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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.