Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Rodney T Munemo reads Shamhu YeZera Renyu

                                                       ( Rodney T Munemo)

A day after I finished reading Memory Chirere’s latest collection of poems, Shamu YeZera Renyu, the book won a National Arts Merit Award, as best book of poems by a Zimbabwean in 2023! Amazing.

I find Memory Chirere’s poems in Shamhu YeZera Renyu to be therapeutic to the mind, with one poem particularly dwelling on the poetic charm of a child who is running after a bird in the sky while he is on the ground, in the morning, soon after; he is running to complete a chore, and after that, running to play with other children in a running game away from home, before running back home at the end of the day. Running…

These poems help one to navigate through the diverse, intractable, heinous and vociferous forces of one’s life in Zimbabwe and Africa; being born, growing up and eventually dying.

I think that Chirere is a Shadrach + Meshach, and “A bad Nigga”/ Abednego type of an author. This is because he refuses to comply or submit to the whims of pain and he has also long discovered the art of taming pain. Through his works he invites the pain of human life to the arena and he says to it “dance while I beat the drums”.

In another of Chirere's poems, a man wants to wander away and never return home. From now on, he wants to live only in the memory of his wife, children and friends. He thinks that is better than suffering alongside them without being able to help.

In yet another poem, a woman laughs at a man because he looks like her dear lover, long lost in the past. In the other poem, a man carries a goat on his shoulders for a long time down a township road and discovers that he has been sold a ritual goat! In another, a woman and man nearly fall in love gradually as they silently spy on each other through the gap in the fence of their houses. Then something more excruciating than love takes place to stop them...

Published by the fast-rising Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure's Carnelian Heart Publishing LTD in the UK and available through Amazon, Memory Chirere's "Shamhu Yezera Renyu," or "Sjambok of Your Generation" in Shona, is not your typical poetry collection.

Written entirely in the vibrant, beautiful and evocative Shona language, Chirere wields his words like a traditional whip/sjambok, to both challenge and entertain his readers. Chirere outwits pain with humour, his poems delve into the complexities of everyday life, tackling relatable themes of love, loss, societal pressures, and the ever-present struggle for self-discovery.

His masterful use of humour infuses a refreshing dose of lightness, preventing the poems from becoming mired in despair. One of his poems is about the effects of bird song. You hear a bird singing in the morning and sometimes you think that it is calling out your name, just in the manner of your mother or loved one. I also love the poem in which a man eats the child’s plate of porridge, hoping nobody sees. The most stunning poem is in which a nameless man watches a wedding couple kissing and starts to think about the meaning of kisses.

Chirere navigates the tightrope between social commentary and witty observation, prompting introspection and laughter in equal measure. Although he wrote this book in Shona, the emotional core transcends language barriers.

The book’s vivid imagery and themes resonate with readers regardless of their linguistic background. I agree with Ignatius Mabasa in the introduction that; there is no writer like Chirere, however, I think the full richness and depth of "Shamhu Yezera Renyu" can be lost in translation for those unfamiliar with the language.

Two poems in this captivating compilation of Shona poems that navigates the tapestry and intricacies of human experiences with a unique blend of humour and insight are particularly outstanding for me and these are; “Mukanwa” and “Muchipatara.” In these and other poems, Chirere demonstrates a unique ability to balance levity with depth is a testament to his poetic prowess. Thus, making "Shamhu yeZera Renyu" a testament to the enduring power of poetry to illuminate the human experience.

I am not surprised that this collection was ranked ahead of all other books of poems.  Many thanks too, to Tinashe Mchuri, another great poet, for editing this book.

I first came across Memory Chirere through his short story Maize in “Writing Still”, a text which we covered in High School. Like all of my classmates we assumed the name Memory was for girls. We had limited resources to search for the writer, but thanks to the sweet bitter humiliation and correction that came from our Literature in English teacher whenever we referred to Chirere as “she.”

During my first year at the University of Zimbabwe, my roommate Brain used to play Chirere’s youtube videos at Manfred. We would gather around the laptop as UBAs listening to Roja raBaba vaBiggie. My dream came true during my Masters studies, I talked to Chirere and found that one cannot separate him from his works/humour. To my A level classmates and everyone else who loves reading, Chirere is still writing and yes, he is a man. If you are in Zim, find the book through Brain Garusa door to door delivery at: 0779210403

+ The writer of the above review, Rodney T Munemo is a Social Anthropologist (PhD Candidate at the University of Edinburgh). Rodney is a recipient of the coveted Edinburgh-Leiden studentship, awarded in 2022 in recognition of his academic excellence. His current doctoral research delves into the critical nexus of youth waithood, liminalities, urban poverty, development, and religious infrastructures in Zimbabwe. He remains deeply invested in exploring Inclusive Education, the transformative potential of Online Learning, and the complexities of Gender and Land Governance in Zimbabwe. His dedication to these diverse fields reflects a multifaceted and intellectually curious scholar.

Email: r.t.munemo@sms.ed.ac.uk

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.