Sunday, June 5, 2011

Barbara Mhangami reviews Chris Mlalazi's Dancing with Life

Chris Mlalazi describes a Bulawayo of which I only recognized tiny remnants. Having left Zimbabwe, Bulawayo in 1990, and only returning for very short periods since then, the Bulawayo he describes was unfamiliar, frightening and in cases quite repulsive. I do not recall ever having such feelings about Bulawayo even on my last visit there in 2002. Clearly, there has been a decay and a degradation which Mlalazi captures in his vivid descriptions. This is not only experienced in the portrayal of the external environment, but it is apparent in the nature of the interactions among people, a sense that “Ubunthu”, “I am well if you are well”, does not exist anymore. One gets the sense that one is in the wild and it is survival of the fittest. In the story “dancing with life” a scene which captures both environmental and human debauchery reads thus: “Virginia hates Mxolisi. She also wishes him ill. Two weeks back, he had been intimate with her in the public toilet behind Figa Sports bar, and, afterwards, in the faeces smelling darkness, had given her a roll of money.” Then poor Virginia finds out later that she has been given counterfeit notes and so basically she has not been paid for services rendered. Fine, so the trade she is in is not exactly an orthodox and legitimate business, however one would have thought that even in the world of the illicit, there is a sense of “Ubunthu”. The total cold lack of remorse by Mxolisi and the stench of faeces bring home to me that the hardships people have experienced and are still experiencing can kill compassion for the other. Throughout his stories Mlalazi depicts a mean spiritedness and a lack of conscience in most of his characters so that by the time I was done with the book, I felt a little queasy. I was compelled to read it because if this is the ugly truth about Bulawayo then I would rather know, despite the agony this knowing induces.

From the ‘On Becoming Barbara’ blog

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