Sunday, December 27, 2009

Reader Comments about This September Sun

‘This is a wonderful book. I really would love to meet Bryony. Her book is poetry. I read it on the plane, underground trains, buses. I finished it today on the bus when I was coming from Birmingham to Coventry and I said to myself, here is another Doris Lessing.’  Albert Nyathi


‘I grew up in Bulawayo at the same time as Ellie, but experienced the 1980s in a different way – from a black person’s point of view – but, while the book is fiction, the Zimbabwe described is not.’ Noma Gwere


It’s so beautifully written and I think Bryony grew up in Zimbabwe around the same time as me so there are so many little things she mentions that capture that era so perfectly. I couldn’t put it down and relished every single page.’ Monireh Jassat


‘The book brought back a lot of memories for me growing up in Bulawayo! No self-respecting Bulawayan should go through life without having read This September Sun!’ Veena Bhana

Monday, December 21, 2009

This September Sun and other books now available in South Africa and the UK

This September Sun, Dancing with Life: Tales from the Township, Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Zimbabwe and other 'amaBooks titles are now available in several bookshops in South Africa, including Clarke's Books in Long Street, Cape Town, Adams Campus Bookshop in Durban and Xarra Books in Jeppe Street, Newtown, Johannesburg. 
This September Sun will also be available soon in the United Kingdom through Books of Zimbabwe ( Other 'amaBooks titles are available outside of Zimbabwe through the African Books Collective (

Thursday, December 17, 2009

This September Sun review in Warwick Review

A review of Bryony Rheam's novel This September Sun, written by Dr James Graham of Middlesex University, is scheduled to appear in this month's The Warwick Review, alongside reviews of other Zimbabwe books, including, hopefully, other titles from 'amaBooks.
The Warwick Review is part of the Writing Programme organised by the English Department at Warwick Unversity. James Graham is the author of Land and Nationalism in Fictions from Southern Africa, in which he investigates the relation between land and nationalism in South African and Zimbabwean fiction from the 1960s to the present.

The Zimbabwe Independent congratulates Bulawayo writers

The Zimbabwe Independent congratulates three Bulawayo-based writers who have published their first books in a special supplement on 18 December. The writers, Bryony Rheam, Christopher Mlalazi and Raisedon Baya, are all graduates of the British Council Crossing Borders Creative Writing Project and have all been published by 'amaBooks.
The three first books featured are Bryony's This September Sun (published by 'amaBooks), Chris' Dancing with Life: Tales from the Township (published by 'amaBooks) and Raisedon's Tomorrow's People (published by Homegrown Arts).

Petina Gappah wins Guardian First Book Prize

'amaBooks congratulate Petina Gappah, who has just won the Guardian First Book Prize for her 'humane and disarmingly funny' An Elegy for Easterly.

As well as taking home the auspicious literary title, Petina has been presented with a GBP 10,000 cheque and an advertising deal for her book in both the Guardian and the Observer newspapers in the UK.

Chair of the judges and literary editor for the newspaper group, Claire Armistead, said: 'Petina Gappah's humane and disarmingly funny mosaic of life in Zimbabwe is undoubtedly one of the very best.'

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Raconteur Review of Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Bulawayo now on-line

Tom Cheesman's review of Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Zimbabwe, edited a little from that published on this blog in September, has been published in The Raconteur magazine in the United Kingdom. The original review can be found online at:

Saturday, November 28, 2009

This September Sun launched in Bulawayo

A highlight of the artistic calendar in Bulawayo was the recent launch of Bryony Rheam’s epic novel, This September Sun, at the Bulawayo Club, with guest speaker Owen Sheers, the award-winning writer and poet from Wales. The Club hosted the event as it features in This September Sun. The work focuses on the lives of the two main female characters, the romantic grandmother Evelyn, who arrived in the then Rhodesia in 1946, and her granddaughter Ellie. The novel can be read on many levels, as a mystery, as Ellie, through her grandmother’s diaries and letters, is able to untangle the secrets of Evelyn’s life. Another level is Evelyn’s independence that corresponds with that of the independence of Zimbabwe. The first chapter of the novel, that Bryony Rheam read at the launch, tells of Ellie’s sixth birthday – the day that Zimbabwe gained its independence and the beginning of her grandmother’s escape from a marriage in which she has felt trapped. As the novel unfolds Ellie learns more about her own identity and is able to come to terms with the past and in the process also gain a form of independence.

Professor Brian Jones, from the publishers ’amaBooks, introduced the book. He quoted a number of people who read the novel prior to the launch. The performance poet, Albert Nyathi, writing from the United Kingdom, described This September Sun as, “a wonderful book. Bryony’s book is poetry. I read it on the plane, underground trains and buses. I finished it today on the bus when I was coming from Birmingham to Coventry and I said to myself, here is another Doris Lessing.”

In his opening address Brian Jones noted how the book had struck a particular chord with those growing up in 80s Bulawayo, the period that coincides with the narrator’s youth, one reader commenting: “I grew up in Bulawayo at the same time as Ellie, but experienced the 1980s in a different way – from a black person’s point of view – but, while the book is fiction, the Zimbabwe described is not” and from another reader: “It’s so beautifully written and part of the book describes the period in which I grew up in Zimbabwe so there are so many little things she mentions that capture that era so perfectly. I couldn’t put it down and relished every single page”.

Bryony told the attentive audience of around 150 people that it had taken her over 9 years to complete her novel of nearly 400 pages and that her main aim in writing the book was to write a good story.

In talking of the book, Owen Sheers commented that she had achieved her aim and that This September Sun is a compelling read. He also noted the author’s craft in writing a many layered novel, one of the layers being family relationships in a changing world.

Brian Jones concluded the launch by thanking those organisations that had recently supported ’amaBooks, including the Zimbabwe Culture Fund Trust, HIVOS, Beit Trust and Alliance Francaise de Bulawayo.

Sales at the launch were brisk, and this pace has continued with shops re-ordering as they have sold out. In commenting later, Brian Jones was gratified that a second print run was already underway. Books are available in shops throughout Zimbabwe, anyone who has difficulty can obtain information as to where to find the book from

The launch was followed by a ‘Dinner with Poetry’ at the Club, attended by around 70 people. Poetry readings between the courses were by Owen Sheers and John Eppel, the award-winning Bulawayo poet.

The following day, a champagne breakfast book signing by Bryony, with Owen Sheers present, took place at the new Indaba Book Café in 9th Avenue.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Owen Sheers at the Book Cafe in Harare

On Monday 23 November, Owen Sheers will be at the Book Cafe in Harare at 5.30pm to talk about myths and how they appear in modern writing. He will be joined in the discussion by Joseph Tirivangana, expert in Zimbabwean myths and legends. Owen will also read his poetry together with several Zimbabwean poets, including David Mungoshi, Ethel Kabwato and Batsirai Chigama. Again, entrance is free and all are welcome.

Meet Owen Sheers in Bulawayo

The British Council in Bulawayo are organising a Management Express meeting for Friday 20 November at 5.30pm at the Bulawayo Rainbow, where Owen Sheers will talk about his own work and links with Zimbabwe, and read from his books. Owen is a poet, novelist, playwright, actor and BBC TV presenter from Wales. He is best known in Zimbabwe for his semi-fictionalised account The Dust Diaries, recounting the life of his great-great uncle, Arthur Shearly Cripps, maverick missionary to Southern Rhodesia. The event will also recognise the achievements of three Bulawayo graduates of the British Council Crossing Borders creative writing project, Bryony Rheam, Christopher Mlalazi and Raisedon Baya, who have all recently had books published. All are welcome.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Launch Invite for This September Sun

A night to write home about

amaBooks and Alliance Francaise de Bulawayo invite you to

a Book Launch and a Dinner with Poetry


5.30pm Launch of the novel This September Sun, by Bryony Rheam
Guest Speaker: Owen Sheers
Free Admission, All Welcome

followed by, for those who wish, at
7.00pm, Dinner with Poetry
With readings by Owen Sheers from Wales and John Eppel from Zimbabwe

table d’hôte menu will be available, with choices of starter, main course and dessert.

Please book early for the dinner as numbers are limited, telephone Bulawayo Club reservations on (09) 64868. Payment for dinner to be made directly to the Club at the dinner.

This September Sun This September Sun, the first novel by Bulawayo writer Bryony Rheam, is a chronicle of the lives of two women, the romantic Evelyn and her granddaughter Ellie, from the time Evelyn arrives in the country at the end of the Second World War to the present day.
Growing up in post-Independence Zimbabwe, Ellie yearns for a life beyond the confines of small town Bulawayo, a wish that eventually comes true when she moves to the United Kingdom. However, life there is not all she dreamed it to be, but it is the murder of her grandmother that eventually brings her back home and forces her to face some hard home truths through the unravelling of long-concealed family secrets.
The book has been described as ‘a wonderful first novel’ (Caroline Gilfillan), ‘a beautifully executed story’ (Christopher Mlalazi) and an ‘absorbing debut novel’ (John Eppel).

Bryony Rheam was born in Kadoma in 1974 and lived in Bulawayo from the age of eight until she left school. She studied in the United Kingdom and then taught in Singapore before returning to teach in Zimbabwe in 2001. Bryony has had short stories published in several anthologies and she won the Intwasa Arts Festival koBulawayo Short Story Competition in 2006.

Owen Sheers is a poet, author, playwright, actor and BBC TV presenter from Wales. Owen is best known in Zimbabwe for the semi-fictionalised account of the life of his great-great uncle, Arthur Shearly Cripps, maverick missionary to Southern Rhodesia,The Dust Diaries. He is also a renowned award-winning poet, and his first novel Resistance has been translated into ten languages. Recently, he was the presenter of the BBC series A Poet’s Guide to Britain.

John Eppel is Bulawayo’s best known writer and poet, with four collections of poetry, six novels and two collections of short stories and poems to his name. John was awarded the Ingrid Jonker Prize for his poetry collection Spoils of War and the M-Net Prize for his novel D G G Berry’s The Great North Road.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Dancing with Life gets Noma Award Honourable Mention

Dancing with Life: Tales from the Township has won an Honourable Mention in the 2009 Noma Awards. The Noma Award has become the most significant book prize in Africa since its inception in 1980, with entries in the categories of scholarly or academic, books for children and literature and creative writing. Christopher Mlalazi’s collection of short stories was one of just four books from across the continent recognised this year, chosen from submissions from 43 publishers in 12 different African countries. The Noma Award went to Nigerian writer Sefi Atta’s for her short story collection Lawless and Other Stories, which won the US$10,000 prize. Tunisian writer Sonia Chamkhi’s Leila ou la femme de l’aube, and Love in the Time of Treason, by South Africa’s Zubeida Jaffer were also singled out for Honourable Mention.

The Noma Award Jury is chaired by Walter Bgoya from Tanzania, one of Africa’s most distinguished publishers, with wide knowledge of both African and international publishing. The other members of the Jury in 2009 were: Professor Simon Gikandi, Robert Schirmer Professor of English at Princeton University; Professor Peter Katjavivi, Chairman of the National Planning Commission in the Government of Namibia, and former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Namibia; and Mary Jay, Secretary of the Jury. The Award is sponsored by Kodansha Ltd, Japan.

The judges said of Christopher Mlalazi’s book: ‘Mlalazi’s collection of short stories is an important addition to the new writing from Zimbabwe concentrating on the social disintegration of the country. The stories stand out by being set in Bulawayo, drawing on the distinctive identity of a provincial city, its Ndebele culture, and its marginal relation to the centre. The success of the stories lies in the experiences of ordinary people coping with violence, anger and angst, rather than any self-conscious sense of form.’

Christopher Mlalazi is a graduate of the British Council Crossing Borders Project, a mentoring scheme for writers. He feels that his skills as a writer were honed by his participation in this scheme. As well as being recognised by the Noma panel, Chris won a 2009 National Arts Merit Award in Zimbabwe for Dancing with Life for Outstanding First Creative Book.
Brian Jones, a director of the publishers ’amaBooks, said that he was ‘delighted for Christopher. It is a major achievement for Dancing with Life to be considered by the Noma panel as one of the best four books published in Africa last year, particularly as this is his first book. We’re proud that we were the first to publish Christopher with a short story in Short Writings from Bulawayo, and we have included his stories in each of the subsequent books in the Short Writings series. To me, Christopher’s strength as a writer lies in his keen powers of observation and in his writing remaining rooted in his personal experiences of life in the townships.'

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Owen Sheers to launch Bryony Rheam's This September Sun

Welsh writer and BBC TV presenter Owen Sheers has agreed to be guest speaker at the launch of Bryony Rheam’s novel This September Sun. The launch is planned for 19 November at the Bulawayo Club, which is mentioned in the novel.

Owen was born in Fiji, but was brought up and educated in Abergavenny in South Wales and at New College, Oxford. He has written two books of poetry, The Blue Book, which won the Forward Best First Collection prize and Skirrid Hill, which won a Somerset Maugham Award. His first novel, Resistance, published by Faber in 2008, was short-listed for the Writers Guild Best Book Award and has so far been translated into nine languages. Big Rich Films have optioned Resistance for Owen and Amit Gupta to adapt and Amit to direct. Owen’s most recent publication is a novella, White Ravens, a contemporary response to the Mabinogion myth.

Owen is best known in Zimbabwe for the semi-fictionalised account of the life of his great-great uncle, Arthur Shearly Cripps, maverick missionary to Southern Rhodesia. The incredible story of Cripps' African legacy, Owen’s travels in his footsteps and the volatile history of a nation are all told in a series of layered, interwoven narratives that distort the boundaries between biography and fiction. The Dust Diaries was short-listed for the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize and won the Welsh Book of the Year award. Owen has had close links with Bulawayo – he has a poem published in the ’amaBooks collection Short Writings from Bulawayo III, a short story in Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Zimbabwe and five poems in Intwasa Poetry. Owen also participated in the Intwasa Arts Festival koBulawayo 2006, where he first encountered Bryony Rheam’s writing.

Owen recently presented the BBC television series A Poet’s Guide to Britain. He also wrote the introduction to the accompanying anthology.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Review of John Eppel's Hatchings, from

Hatchings is set in a Zimbabwe that many whites have fled but in which there is still a large group that either has taken advantage of the situation or is there for (supposedly) ideological reason. An equal-opportunity satirist, Eppel mercilessly skewers almost everyone, black and white, in an often outrageous work that also has a surprisingly gentle edge to it.
It is around New Years, 1991 going into 1992, and the story begins with the Fawkes family on a camping trip. The daughter, Elizabeth, is going on sixteen and torn between her lust for bad boy Jet Bunion and her new-found religion. Though her parents aren't devout, Elizabeth has found herself born-again -- and disapproving of the ways of many of the girls at school.
Underage sex is rampant at Bulawayo's various private (public) schools, with various teachers and headmasters taking advantage of their positions to get sexual favours from the often extremely young girls. This unfortunately results in a lot of unwanted pregnancies, and one of the novel's very sharp running gags is that disposing of these (and many other) unwanted infants has become a big business -- so big that they're running out of places to stow them away, leading to several cases of the discovery of the dead babes, with a variety of consequences. Early on, when a dumped baby is discovered, all the girls at one school are lined up by the police and:

They then systematically felt every girl's breast in order to determine which, if any, were in milk. The fourteenth girl in the queue was discovered to be conspicuously pregnant so then the police began to feel tummies (and even further down with the prettier girls) as well as breasts. As a result of this exercise, no fewer than seven girls, one in the first form, three in the second form, two in the third form, and one in the sixth form were instantly expelled from the school. All these girls, the police investigation showed, were either pregnant or had recently given birth.
Elizabeth wants to be virtuous, but Jet is oh so tempting ..... Still, her parents -- despite their concerns about her religiosity -- are supportive and this is a functioning family. When Dad asks Elizabeth to hatch a prized Asil Khan egg he has obtained she agrees to carry it around in her bra for the necessary three weeks -- apparently the best environment for successfully bringing it to hatch (they've done this before). This obvious infant substitute is in good hands with dutiful Elizabeth.
Many of the other kids aren't involved in nearly as harmless fun -- but the fault lies largely with the adults, who range from corrupt to what amounts to criminally insane (usually with a strong ideological foundation). One reason
Hatchings works is because there are also some genuinely decent (and/or clueless) adults, including Elizabeth's parents, but much of the fun is with the over-the-top characters who engage in some of the worst stuff. Beginning with Ingeborg Ficker, "Bulawayo's premier artist", it's a very comic cast of characters. Ficker, for example, is "one of the few, very few native born white Zimbabweans who had not been corrupted by colonialism" -- at least as interpreted by the local ideologues; in fact, of course, her brand of revolutionary liberalism (and her art) is as off the wall as anything.
Typical for Eppel's humour (at least of the less sexually explicit sort -- of which there is a great deal) are observations such as:
It was fashionable at parties where anybody who was about to become anybody in Bulawayo had been invited, to ask a sprinkling of non-whites to attend. This created an exquisite feeling in the hosts and hostesses of living on the edge of peril. It is a shocking yet exciting thing for your ex-Rhodesian to entertain in his home -- on his settee, mind you, eating off his plates, drinking not out of an old jam tin under a tree in the back yard, but out of proper glasses, using your toilet, for Christ's sake ! -- a sprinkling of non-Europeans.
He's also particularly good at skewering those who have benefitted from the great white flight after independence, taking advantage of what was left behind -- property, jobs, opportunities galore -- and cashing in on it. So, for example, the "desirable Cocks" (yes, Eppel is a bit too obvious with a few too many of the names):
They were very proud of their home in the Eastern Suburbs, which they'd bought in the early eighties for seven thousand dollars and which was now insured for half a million dollars. True, they'd upgraded the property consistently over the years. They'd taken out all the indigenous trees and put in a swimming pool and a sauna. They'd cut down the hibiscus hedge and put up a seven foot instarect wall topped with five layers of barbed wire. They had paved nearly the entire one and a half acres with 'state of the art' bricks. They had fitted a second hand plastic seat to the lavatory in the servant's quarters.
Eppel moves the novel across quite a few characters and a variety of conditions; the Fawkes' place is one of the few relative idylls, while elsewhere corruption -- sexual and moral -- dominates. With an easy style and making absolutely everything fair game -- some of the conduct is, even when recognisable as satire, absolutely shocking -- Eppel has writen a very entertaining and sharp book. Remarkably, he also offers what can only be described as a sweet ending, a perhaps too abrupt backing off of all the harsh (but admittedly very amusing) glare from before (and, yes, it does involve that hatching of the chick).
This is very good social satire, tackling some serious subjects -- the theme of the water shortage is well-integrated into the story, for example, and though he plays it for cruel laughs he does right by the sexual abuse as well. Eppel spreads his story a bit thin -- it is very crowded and storyline-packed for such a short novel -- and occasionally feels a bit rough and rushed, but on the whole is an impressive achievement. Despite its flaws, it is well worthwhile.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

This September Sun now available in Zimbabwe

Bryony Rheam's This September Sun is now in many shops around Zimbabwe, including Induna Arts, Indaba Cafe and Kingstons in Bulawayo, the Book Cafe, Avondale Bookshop and other Innov8 bookshops in Harare, and the National Gallery of Zimbabwe shops in both Bulawayo and Harare.
Brian Jones, one of the directors of ’amaBooks, presented a copy of This September Sun to Chipo Muvezwa, Programmes Officer of the Culture Fund of Zimbabwe Trust, during the presentation ceremony for the first graduates of the British Council and Culture Fund supported Creative Enterprise: Core Programme at the Holiday Inn, Bulawayo, on Friday 9 October. He described the book as ‘an impressive first novel by an accomplished writer that contains both romance and mystery.’ A copy of the ’amaBooks collection of short stories and poems by young writers, Silent Cry: Echoes of Young Zimbabwe Voices, was presented to Ignatius Mabasa, Deputy Director of the British Council, Zimbabwe, at the same event. Brian Jones thanked all the organisations that had helped ’amaBooks over the last year, including the Culture Fund, British Council, Beit Trust, HIVOS, Embassy of the United States of America and Alliance Francaise de Bulawayo.

(From and )

Monday, October 5, 2009

Novuyo Tshuma wins Intwasa Short Story Competition


Novuyo Rosa Tshuma is the winner of the 2009 Intwasa Arts Festival koBulawayo Short Story Competition. Her heartrending story You in Paradise won the judges hearts and beat a strong list of contenders for this year's prize.

The second prize went to Fungai Tichawangana and third prize was won by Violette Kee-Tui.

Novuyo’s You in Paradise tells of a young Zimbabwean woman’s experiences in South Africa, with the police, with xenophobia, and with Obi, the Nigerian with ‘diamonds drooping from his ears’. Novuyo has been published before, with four of her short stories in the ’amaBooks collection Silent Cry: Echoes of Young Voices and has had stories accepted in two other collections.

Fungai Tichawangana’s story, entitled Ting! Ta-ling! Ta-ling!, is a humorous piece about a bus journey where the ‘fat lady in the front seat would not stop talking’. Eventually, she faints and cannot be awoken, but then her cell-phone rings, from inside her bra...

Violette Kee-Tu’s piece is a powerful account of the relationship between two sisters, as one of them develops a brain tumour.

The other writers shortlisted for the competition were Memory Chirere, Melusi Mkandla, Farai Mpofu, Urayayi Msarire, Thamsanqa Ncube, Babusi
Nyoni and Mgcini Nyoni

The judges commented: "The overall standard of the stories submitted was very high, with entries from across Zimbabwe and from both well known and budding writers. The entries were varied, some being topical, some humorous and others emotionally charged. It was a hard task judging the competition with little between those short-listed. It is encouraging to see such good writing in Zimbabwe and it bodes well for the future."

Previous winners of the competition were Thabisani Ndlovu, who has short stories published in the ’amaBooks Short Writings collections and is presently studying for a PhD in South Africa, Bryony Rheam, whose short stories have appeared in many Zimbabwean anthologies and whose first novel This September Sun has just been published by ’amaBooks, and Chaltone Tshabangu, who has a short story in Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Zimbabwe.

Monday, September 28, 2009

This September Sun at Intwasa

This September Sun, Bryony Rheam's first novel, has now been published, and the first copies were on display at the launch of the late Celia Winter Irving's book on Lazarus Takawira, Spirit of a Woman. The launch of Spirit of a Woman, supported by Alliance Francaise de Bulawayo, took place during the Intwasa Arts Festival koBulawayo.
Literary Arts at Intwasa was again an active sector at the festival, showing the strength of creative writing in the city. As well as local writers, Ivor Hartmann and Zukiswa Wanner from South Africa, and Ignatius Mabasa from Harare featured at the festival. The Intwasa Arts Festival Short Story competition 2009 was won by Bulawayo's Novuyo Tshuma, followed by Fungai Tichawangana and Violette Kee-Tui. Novuyo Tshuma has had four stories published by 'amaBooks in Silent Cry: Echoes of Young Zimbabwe Voices, a result of  the British Council supported Echoes of Young Voices project.
This September Sun will be available in shops around Zimbabwe soon.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

'amaBooks at Fine Things from the City of Kings

’amaBooks were involved at the Fine Things from the City of Kings fair at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo We had a stand and some of the writers - John Eppel, Christopher Mlalazi, Pathisa Nyathi, Shepherd Mandhlazi, Monireh Jassat, Farai Mpofu, Linda Msebele, Mthabisi Phili, Deon Marcus and Raisedon Baya - were available to sign books and to talk to members of the public.

Fine Things from the City of Kings featured the very best of Zimbabwean art, books, craft, design, food and hospitality during the weekend of 12 September.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

This September Sun available soon

The latest 'amaBooks publication - the novel This September Sun, by Bryony Rheam, is at the printers and will be available in Zimbabwe at the end of September. It is a substantial novel, of 364 pages, and the cover design by Veena Bhana is based on a painting by Bulawayo artist Jeanette Johnson.

This September Sun is a chronicle of the lives of two women, the romantic Evelyn and her granddaughter Ellie.

Growing up in post-Independence Zimbabwe, Ellie yearns for a life beyond the confines of small town Bulawayo, a wish that eventually comes true when she moves to the United Kingdom. However, life there is not all she dreamed it to be, but it is the murder of her grandmother that eventually brings her back home and forces her to face some hard home truths through the unravelling of long-concealed family secrets.

Bryony Rheam offers us a rich portrait of a family and a society in the grip of inexorable change, through the eyes of the sensitive, spirited Ellie. Elegantly written, funny and poignant, this is a wonderful first novel from a writer of great promise. A true original. - Caroline Gilfillan

A beautifully executed story about Ellie’s painful journey of discovery through her family history. The writing in This September Sun, poetic at times, fires a clear warning shot across the bows of world literature to announce that Bryony Rheam has arrived to claim her rightful place. - Christopher Mlalazi

Set largely in Bulawayo, This September Sun brilliantly evokes the ennui of the pre-Independence settler community who measure out their lives in cups of tea, sundowners, and illicit affairs. When, in 1980, a black government comes into power, Rhodesian complacency crystallises into Zimbabwean angst, and Ellie, the novel’s over-sensitive protagonist, moves uneasily between the two.

In this absorbing debut novel, Bryony Rheam expertly combines the Epistolary, the Bildungsroman, Romance, and Mystery to produce a work worthy of a place in the bibliography of post-colonial writings in Africa. - John Eppel

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Long Time Coming Review: from The Raconteur

“2 l8 4 crisis”

Reviewed by Tom Cheesman ,

To appear in The Raconteur,

Who – among Brits – gives a shit about Zim? (Hello there, Zimbabwean Raconteur readers in exile! And hello to other readers with Zimbabwean roots and ties! But apart from you…?) During the campaign to kick out white farmers, in 2000-2002, British media were full of Zimbabwe. Now we just get occasional reports about cholera, and crazy inflation figures. The latest: 231 million per cent. And unemployment: 94%. And life expectancy: 37. Zimbabwe was a rich agricultural country. Now the people are mostly starving, and violence and disease are endemic.

A few do prosper, under what John Eppel calls “a government of the obese, by / the obese, for the obese”. In his poem a roadside vendor offers for a sale “a cigarette, a handful / of peanuts, and a blighted onion. […] Sick, her child is the colour of ash, / a rag doll of hopelessness, symbol / of the new Zimbabwe.” This poem is in a remarkable, inspiring book published inside the country: Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Zimbabwe. It’s a simple act of solidarity: buy it! You’ll be repaid with some brilliant writing. The editor is Jane Morris, originally from Ebbw Vale. She co-directs the publisher ‘amaBooks in Bulawayo. Long Time Coming is one of about twenty titles they have published. It contains stories and a few poems, all of a very high standard, by 33 writers, most young. Some publish here for the first time; some are well-known (most of them in exile), such as Petina Gappah (here with a devastatingly detached story about AIDS) and Ignatius Tirivangani Mabasa; a few pieces are by Welsh and other international visitors, including Owen Sheers and Peter Finch. The writings are very varied – satire, domestic realism, fantasy, reportage, adventure – but all share a beating heart of political resistance. And the name of Robert Mugabe is never once mentioned: out of caution, no doubt, but also out of contempt.

In 1980, when Mugabe was sworn in as prime minister, Bob Marley sang at the ceremony: “Africans a-liberate Zimbabwe, yeah! / No more internal power struggle, / We come together to overcome the little trouble. / Soon we’ll find out who is the real revolutionary. / I don’t want my people to be tricked by mercenaries.” Soon Mugabe fulfilled Marley’s fears. Thousands died in civil conflict over the next years. Civilians were massacred both by government troops and by dissident militias and gangs. The red berets of the Fifth Brigade, directly controlled by Mugabe’s office, were particularly feared. He called their task Gukurahundi, a Shona word: “the early rain which washes away the maize chaff before the spring rains”. This metaphor of “cleansing” has ethnic implications: opposition is strongest among non-Shona-speakers.

In 1987, Mugabe became “executive president”: in effect dictator. Conflict with the white farm owners came to a head from 2000, as “squatters” and “veterans” were encouraged to violently seize tens of millions of acres. The productivity of the land plummeted. International donors and banks withdrew support. Food, fuel, medical supplies, foreign currency, and all kinds of goods became scarce. The obese profit from the economic chaos (some of their tricks are detailed in Wim Boswinkel’s story “Justice”). Infrastructure has collapsed: water and sewage, roads, health and other facilities. The usual methods of state repression are used: police and army brutality, disappearances, torture, extra-judicial executions, clamp-downs on independent media, educational and legal institutions.

A refugee who came from Harare to Swansea, William G. Mbwembwe, wrote a poem in 2005, “I guarantee”: “I can guarantee that there is freedom of speech in Zimbabwe / But I cannot guarantee freedom after your speech […] I can guarantee you long life in Zimbabwe / Just don’t carry this poem around with you” (from Soft Touch, Hafan Books, 2005). That year, Operation Murambatsvina (“clean-up”) began. Hundreds of thousands of people – mostly supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change – were evicted from urban areas, and street markets were shut down, destroying the livelihoods of millions. Still, in January 2009 the MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai became prime minister, sharing power with Mugabe. The crisis might be reaching a climax. Surely, as Sam Cooke sings, “it’s been a long time coming, but a change is gonna come”.

William Mbwembwe was a charismatic community volunteer. Not long after getting refugee status, he fell ill and died in 2008. In Soft Touch we also published his story, “From the South South to the North West”. He tells how his family decided to leave: “When the invaders invaded the farm across the road and started demanding food and water, I knew vamoosing was the best advice. We packed up all our stuff including the roaches (you don’t leave those behind, they are family) and we headed off to live somewhere else (which I won’t say coz I don’t trust you).” Many stories in Long Time Coming have that chatty gallows humour, joking with the reader. Tales of suffering – but survival – are told with an engaging twinkle in the eye. The twinkle’s also challenging, if you’re from the global “North West”: the rich, comfortable zone.

Up here, people protest if fuel prices rise. In Long Time Coming several stories are about travelling on overcrowded “chicken buses”, or with people who still have cars, who sell rides to the highest bidder at the roadside, to pay for fuel. Sandisile Tshuma’s autobiographical “Arrested Development” opens the book. She pays 800,000 dollars to get from Bulawayo to Beitbridge, on the South African border. First, she has to wait for a ride: “I had to wait two hours to get money from the bank to pay for my journey and now here I am waiting. Again. It’s what we do. We wait for transport, for electricity, for rain, for slow-speed internet connections […] but you know how hope is. It never dies. So we tell ourselves that there isn’t anything yet. We’ll find a way out; in the meantime let’s wait.” While waiting, she gets a text from a friend, joking that “since life expectancy in Zim is reportedly quite low, she reckons she is entitled to a mid-life crisis”. But she has miscalculated. Tshuma replies: “Sori m8. In mid-20s nw so u hav abt 10 mo yrs left 2 liv. Thz r the sunset yrs. 2 l8 4 crisis.

Finally on her way, “as the kilometers go by I am struck by a loneliness that I have noticed in everybody lately.” This loneliness is conveyed by many of the stories. Ignatius Mabasa perhaps captures it best, in “Some Kind of Madness”. The narrator leaves home and waits for a bus, vaguely feeling he’s forgotten something important. Through interactions with neighbours, passengers, the driver, and police at a roadblock, Mabasa gives a detailed snapshot of the social conditions, evoking both tragedy and hilarity. Someone at the back of the bus asks why they’ve stopped. Someone else shrieks: “What, are you blind?” The reply comes: “Actually I am blind.” Into the embarrassed silence, the narrator laughs and quotes aloud from the Bible: Jesus telling his disciples that a man was born blind “so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” All the passengers look at him. One asks: “Who are you?” He answers: “I don’t know.” And then, he realises: “That’s it […], that’s what I have forgotten.” It’s a brilliantly chilling final twist.

I don’t have space to mention many of the good things in the book, but two extraordinary, visionary stories stand out for me: resonant visions of feminine hope and masculine horror, suggesting alternative futures. Judy Maposa, in “First Rain”, recounts a dream of a proud, naked, goddess-like woman amid torrential rainfall which cleanses Zimbabwe of its traumatic history, flushing away Gukurahundi and Murambatsiva, feeding the turbines of Kariba, bringing a rich harvest and an end to power cuts. Finally the narrator is woken by her daughter – “The taps are coughing. Get the containers” – and smiles: “Everything is going to be alright.” Here, visionary hope transcends everyday reality. By contrast, Thabisani Ndlovu’s “Stampede” recounts the nightmare of a young soldier walking for days through moribund wilderness, to and from his mother’s abandoned hut, in search of weapons he seems to have lost, to join an uprising against the regime of the “Great Leader”. The uprising is is crushed before it begins, and he joins a terrifying stampede of faceless fleeing figures, stamping soft body parts underfoot, before collapsing in a dry riverbed. Torrential rain falls, only to bring more horror: he must take off his uniform to avoid detection as a rebel, but it sticks to him wetly. His mother appears, trying to help him, but is crushed in the stampede… This story ends with a bitter laugh and the deeply ambiguous question: “Was there anyone left with the Great Leader at all?”