Author(s): Julius Chingono and John Eppel
Genre: Poetry and Short Stories
Length: 153 pages
Publisher / Year: ’amaBooks, University of KwaZulu-Natal Press & University of New Orleans Press / 2011
From the Back Cover:
The two Zimbabwean writers featured in this collection of stories and poems could not be more different. John Eppel is an English literature teacher in Bulawayo; Julius Chingono, from Norton, near Harare, was a rock-blaster in mines for many years. Eppel is a deliberate stylist, while Chingono is a deliberate anti-stylist. The western literary tradition is pervasive in Eppel’s writing; Chingono is his own tradition.
In another sense, however, they could not be more similar. Both share an aversion for those in power who exploit it to the detriment of all but their cronies and themselves; both feel a deep compassion for the poor and the marginalized of Zimbabwe. And they are both very funny.
To begin with, I must put across to my readers that this review is based on an advanced or pre-publication copy from ’amaBooks publishers. I felt it appropriate to bring to you my review at this time as the launch of the book is scheduled for today, 18th of April at 5.30p.m, at Lobby Books in Spin Street, Cape Town.
When I first saw the title of the book and the cover image, I was tempted to draw my own conclusion as to the essence of such a symbolical title: Together. I thought for a while that the message the cover image was trying to carry across was absolute and well thought of – thus – artistically. Together is a collection of uniquely written short stories and poems from two different authors – thus – different in the sense that Chingono is a black Zimbabwean and Eppel a white Zimbabwean, yet they come together to present to readers stories and poems with very pressing and unresolved themes that are so important in today’s Zimbabwe and perhaps across the African continent. I personally admired the harmony with which these excellent pieces were put together as most of the messages they carry strike parallels at several points, leaving small pit-holes for divergence.
Put together, ‘Together’ contains forty-nine poems and nineteen short stories from the two writers and most of these stories and poems cast a sharp reflection on what is at stake in post-independence Zimbabwe, a country blighted with the legacy of conflict between white and black Zimbabweans. It is with this that I find the title worth embracing as the title itself suggests what ought to be thought of: unity, amalgamation, harmony, unanimity and all those elements that seek to bring togetherness.
Before I even got into the stories and poems proper, I was struck by some of the points highlighted in the introduction of the book where Julius Chingono said of the differences between himself and John Eppel – I quote – ‘He is white and I am black, but we are all Zimbabwean... I believe in people living together in harmony. Fighting poverty being our main agenda.’
I must confess that I enjoyed the stories and poems in their entirety, yet there were those I will simply not forget for many years to come and which I may want to group under my favourites. I will highlight a few here:
Chingono’s poem ‘At the Bus Station’ is a delight to read, well-crafted and true to our times, a poem revealing the harsh conditions and the splintered society where survival has become paramount. A traveller has to fight his way to get in there, to get into the bus at the bus station. There is a stiff competition at the bus station as stranded passengers compete for a single bus. The speaker is part of the scramble so as to get a share of what the bus has to offer. The first few lines read:
‘When you arrive
at the bus station
pull down your tie
or remove the tie
to prevent strangulation.’
And the last few lines read:
‘During the climb
also bear in mind
words lose meaning
until you are inside the bus.’
‘We Waited’, a short story by Chingono, concentrates on electioneering, with its first line beginning like this: ‘On the day appointed to hold the town council primary elections, we waited.’ For the first waiting by the people to cast their votes, the men and women who were keen to exercise their right to vote were disappointed because the presiding officers did not show up. In their waiting, standing in the scorching sun for so long, they talked about all those amenities they lacked in their community: the poor water system, the unserviced roads, the lack of electricity and so on. In their waiting, little did the people know that there was a ploy to maintain the outgoing councillor, Mr. Chimbumu. By the end of all that waiting and postponements, it is clear that the leaders have disappointed their own people, cutting out and disqualifying their own choice of candidates. They protest against this corruption but their resistance is crushed with the aid of police officers. What a shame! This is a dark, disheartening story yet so real in the Zimbabwe of today, and perhaps even across the continent.
Turning to John Eppel, he explores different kinds of forms in the presentation of his stories and poems. For instance, he chooses to use various narrative forms with poetry, including Japanese haiku. In the poem ‘Afrika’, the speaker proposes that we make sacrifices in order to build the Afrika we so desire – for Rome was not built in a day. The speaker concludes, ‘Let’s make a start...’ A start where a road built with the taxes of the masses of the people would not be named after just one man:
‘that calling it Robert Mugabe Way
instead of Grey Street (what’s in a man?)’
In ending, I am really impressed with the stories and poems and any reader who picks up this book is likely to be surprised with the power behind the words; for the stories and poems leave much to think about. I will leave you with Eppel’s thought-provoking, rearranged haiku for you to think about:
‘Governing in Africa
Is like sweeping leaves
On a windy day’