Sunday, July 5, 2009

Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Zimbabwe


 Long Time Coming (2008, ISBN 978-0-7974-3644-2) brings together short stories and poems from thirty-three writers that provide snapshots of this turbulent period in Zimbabwe’s history.

Snapshots of living in a country where basic services have crumbled: where shops have no food, taps no water, banks no money, hospitals no drugs, bars no beer. Snapshots of characters surviving against seemingly insurmountable odds. Horrific snapshots of the abuse of power, of violence and oppression, of the destruction of dreams.

But this is Zimbabwe – there are lighter moments and moments of hope: in some of life’s simple pleasures, in the coming of the rains, in the wink and the smile of a stranger, in a challenge to patriarchy, in the inner strength of the people, in fighting back.

The writers are Raisedon Baya, Wim Boswinkel, Diana Charsley, Brian Chikwava, Julius Chingono, Mathew Chokuwenga, Bhekilizwe Dube, John Eppel, Peter Finch, Petina Gappah, David Goodwin, Anne Simone Hutton, Monireh Jassat, Ignatius Mabasa, Fungai Rufaro Machirori, Judy Maposa, Deon Marcus, Christopher Mlalazi, Gothataone Moeng, Wame Molefhe, Linda Msebele, Mzana Mthimkhulu, Peter Ncube, Thabisani Ndlovu, Pathisa Nyathi, Andrew Pocock, John S. Read, Bryony Rheam, Lloyd Robson, Ian Rowlands, Owen Sheers, Chaltone Tshabangu and Sandisile Tshuma.

You don’t have to be in Zimbabwe to know or experience what is happening in Zimbabwe. All you have to do is get yourself a copy of ’amaBooks’ Long Time Coming. The book is about hope, about resilience, and how the people have waited for so long to be delivered from their suffering. A fine read. – The Zimbabwean

In a powerful and timely collection of short stories and poems about Zimbabwe by 33 writers, Long Time Coming offers snapshots of life in a collapsed country. It is a collection straining with suspended hope; change has taken too long to arrive. Gemma Ware – The Africa Report

 

Review from New Internationalist

It is little short of miraculous that, despite the disease, oppression and hyper-inflation that is the reality of today’s Zimbabwe, writers are writing and publishers are publishing. With even the much-derided official inflation rate in the multi-million per cent bracket, I have no idea how ‘amaBooks, who are based in Zimbabwe’s second city, Bulawayo, have managed to raise the resources to publish this volume but I do know they deserve the highest possible praise for doing so. They describe these short stories and poems by 33 writers who live in or have a connection with Bulawayo as ‘snapshots... of a country where shops have no food, banks no money, hospitals no drugs, bars no beer.’ Each piece here – and they are miniature marvels, with no story longer than eight pages – vividly illuminates an aspect of what it is actually like to live in a country that has been systematically looted and stripped of functioning organizations.

Daily life becomes a one-sided struggle against insurmountable odds; a recurring theme is the immense difficulty in simply getting from place to place when there is no public transport and petrol is scarce and ruinously expensive. Those lucky enough to have jobs earn less than the cost of their journey to work and those without work battle despair and hunger. There are odd glimmers of lightness and pleasure here, albeit tinged with gallows humour. It would be unfair to single out individual authors for praise but, taken together, these stories cohere into a panorama of Zimbabwe. Read Long Time Coming and remember the next line in Sam Cooke’s song ‘...but I know a change is gonna come’.

 

*****

 

Review from The Africa Report

 by Gemma Ware

A MAN TRIES TO FIND Z$5,000 for his bus ride home. A woman about to get married waits with her fianc√© for the results of an HIV test. A defeated president gets ready to vacate his palace, but his wife refuses to leave until she has found her favourite pair of yellow shoes. In a powerful and timely collection of short stories and poems about Zimbabwe by 33 writers, Long Time Coming offers snapshots of life in a collapsed country. It is a collection straining with suspended hope; change has taken too long to arrive. “My country is like/ an empty but attractive/ plastic packet,” writes poet Julius Chingono, “being blown by the wind/ along the road that leads to a rubbish dump/ by the cemetery.” Zimbabwe’s plight is perfectly suited to the short story and offerings come from both celebrated writers like Petina Gappah, Christopher Mlalazi and John Eppel, and a clutch of emerging talents from Zimbabwe and the diaspora. Political frustration, brutal violence and painful loss is met with practical resignation and grim humour. Despite the patient optimism in the book’s title, little of this makes its way into the stories. Unpicking the loneliness she has noticed in everyone lately, in ‘Arrested Development’ Sandisile Tshuma calls it a “pervasive and virus-like affliction” borne on glimpses of a life and future we can feel “slipping through our fingers”. In a country, where Raisedon Baya writes in ‘Echoes of Silence’, “silence became a way of life”, Zimbabwe’s writers are trying to incite its people against it.  GEMMA WARE

 

*****

 

Review from www.artsinitiates.com 

by Memory Chirere, University of Zimbabwe

Long Time Coming carries stories laced up with short poems. It takes variegated glances at what has come to be termed the Zimbabwe crisis for close to a decade now. The glances are thankfully numerous and this is the blessing brought by bringing together many writers under one cover. In most of these stories there is the outstanding view that what bedevils Zimbabwe comes from the inside and outside and from the unresolved Zimbabwe past. Then, sadly, there is the uncomplicated view by a few of the writers here that all Zimbabwe’s problems are due solely to misrule or due only to the evils of one tribe over another. Even more intriguing is the view by some writers here that the Zimbabwean crisis opens up new opportunities and ways of viewing Zimbabwe, present past and future.

You come across the multi talented type like Pathisa Nyathi, Ignatius Mabasa, John Eppel, Raisedon Baya and Julius Chingono. Then you have the immensely fresh and very talented like Judy Maposa, Sandisile Tshuma Linda Msebele and Thabisani Ndlovu who leave you wondering, even crying: where have these gems been hibernating all along? Then there are visitors to Zimbabwe like Ian Rowlands and Gothataone Moeng who felt touched by what we do to one another and what has been done to us in Zimbabwe.

Judy Maposa could be the greatest find in this book. Her story First Rain is a transcendental piece. Here the world is solid, gas and liquid. I have only met the equivalent in Jose Saramago of the novel called The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. I read this story five times for the sheer opportunity of being transfigured. In the end Judy Maposa’s dry Bulawayo has water gushing from every tap.

Sandisile Tshuma’s Arrested Development can work as an example of how good stories can only come if writers ‘forget’ form and structure and tell their story unhinged like you do to a close mate from the comfort of night and darkness when the door is shut. Pillow talk is how I could describe Sandisile’s story. No wonder why the editor made this one the first story. In half a dozen pages she effortlessly takes you through issues of inflation, border jumping, tribalism, queues…

Linda Msebele is a writer of great courage. Her The Chicken Bus could be the most uplifting story in this book. Her characters ‘refuse to turn sour, the ones who won’t let fear cloud their brows, the ones who still smile.’

Thabisani Ndlovu’s Stampede can win a prize any day. It is a surrealist work of art about how body, spirit and mind engage in a wretched struggle against one another before the final fall. It is about working for systems in which one remains invisible and one can never dare rebel or think about it.

The more well known writers bring depth and experimentation to this anthology. You see it in the poetry of experienced masters like John Eppel and Pathisa Nyathi. They make Bulawayo come alive with both its beauty and ugliness.

The ‘Harare boys’ cannot be outdone. Julius Chingono writes with a very well hidden tension that erupts from seemingly simple narrative. He begins with: ‘I had no bus fare to take me home and it was 4:45pm’ and all hell breaks loose. Chingono’s story is about the desperate levels to which people can sink in the Zimbabwean crisis. A grown up man finds suddenly that he not even a single cent to get him onto the bus back home.

Ignatius Mabasa’s story is about the shifting identities during the Zimbabwean crisis. Although Mabasa argues that he prefers the Shona medium, his story here in English shows why he is fast becoming the leading Zimbabwean writer of his generation. His poem called Poetry is goes:  

Poetry is a white child

Lost in the darkness of a cinema house

Holding my black hand

Calling me daddy…

You should not miss the stories of the three writers of the moment in Zimbabwe, Brian Chikwava, Christopher Mlalazi and Petina Gappah. However, be warned! You need to read their short stories with both your eyes and mind open. In the end you may laugh and cry at the same time.

 

The book helps to show that ’amaBooks could be fast becoming for Bulawayo what Weaver Press is to Harare. You see it in the very meticulous editing and inspired choice and arrangement of artists.

 

 

*****

 

Review from The Zimbabwean

 

You don’t have to be in Zimbabwe to know or experience what is happening in Zimbabwe. All you have to do is get yourself a copy of ’amaBooks’ Long Time Coming and plough through it. At the end of your reading you’ll, without doubt, have gone through the total Zimbabwean experience.

This publication pits together thirty three writers from different backgrounds, races, experiences and genres. Thabisani Ndlovu, Pathisa Nyathi, John Read, Monireh Jassat, Brian Chikwava and Petinah Gappah are some of the contributors to this anthology. Thirty three writers as different as their names, writers with their own individual voices and styles. Old writers who have done it all share this platform with young and new writers still trying to get on their feet in the literary world.

Thirty three writers painting their thoughts, feelings, dreams, fears and nightmares about Zimbabwe, a country Julius Chingono aptly describes as “an empty but attractive/ plastic packet  . . . / that leads to a rubbish dump/ by the cemetery.”

Old wounds refusing to heal, scars yearning to be scratched, fresh and open wounds begging for attention, diseases, drought, betrayal, and a lot of other issues afflicting the former bread basket of Africa are unpacked in this poignant anthology whose stories are connected by their setting, the interlinking themes and a shared responsibility by the writers to be the voice of those that are still searching for their own voices or too afraid to open their mouths.

Bhekilizwe Dube writes about an abusive relationship created around the squalor and ugliness of a township slowly being reduced to a village. City people are seen fetching water from boreholes like in the rural areas. It took Thandi “near death” to realize she has to get out of a violent relationship. There is obviously another layer of meaning to this story, some kind of political connotation. The writer is not just angry at his sister for allowing the abuse to go on for so long. He is also angry at his fellow citizens who have allowed politicians to abuse them to a state of near death. The story is, perhaps, a wake up call to say its time people changed their situation by getting out of politically abusive relationships.  

King of Bums has the streetwise Chris Mlalazi examining post independent Zimbabwe and what it means to a new generation of born frees. It is a story of anger and betrayal where the young feel they are being held at ransom for not having been born or being old enough to take part in the liberation war.  In this story post independent Zimbabwe is seen more as a living nightmare instead of the land of honey and milk promised during the war of liberation. Ian Rowlands, a casual Welsh visitor to Zimbabwe, comes face to face with the rape of innocence during a visit to a township in Bulawayo. At an Aids orphanage he comes across young orphans whose only crime is to hope and dream for a better Zimbabwe. And at the end of his visit Ian Rowlands can only ask: “What manner of man would allow such innocence to be destroyed?”

There is so much going on in Zimbabwe that sometimes it is difficult to maintain one’s sanity. The pressures are just too much. Ignatius Mabasa explores the theme of temporary insanity in Some Kind of Madness. One of his characters wakes up to the realization that he has forgotten who he is. Although he can remember his hunger, the smell of hospitals where relatives are taken and never come back, of the colour of death on people’s skins (obviously AIDS related), he can’t remember who he is. A very worrisome experience.

But then all is not gloom and depressing. There are lighter moments in the anthology. Moments like the ones Mzana Mthimkhulu creates with Not Slaves to Fashion. A wedding and preparations for celebrations. Moments of hope. Like all citizens of Zimbabwe the writers know the importance of hope. A hope for a better tomorrow. This is explored by Judy Maposa in First Rain. In her story she wishes for “rain to wash away all the corruption in the land. A rain to cleanse and restore all that has been touched by the dark side of man.” This rain is long overdue. It has taken a long time coming.

 Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Zimbabwe is about hope, about resilience, and how the people have waited for so long to be delivered from their suffering. A fine read.

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