and present and Andrew Chatora is back to his quintessential theme of the struggles between men and women in marriage especially at the instigation of a foreign environment.

Then there is a story in which you are sitting with your daughter in England and the fool innocently asks you, from nowhere: “Why don’t you use Shona names, since you are from Zimbabwe, and you are always banging on about preserving one's cultural heritage and identity?”

Then in explaining to her who you are, you take one winding road that unravels Britain’s long but pitiful relationship with the migrant. For this story, dear reader, you will have to put on your spectacles!

I say that because here is a subliminal, meandering but enlightening treatise on race, class, gender and identity politics in the diaspora. You are caught up in the rough and tumble of Britain’s diverse cityscapes, names, ethnicity and place of abode. One has to deploy them tactfully in the politics of survival.

There is a somewhat sombre tone in First Wave, a story where a Zimbabwean nurse; Shumirai, working in the British national health service; takes a poignant tour de force of how she and her fellow colleagues fought and conquered a global pandemic which wreaked havoc on lives in its early days.

 

In equal measure, in a moving tribute, Shumirai mourns and lauds the passing of her work colleagues, patients and family as she grapples with the government’s mishandling of the crisis.

Andrew Chatora charts new territory by offering dual perspectives from different black narrators’ lived experiences in both the former colony; Zimbabwe and its colonial master Britain; in a new normal shift, i.e. post-independence reverse migration cycle of citizens to the former colony.

Author Biography:

Andrew Chatora is a noted exponent of the African diaspora novel. Candid, relentlessly engaging and vulnerable, his novels are a polarising affair among social critics and literary aficionados. Chatora’s forthcoming novel, Born Here, But Not in My Name, is a long-run treatment of race relations in Britain, featuring the English classroom as a microcosm of wider society post-Brexit. His debut novella, Diaspora Dreams (2021), was the well-received nominee of the National Arts Merit Awards in Zimbabwe, while his subsequent works, Where the Heart IsHarare Voices and Beyond and Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Stories, has cemented his contribution as a voice of the excluded. Harare Voices and Beyond has recently been nominated for The Anthem Awards (2023).

+ Previewed by Memory Chirere, University of Zimbabwe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Fidelis Bushu offers first review of Shamhu yeZera Renyu

(pic: Fidelis Bushu and Memory Chirere as young men in Bindura, 1995.)

A book Review by Fidelis Bushu
Title of Book: Shamhu yeZera Renyu
Author:  Memory Chirere
Publisher: Carnelian Heart Publishing, UK, 2023
issbn: 178-1-914287-11-4

 

Memory Chirere’s latest book of Shona poems, Shamhu YeZera Renyu, gives me a range of personal memories of him as man and poet whom I first met in his formative years.
 
I am happy that Memory Chirere has continued to grow in stature as a writer and poet ever since. Now I often see him ranked among the writers of our country, Zimbabwe. I usually smile at that as I try to deal with my memories. I am excited that many can now see what I already saw back then. I must state that this may not be a conventional book review. It is just a testimony instigated by Chirere’s latest book.
 
 
Memory Chirere was my work mate for a good number of years. Later, we both learnt that he is my uncle and I, his nephew, because we the Bushus are related to the Nzou Samanyanga people of Dotito.
 
I first met Memory Chirere who was coming in as the new teacher of Literature in English in a school where I had already been teaching English for a couple of years. He was being transferred from a school in Madziwa so that he could help resuscitate the teaching of English at A level at Chipindura. I first saw him when he was offloading his belongings from a truck onto the green grasses of Chipindura High School in Bindura. We were to share a house in the school. After we had carried his suitcases and the many-many books inside, he came out of the house to sit with me on the doorsteps to watch my luxuriant little patch of maize crop. Then he had a lean and hungry look. You could say he appeared underfed but athletic. He has always been a warm and hesitant personality with a penchant for quiet introspection. Of course, he also had that philosophic gaze into space common with teachers of Literature.
 
In 1995, Tipeiwo Dariro, which carries his first batch of poems, had just been published and it had already become a school text at Ordinary level in Zim. I recall many students coming over to the staffroom to see the poet and immediately walk away in disbelief. Meeting the writer of a book that you are studying may actually be quite jolting. Chirere gave our students at Chipindura High an opportunity to see that books could also be written by people they knew.

Chirere blended well in the school environment, regardless. He did not hold very strong views about anything. However, once he understood a matter, he tended to put it across in a much simpler way than many of us could, gradually, inflicting no pain on anyone! He has always been ‘avuncular’ and we laughed a lot together with him about that word. Chirere loves to break down difficult concepts into everyday language. This has continued to be his trademark as seen through some of his poems and short stories. In his first poem in Shamhu Yezera Renyu, he writes:

“Ndave kutya
nekuti handisati ndanyora
bhuku revanhu.
 
kana ndazoripedza 
vanhu vanofanira kuona kuti
ndivo vakarinyora.
 
vanhu vanonyora bhuku ravo
nemipinyi nemapadza nemajeko nemitswi
nemisodzi nedzihwa nedikita...”
 
 
Chirere has always been attracted to the subject of childhood in his writings. An early poem to this anthology is rightfully entitled ‘Ndaimhanya’ (I would run). It talks about how we are in constant haste during childhood and that we all have an extraterrestrial fuel which pushes us throughout life:

“Ndaiti ndikatumwa upfu kumhiri uko
ndaimhanya.
Kana ndave kubva kumhiri ikoko neupfu
ndaimhanya.
Ndaipa vakuru upfu ndoenda kundotamba
ndichimhanya.
Ikoko ndaiwana vamwe vachimhanya
Ini ndomhanyawo navo.
Taimhanya tose dakara zuva rasvika pakunyura
ndozomhanyira kumba.
Ndaimhanya.
ini ndaimhanya.”

In his short stories in his, Tudikidiki, a boy makes it a habit to watch the goings on in the neighbourhood and street. I recall that Chirere fell in love particularly with Kashangura Road in Bindura’s Chipadze Township. He adopted that road, and it recurs in his two short story books, Tudikidiki and Somewhere in this Country.

Kashangura is the first road that you enter when you come to Chipadze from Chipindura High (from the western side.) We often ambled along Kashangura with Chirere and the other teachers; Mr Walter Hondo, Mr Robert Masunga and Mr Tavengwa Tore, talking about nothing in particular. One day Chirere simply said, “This is my Miguel Street.” I understood him because I had read how all those short stories of VS Naipaul went round and round Miguel Street. Although each story in Miguel Street is individualized, the setting is the imaginary Miguel Street in Port of Spain.

Chirere liked to watch the men of Kashangura drinking from the tiny verandas, with their eyes always towards the road. He marvelled at the women plaiting one another’s hair with the calmness of artists. He liked to see the children playing games right on the narrow tarmac, their plastic balls rolling between our feet as we walked by. Up to this day Chirere tells me about his going back to Bindura, again and again, to taste the atmosphere of Kashangura. I feel it in his last poem:

“Dai
Ndikakuwana
uchipo.
Dai
Ndikakuwana
sezvatinoita howa.
Ndigokudzura.
Ndichizunza mavhu.
Ndichikudzura.
Usingatyoke.
Ndichikudzura usingacheme.
Masvosve akatarisa.
Ndigokuradzika mutswanda
usingashevedzere.”

Chirere tells me that Chipadze brings to him echoes of Aime Cesaire’s long poem, Notebook of a Return to My Native Land, a book that Chirere reveres to this day. That long poem tells the story of one young man's excited return to his home in Martinique, after being away in France. The speaker of the poem is on a journey to confront history, the negatives and the positives, but he is not sure how to begin. I find the same vibe in Chirere’s longer poems, especially in ‘Detembo risina musoro’ (the worthless poem). In that piece a man gazes at his many shoes (old and new) on the shoe rack at night and is overwhelmed by the many futile journeys he has made on this earth, in search of meaning:

“Shangu dzangu zhinji dzakaita rundaza madekwana ano
muimba yokurara dzinondipa kufunga nzendo dzangu dzose
dzandakafamba. Kuita seshangu dzevanhu vandisingazive idzo
dziri dzangu! Ndinozvisunya ndichidana zita rangu repanyika.
Ndinoona sendisingadzoke kwandinodanwa nguva dzose. Mazvinzwa.
Saka iwe pikisa tikakavadzane ndizive handisi ndega. Uneni here?
Ndiri ndofa nhasi, ungatoreurura kuti wanga uneni here nhasi uno
muupenyu huno? Ungatonderawo bvuri rangu mauro kumadziro emba ndichidya nekuzavaza? Ungatonderawo kukapaza kwemawoko angu?
Dzimwe nguva ndinotarisa vana vangu ndoti ndevangu pakudii?
Ndevenyika! Kana naivo vana vandinoticha vanobvepi gore negore?
 Ndevenyika! Zvinonzi ndingatiche chii kuvanhu vane njere kare kudai?
 Ndiwoka madzimudzangara anonzi hupenyu hwangu. Mavhiri emota
akaturikidzaniswa seri kwezimba risingagare vanhu. Asi pane kanzira
ketsoka kanobva kugedhi kachiuya kumusuwo wezimba risina pendi…”

The speaker in that poem could be losing his mind gradually. The more the speaker flies into his own mind, the more he becomes enamored into existence. The poem alternates between hope and despair. You also find the same effects in ‘Kungoenda’ which leaves you wondering if the narrator has travelled abroad or has actually committed suicide. Just as you find in his earlier award-winning anthology, Bhuku Risina Basa Nokuti Rakanyorwa Masikati, Chirere blurs the edges and just when you think you have got him, you lose him!

In real life Chirere gazes at an object and appears to fall asleep in the beauty of his thoughts and when he wakes up you see it in his eyes that he had travelled. In his writings, his characters try to deal with the origins of their plight, their own insecurities, their own self-hate, and this quest allows their voices to inspire others to transcend their passive and horizontal identities.

I am not surprised that Robert Masunga, one of Chirere’s long time associates, says on the blurb that this book is based on journeying, physical and metaphorical. In one poem, a man is on the bus and on seeing the bloodshot eyes of the driver; he starts to wonder if this one too is not his long-lost son he may have accidentally sired during his many adventures across the world.

Or the other poem about a man journeying on a bus from Harare to Mt Darwin and meeting people who appear to be shamans. You sit next to a woman and all the way; she is busy on her phone, and she does not see you during the whole trip from Harare to Glandale. When she alights at Glandale, in order to proceed to Chiweshe, you gawk at her until she goes beyond the bend, still speaking into her phone!

She disappears from your sight with your soul. In her place sits a new passenger, who is carrying roosters in a basket and, as he alights at Kasimbwi, you follow him to say, you have left your roosters and people in the bus do not realise that you are now under the influence of something akin to Cyprian Ekwensi’s sokugo, or the wondering charm, that afflicts Mai Sunsaye in Burning Grass. The sokugo causes men to wander off, deserting their families and leaving behind their previous lives. Men suffering from Sokugo are also unable to settle in a place for a few days.

In Chirere’s poem in question, the narrator has to be exorcized by somebody at the next bus stop at Mushowani through wild and barbaric caning:

“Vamwe baba vazoti tinodzika tose ndikubatsire paMushowani
Murume mutema ane sutu nhema tai nhema bhutsu nhema…
Tadzika paMushowani.
Abvisa bhande ndokuti:
Mushonga wacho ndokukiya zvekuti dhu kuti huku idzi dzisiyane newe.
Zvanga zvisingasekese…
Akumura bhande paye ndokundikwapaidza
Ndokundirurusha
Ndokundishwatura
Ndokundichudika
achiti, mhanya, mhanya, mhanya usiye huku…
Ndatanga kumhanya ndichitevera mugwagwa weDharuweni
Ndokunzwa kuti jongwe nesheshe zvasiyana neni.
Ndamhanya kwenguva nekuti panga pasingamirike.
Izvozvi ndiri kunyora detembo rino pamusika paDharuweni…”

The Korekore country and its mysteries come alive in some of these poems. Chirere himself is an ardent follower of mbira music and African thought. He would play song after song of mbira on his radio, and the dancing feet of him and his friends would punctuate the night. We let him be.

It was through him that I came across many who were to become important in the literature of Zimbabwe when they came to visit or to take him to writers' workshop beyond Bindura. These are the likes of Ignatius Mabasa, Ruzvidzo Mupfudza, Emmanuel Sigauke, Shingai Ndoro, Alson Mufiri, Dudziro Nhengu, Munashe Furusa, Irene Staunton and others.

I wonder what other readers will say about poem, "Maraya naMareta," (Mary and and Martha). Is it about friendship or romantic love or the combination of the two? Was Chirere thinking about the struggle between appearance and reality? I have read the poem Vana vandakaticha (the children who were in my class) with a lot of interest, having taught the same children with Chirere. That poem begins:

“Aita mawara okuisa ruoko muhomwe mangu
Achibva aburitsa dhora ndisina kumupa…”

I am suggesting, in line with what Ignatius Mabasa says in his beautiful introduction to this book, that we have to acknowledge that through this book, Memory Chirere has joined the elite poets of   Zimbabwe through the sheer depth of his artistic and thematic engagement. To Memory Chirere, I say with a muzukuru’s license: Nayo nayo, shamhu yenyu, a'sekuru!
 
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