Sunday, October 28, 2018

Travelling Home: Diasporic dis-locations of space and place in Tendai Huchu's The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician

'Born and raised in Zimbabwe, Huchu... may well be the writer who, through his immigrant Zimbabwean characters in The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician,  paradoxically, has written the city of Edinburgh  into the twenty-first century global novel, doing for Edinburgh what the native Charles Dickens did for London and the Irish citizen James Joyce did for  Dublin.'




Travelling Home: Diasporic dis-locations of space and place in Tendai Huchu's The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician, an article by Fatima Moolla of the University of the Western Cape, has appeared in The Journal of Commonwealth Literature.




 Abstract
The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician, a novel by Zimbabwean diasporic writer Tendai Huchu, adds to a growing body of global immigrant fiction. Huchu’s novel
concerning Zimbabwean émigrés in the United Kingdom displays a heightened spatial consciousness that self-reflexively complicates the spatial tropes and trends of much migrant literature. The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician generates an unrelenting dialectic in which the national home, both for migrants and citizens, is often unhomely, while host spaces yield to various forms of place-making and belonging. City space, in this case, the city of Edinburgh, is shown through the unique mobilities of the three protagonists to produce different senses of identity. However, the forms of identity that emerge ultimately succumb to the spatial implosion represented by the death (in contained spaces) of two of the principal characters, whose city perambulations are thus brought to a halt. The reader discovers, furthermore, that the third character is not the cartographer of his re-orienting mental map of the host city, but that his itinerary has been directed all along by a sinister, somewhat ubuesque Zimbabwean expatriate, to whom the third character, fooled by this regime spy’s clownish conduct, condescends and mistakenly patronizes.

The full article is available from http://repository.uwc.ac.za/xmlui/handle/10566/4144.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Nevertheless: Muriel Spark in Bulawayo – a guest blog by Shane Strachan

If you’d told me four years ago I would be publishing a collection of short fiction inspired by Muriel Spark’s time in Bulawayo between 1937 and 1943, I would never have believed you. At that point, Dame Spark’s best known work, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,was one of only a few of her works I’d read and had the pleasure of teaching at the University of Aberdeen. In 2018, the centenary of her birth, the National Library of Scotland and Creative Scotland have set about raising greater awareness of her international literary career, during which she published twenty-two novels, multiple short stories and a play. In the call out for writers and artists to create new work inspired by the archives at the NLS, it was then I discovered that Spark had lived and worked in Bulawayo and that I’d followed in her footsteps while working on an arts-in-health project in Lady Rodwell Maternity Hospital where she’d given birth to her son eighty years before.

Lady Rodwell Maternity Hospital, United Bulawayo Hospitals


Rewind to 2015 when I was commissioned by maternal health research initiative, Immpact, to write a play about the issues faced by women in labour in and around Aberdeen’s Zimbabwean twin city. Thanks to a Twinning Aberdeen grant, the sold-out performance at Aberdeen University’s May Festival was attended by an obstetrician and matron visiting from Bulawayo, and the discussions that followed with these health workers led to me visiting Bulawayo in September of that year to explore the possibility of an arts-in-health project in Lady Rodwell (United Bulawayo Hospitals) and the maternity unit at Mpilo Hospital. During this visit and a second in November 2016 when the arts-in-health project took place (read all about that here), I was blown away by the staff at both of the maternity hospitals who work under extremely difficult conditions, and was impressed by their care not only for their patients but for the spaces they work in. I was also so inspired by the creative energy of the city and its resilience in the face of economic and political struggles, particularly the work being done at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe and by Brian and Jane of ’amaBooks. Beyond this, there was the beauty of the jacaranda-lined streets, the wildlife at the Matopos and the thundering spray of the Victoria Falls…

Bulawayo-based artists at Lady Rodwell including Danisile Ncube, Omega Sibanda, Talent Kapadza, Owen Maseko, George Masarira, and Charles Bhebe. Also featured: Shane Strachan (Writer), Sue Fairburn (Designer) and Sally Thomson (Director, Grampian Hospitals Arts Trust)

In the year that followed my second visit, ideas for stories inspired by my time in Bulawayo kept drifting in and out of my mind. I knew there was something I wanted to write, but I hadn’t quite grasped how I would shape it, and I had various other quandaries around what I could legitimately write as someone from the outside who could never really know or understand the day-to-day Zimbabwean experience. So when I read about the Muriel Spark 100 project and then discovered of Spark’s connection with Bulawayo and the various short stories and autobiographical material she wrote connected with her time in Southern Rhodesia, a path towards writing about Bulawayo became clear. I was delighted to subsequently be awarded an Endless Different Ways grant to work on the project.


Muriel Spark’s archive at the National Library of Scotland is vast with boxes full of notes, correspondence and, from the late 1950s, receipts and cheque books. She hoarded all of this  to record the truth of her whereabouts having suffered from the press printing misinformation about her – this habit alone made writing about Spark a rather daunting prospect! But there is comparatively less material available for the years she spent in Southern Rhodesia given that she was only nineteen when she arrived there and that the years that followed were some of her most traumatic due to a fraught marriage. Add to this the Second World War which effectively trapped her in Southern Rhodesia and it becomes clear that this was not the happiest of times for Spark. Yet it is where she herself said she found much spiritual strength and where the roots of her literary career proper can be found in the prizes she won at the Rhodesian Eisteddfod for both prose and poetry. Alongside studying her African-set short stories, her autobiography and reading many more of her novels, I spent several days in the archive, decoding her handwriting and making sense of snippets of information on post its, letters and notebooks, in an attempt to piece together a clearer picture of her experience in Southern Rhodesia during these years. 

Muriel Spark at the National Library of Scotland


In the final work, Nevertheless: Sparkian Tales in Bulawayo, this story forms the basis of four fictional vignettes, interspersed with a modern-day story of a medical doctor from Aberdeen visiting Lady Rodwell Maternity Hospital and unknowingly tracing Spark’s steps; it wouldn’t be apt to write a linear narrative given that Spark played so brilliantly with shifts in time and perspective throughout most of her novels and stories. As well as these fictions, there are also a series of Spark-inspired illustrations by Scottish artist Donald Urquhart which add another dimension to the book, and which I’m grateful to be able to include given that visual art has been a big part of my own Bulawayo journey.

Nevertheless is available in print and e-book from African Books Collective and on Amazon. All profit raised from the publication will be donated to Lady Rodwell Maternity Hospital.


Sunday, September 30, 2018

'a powerfully gritty account of three expatriate Zimbabweans living in Edinburgh that is full of wry humour and subtle observation'



Premise: Three expatriate Zimbabweans attempt to adapt to their new lives in Edinburgh at the start of the twenty first century. The Maestro is stuck in a monotonous job stacking shelves in TESCO but feels that he has a higher calling that may or may not lie in devouring every book he can get his hands on. The Magistrate is frustrated by the loss of his social status and has to swallow his pride whilst accepting work as a care assistant. And the Mathematician is a PhD student who sees life in black and white and follows a path that is carefree and verging on hedonistic. Through their shared national identity, their separate lives intertwine in surprising ways towards an ending that is both unexpected and unsettling.

I was tempted to start my synopsis by talking about immigration. But then I came across a quote from the author where he says: “The funny thing is that when some white dude writes a novel set anywhere in Africa or Asia, it’s never referred to as an immigrant novel. They just have the right to be where they want to be and to write what they want.” I will try and avoid that pitfall then because whilst this is unquestionably a story about people who have been displaced from their point of origin, it is equally a social commentary on modern life (the Edinburgh version as well as the Harare version). It is full of wry humour and subtle observation and it is cleverly constructed so that it works on many levels. To boil it down to a book about immigration would be overly simplistic and unfair on the novelist. However, it is a theme that is very much at the beating heart of the story.
When talking about immigration, the news often resorts to generalisations. It clumps together any person that has arrived from a foreign shore. And that has the effect of making us think that the immigrant experience is the same for every Takudzwa, Mick or Garai – which, of course, it is not. Here, Huchu highlights the difference between the laddish culture experienced by the Mathematician and the downward mobility of lost respect experienced by the Magistrate. It is possibility contrasted with disappointment. And the Maestro is a third counterpoint to this. He is defined not by his status as an expatriate but by his sense of depression and his yearning for some greater meaning to the world. And, whilst dealing with life in a new country, all of them are also experiencing the everyday dramas that make up the fabric of existence.
The sad plight of the Zimbabwean nation is explored through each character’s memories of what life was like before. They are desperate to get news of what is going on back home. The Magistrate and, to a lesser extent, the Mathematician become involved with the MDC political party, a meeting of which Huchu describes as descending into a quasi-bar brawl. Fragments of Shona are interweaved with bursts of Scots dialect. It is at times disorientating but then I imagine that life as an immigrant often is. Huchu is unbiased in the way that he sees the world. He tackles racism from both sides of the telescope and deals with the issue of integration. And above all that, the story wends around in unexpected side steps. The surprise ending knits everything together but leaves you with plenty of questions to digest as you replace the book back on the shelf.
There is much to admire in this novel. Having lived in Zimbabwe as a child, it is always nice to read stories that are connected with the country. But it should be pointed out that “The Maestro, the Magistrate and the Mathematician” requires no previous knowledge of the beleaguered nation’s state of affairs. I think it is important that we all try to read books by different voices and here is a novelist who weaves a fascinating narrative whilst also making some pretty salient points about the modern world.

Who might enjoy this book: Anyone who has enjoyed “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith or “Half of a Yellow Sun” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Reviewed by Matt Kendrick: https://www.mattkendrick.co.uk/maestro-magistrate-mathematician

The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician is published in the UK by Parthian Books, in North America by Ohio University Press, in Nigeria by Kachifo (Farafina), in Germany by Peter Hammer Verlag, and elsewhere by amaBooks.


Thursday, September 27, 2018

Redemption Song, the 2018 Caine Prize for African Writing anthology, reviewed in Publishers Weekly


These stories from the 2018 Caine Prize, which has recognized contemporary African short stories since 2000, are a broad, mostly excellent survey of established and emerging African talent. Composed of works from the 2018 Shortlist and the prize’s annual Writers Workshop, the stories span several genres and embrace a wide range of style. The standout, “Fanta Blackcurrant” by Makena Onjerika, follows Meri, a street child in Nairobi who seeks small joys amid inescapable squalor and suffering. “Redemption Song” by Arinze Ifeakandu is a meditation on grief and self-discovery that follows Obinna, a gay man, as he tries to reconcile with his estranged wife after the death of their child. While many stories strive toward verisimilitude, several embrace magical realism and outright science fiction. The comic and absurd “The Armed Letter Writers” by Olufunke Ogundimu documents a community caught between inept police and formal, bureaucratic looters. One of the more imaginative pieces, “Wednesday’s Story” by Wole Talabi turns the 19th-century British nursery rhyme “Solomon Grundy” into a fantastic metanarrative, as a personified “Wednesday” seeks to change the events foretold in verse. Though some of the pieces are not as polished, the bright spots more than compensate, making this a worthwhile collection. (Nov.)

from https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-62371-970-8

Redemption Song is available in Zimbabwe through amaBooks - in Bulawayo at Book and Bean, Dusk Home, Indaba Book Cafe, Orange Elephant and the National Gallery, and soon in Harare at the National Gallery. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

All Come to Dust in Bulawayo

Photos courtesy of Violette Kee-Tui
Last week, Bryony Rheam read from some of her published short stories and from her forthcoming novel, All Come to Dust, at Middys Coffee Shop in Bulawayo. The novel follows Chief Inspector Edmund Dube as he investigates the suspicious death of Marcia Pullman. As the investigation unfolds so does the story of Dube's life from his early years as he begins to put the pieces together of why the Scottish couple, for whom his mother worked, left the country in a hurry and Dube with an abiding sense of abandonment.  

The readings at Middys were well attended, with a scattering of other writers published by amaBooks, including Mzana Mthimkhulu, John Eppel and NoViolet Bulawayo. The event was organised by Hubbard's Historical Tours.
NoViolet Bulawayo and Bryony Rheam



John Eppel and friends





Mzana Mthimkhulu

Bryony is an ardent fan of Agatha Christie, a passion inherited from her grandmother. As testimony to this enthusiasm for Christie, she won the international Write Your Own Christie competition, which involved writing a chapter of a novel in the style of Agatha Christie, following on from chapters of previous winners. She was also runner-up for a previous chapter she wrote.
As her prize Bryony travelled to London to have dinner with Christie's grandson and the detective novel writer's British and American publishers. It will be up to Bryony's readers to judge whether she is able to follow in Christie's footsteps and weave as tangled a web as the best-selling author did in her many works.

All Come to Dust, to be published by amaBooks in November 2018, will be available in Zimbabwe through amaBooks and elsewhere through the African Books Collective.

Bryony's short stories have appeared in several anthologies published by amaBooks: Moving On and Other Zimbabwean Stories, Where to Now?, Long Time Coming and Short Writings From Bulawayo I, II and III. Short stories by Mzana Mthimkhulu and John Eppel have also been published in the anthologies, and John Eppel has had several novels, poetry and short story anthologies published by amaBooks. A story by NoViolet Bulawayo was published in Where to Now?.


Thursday, September 6, 2018

A Literary Evening with Bryony Rheam




Bryony Rheam will speak about some of her published work - as well as reading from her forthcoming novel All Come to Dust.  

Her debut novel, This September Sun, won 'Best First Book' at the Zimbabwe Book Publishers Association awards and was chosen as a set text for ZIMSEC 'A' level Literature in English in Zimbabwe schools. The book, initially published in Zimbabwe by amaBooks, went on to be published in the United Kingdom, where it topped the Amazon sales charts,  and in Kenya. It is, at present, being translated in Arabic for publication in Egypt.

Her soon to be released novel, All Come to Dust, set in Bulawayo, features Chief Inspector Edmund Dube investigating the suspicious death of Marcia Pullman. Bryony is a great admirer of the work of Agatha Christie and is a winner of the international 'Write Your Own Christie' competition.

'An Evening with Bryony Rheam', at Middy's Coffee Shop, 129 Josiah Tongogara Avenue,  Bulawayo, is being organised by Hubbard's Historical Tours. Books by Bryony and other amaBooks publications will be available on the night.

Bookings are essential for the event and the dinner; please phone 0772851609



Saturday, August 25, 2018

Redemption Song, the 2018 Caine Prize for African Writing anthology, reviewed in Borders Literature Online

From Borders Literature Online

Reviewed by Olatoun Williams

The glamour of the Caine Prize for African Writing is seductive, but what made it important that I attend the SOAS readings held Tuesday 26th June 2018, is the fact that the prize has come under fire. Some members of the African literary community have called it ‘neo-colonial’, perpetuating stereotypes about Africa. They argue that it is fossilized: shunning new frontiers.  One celebrated member of the community contends that an online magazine such as Saraba does far more to promote emerging writers than The Caine Prize for African Writing
I picked up my copy of Redemption Song from the publisher, New Internationalist, which had set up a small stand in the foyer outside SOAS’s Khalili Lecture Theatre and went in to enjoy a short event which saw South Africa’s Stacy Hardy and Nigeria’s Wole Talabi speaking with impressive clarity during the plenary session. I began to read on my tube journey home. Joining the five shortlisted stories whose authors I had just been listening to, are twelve other stories written by authors at different stages of emergence. From countries across Sub-Saharan Africa, including Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa, the twelve writers convened in March earlier this year to produce short stories at the 2018 Caine Prize Workshop held in Gisenyi, Rwanda
Given that each story is either an already published or edited work, readers expecting high quality writing in the anthology will find it. They will also find migration, an all too familiar trope. American Dream (Nonyelum Ekwempu, Nigeria), America (Caroline Numuhire, Rwanda) and Departure ( Nsah Mala, Cameroon) tell stories dedicated to Africans in pursuit of greener pastures in the United States of  America. But despite die-hard migrants enduring ordeals that span the predictably stressful, predictably duplicitous and treacherous, the stories are still able to display an originality that distinguishes them from conveyer belt trope.  Departure by Nsah Mala for example showcases a romantic love between an impecunious married couple that is touchingly sincere and vulnerable to abuse by ruthless cynics who are everywhere. Standing alongside these three stories are two others which consider the subject of migration from rarely considered perspectives: ‘No Ordinary Soiree’ helps to dislodge images from our brains of Rwandan people damaged by a genocidal civil war. Rwandans with broken bodies and horrifying confessions have been replaced in this tale by the affluent young professionals of post-war Rwanda. Out of this sea of smug, well-fed faces, the lonely face of the celebrant stands out. She is ill-at-ease, out of place at her own birthday party. Looking around her, she confronts a truth she already knows: marrying out of a low-income community and into the moneyed class of society can be as isolating as migrating to another country. She has not been able to fathom the ways of the demographic group her husband belongs to.
Ngozi by Zimbabwe’s Bongani Sibanda, presents the hardly examined trend –at least in fiction - of intra-African resettlement.  When the protagonist family flees Mugabe’s Zimbabwe in search of sanctuary and ends up in neighbouring South Africa, family members live out the prescriptive pain of disappointed hopes and broken dreams.   America, produced at the Caine Prize workshop by Rwanda’s Caroline Numuhire is particularly ironic with its soon to be jilted (and thoroughly exploited) fiancée in rivalry with America which the author has endowed with the magnetism of an imperious, costly seductress.
In Bringing the Clouds Home, Ethiopian Heran T. Abate spins a web of enchantment with her presentation of the psychology of children. In this child scale story relayed through a child’s eyes, we walk with the children, registering things that delight them and those which inspire fear. Understanding how cruelly excluding innocent childhood can be, readers will delight in the evolving compassion of one little girl who befriends another whose disabilities frighten her. Bringing the Clouds Home is Abate’s delicately told elegy to the sweetness of childhood.
Reading like a one-woman play, Involution by Stacy Hardy of South Africa is intellectual curiosity run amok. Hardy, an editor of the respected Chimurenga magazine, explores the unique experience of a woman who has found a small creature, the size of a microbe, secreted inside her vagina. The story is amusing: cleverly and richly detailed in its examination of the body, texture, intentions of the creature – will it breed?- and its needs – won’t it need to eat? Those who dismiss the Caine Prize for conservatism will repent, faced with the picture of a young woman squatting, holding a saucer of milk to her labia lips and keeping it there for moments, she is that serious about feeding her guest.
But if is true that poverty - bête noire of Caine Prize challengers - is ubiquitous in the 2018 anthology, with critics denouncing this trope served up year after year, its inevitability only exposes the truth: that poverty – migration’s main catalyst - is not the exception in Africa but the rule. I agree that it is crucial to display Africa’s wealth in our artistic expressions: her tribal and language diversity, her plurality of cultures and myriad art forms, but not at the expense of her poverty, particularly the heartbreaking poverty of her children. It is for this reason that I welcomed Olufemi Terry’s Stickfighting Days, (Caine Prize 2010). Terry’s terrifying portrait of street boys is as important in its social objectives as it is masterful art.
Makena Onjerika
If the 2018 Caine Prize winner Fanta Blackcurrant did not elicit in me the same response, it is not because the story draws attention to Africa’s child poverty but because I questioned the idiom in which Makena Onjerika’s children speak and behave: what is her frame of reference? That said, scenes involving familiar, visceral human drives, elevate Fanta Blackcurrant and we watch with the horror of recognition as the other children, overcome by jealousy, set violently on Meri because of her ‘beautiful… brown mzungu face’.  We nod with understanding as the same children express a compassion towards her which grows in proportion to the darkening of her skin, the destruction of her beauty by hardship beneath the scalding sun. And with that calamity comes the slipping away of hope of rescue from Meri’s trembling grasp. The children are compassionate because the donors who walk and drive past, can no longer distinguish her from the rest of them.
Bongani Sibanda’s Ngozi is centred around an idea put forward in Fanta Blackcurrant: physical beauty as a life-line. Though this story takes off with a Zimbabwean family in flight from cash poverty, it quickly veers into an examination of the life outcomes of a person whose face lacks any comeliness that would endear him to humanity. It is ugliness, not cash poverty, which dooms the prospects of Thembani in this totally unexpected tragedy about fraternal love and loneliness.  At the broken heart of this excellent story is an horrific crime and an ending you will not see coming.
Beyond White Space founder, Vimbai Shire, provided oversight for the writing workshop. In her introduction to the collection of stories produced by participants, she comments that they ‘(tackled) the topical and the taboo’. I found this to be true of the anthology. With a selection of four remarkable stories dedicated to their cause, the Caine Prize has paid tribute to the brave LGBTQ voices across Africa calling for inclusion and respect.  In the eponymous Redemption Song, Nigeria’s Arinze Ifeakandu has crafted a sensitive and compelling domestic tragedy in which there is no mercy, no redemption for the husband who left his wife for a young male lover and who is suddenly and tragically bereaved of his small son. Kenya’s Troy Onyango, rising star in the literary firmament, has bequeathed All Things Bright and Beautiful. It weaves a rich, digressive template while retaining a compelling linearity about a family’s collapse in the wake of the father’s suicide wearing their mother’s white and pink-laced panties. A letter to a sibling brimming with love and sorrow in this tragedy contains the anthology’s most heart-achingly memorable lines.
On the Prize’s shortlist, American Dream is Nigeria’s Nonyelum Ekwempu’s offering. While the main focus is a defenceless widow and her small children, the author extends her compassionate gaze to homosexual children when the young narrator finds his neighbour motionless on the floor of his home, ‘his face swollen beyond recognition. Cuts and bruises covered his entire body... (while) his mother seated ‘on a short stool in a corner (is) shouting, ‘Bastard, bastard, bastard,’ repeatedly in Yoruba.’  This disturbingly silent boy was one of two schoolboys attacked at the school by a mob of other boys who had caught them kissing.
Nigeria’s Eloghosa Osunde has written Grief is the Gift that Breaks the Spirit Open which falls into the afro-speculative but Osunde, the 2017 Miles Morland Scholar, has brought into being an unusual spirit which serially inhabits and serially dumps women’s bodies.  In this layered story, the ‘hoverer’ is a bi-sexual femme fatale with a trail of broken hearts behind her and in front of her, a twist of irony which sees her falling for a mirror image of herself.  Erotic love is a condition that excites in the being the desire to ground herself permanently in human flesh. Osunde’s story is an interesting exploration of sexuality within the intersection of the imagined ethereal with the corporeal. In this anthology festooned with speculation, Osunde’s hoverer’s movements from an ethereal state to the material can be categorized not only as an exploration of identities but as a form of migration: from one condition to its opposite.
“Speculative fiction is everything that isn’t realism, and it spans the entire continuum of the fantastic… (It is) any fiction that bends the known world…Fantasy, I consider as a sub-genre of speculative fiction based on imagined creatures, events, forces, people and other elements that do not come from reasoned extrapolation of established knowledge and are presented without respect to a scientific method” (Wole Talabi, Caine Prize 2018 shortlist).

Four stories in the 2018 Caine Prize anthology traverse the spectrum of speculative fiction and fantasy as defined by shortlisted author Wole Talabi at the SOAS Caine Prize readings held 26th June 2018. Grief is the Gift that Breaks the Spirit Open by Eloghosa Osunde, mentioned earlier, is a fantasy exploring the gravitational pull of the human body and its constraints through the ‘human’ experience of spirit beings. 
Bongani Kona
Spaceman by Chimurenga Magazine editor, Bongani Kona from South Africa and Zimbabwe, is a tragedy in five vignettes illuminated by a disquieting brilliance. It charts two bizarre episodes in the histories of two unrelated groups of people: a white South African family which, while nursing the horror of a double murder and suicide in the family, must tolerate the presence of the family patriarch who puts the blame for the crimes on the kaffirs. Parallel to the breakdown of the white family, is a frantic car journey undertaken by a motley crew of damaged African souls who have just experienced a failed attempt at space travel in a make-shift rocket. When these haunting stories converge in the 4th vignette, the tragic symbolism of Bongani’s outstanding fiction becomes startlingly clear.
Where Rivers Go To Die is the gift of Ugandan Sci-fi filmmaker and speculative story writer, Dilman Dila. It is set in a sealed off forest inhabited by a people who venerate the organic and hand-made whilst rejecting automated machinery, reviling it as pure evil. Dila’s story is accomplished and dense with the perceptions of the little boy cast out by the tribal elders subsequent to his mother’s death. The forest is dark and what appears before our squinting eyes is a surreal tableau: a wounded little boy, taught to believe he has the magical powers of an ‘abiba’, a ‘demi-god’, hopping about on one leg, desperately searching in the darkness for a place to call home.
Awuor Onyango’s Tie Kidi is a gleaming, speculative wonder which borrows liberally from Luo mythology. The world evoked here is perceived through the eyes of a curious and adventurous girl child who can mold time and who kicks against her confinement in a simulation tank, for her own safety. The story looks at the present condition of an already unsustainable humanity and projects into a future in which humanity’s survival is illogical, ‘if the sun were truly to explode’. Wole Talabi, 2018 Caine Prize shortlisted author, might be, as they say, emerging, but in Wednesday’s Story he has already displayed mastery of his craft. In eighteen and a half pages, this Nigerian author has told a story of magnificent scale based on the well-known nursery rhyme, Solomon Grundy. In his brief biography included as a footnote, he professes to a liking for ‘oddly-shaped things’ and ‘elegant equations’ providing evidence in a story replete with surprising arcs and a disorienting play with time’s equations. His love of ambitious play has made possible a brilliant and totally unpredictable fleshing out of Solomon Grundy: conceived here as an ochre-skinned, ankara clad child of the rape of a Yoruba kitchen maid by an English merchant sailor.
Curiosities that defy the classifications we can fit the other stories into are The Armed Letter Writers by Nigeria’s Olufunke Ogundimu (shortlist) and The Weaving of Death by Rwanda’s Lucky Grace Isingizwe. Both are testaments to the joy of story-telling but in mood and tone, they couldn’t be further apart. The Weaving of Death is an interesting story treating attempted suicide in the family and the emotional travails of two siblings. At the other extreme, The Armed Letter Writers and the inhabitants of the estate whom the thieves plan to rob, provide farcical comedy about dysfunction and criminality in Nigeria’s law enforcement and public service delivery. Ogundimu’s yarn is pure theatre of the absurd. It is begging to be staged.

The Caine Prize jury has served us well with this collection of seventeen stories whose content reads like a focused response to clamour for a more inclusive and edgy representation of Africa: her past, her condition today, her speculative futures; the concerns of Africans and the diverse ways in which we look at ourselves and the world around us. To paraphrase the 2018 Jury Chair, Dinaw Mengestu, the stories in their totality put paid to the idea that certain narratives should be relegated to the margins of our expression and there is brave stand-out art in Redemption Song.


Redemption Song is published in Zimbabwe by amaBooks; it is available in Bulawayo at Book&Bean, Dusk Home, Indaba Book Cafe, National Gallery and Orange Elephant, or through amaBooks, and will soon be available from the National Gallery in Harare.