This is a book filled with hope and elation, but tempered cruelly with despair. It soars to great heights of the human spirit, and trudges through the troughs of profound unhappiness and injustice.
Often, the stories are hard to read, as the author’s lead characters — all women of Zimbabwe — struggle just to survive another day, in the jungle physically or metaphorically. In many cases, they have no say in how they are treated, or what happens to them — even in the smallest matters.
In the story “Angels in Hell,” a young woman complains when her name is changed at her christening to Maria. She bitterly says, “It is not a bad name, but I do not like it. It makes me feel like a sold cow to which the owner gives a new name.”
Indeed, so much of a woman’s existence in this third-world country is beyond her control that one wonders how they ever put a smile on their faces.
And yet, some do.
In “Poignant Shadows,” a housewife much like any other around the world, is bustling about, getting her children ready for school in the city. She calls for her husband twice to get up; then, in exasperation, goes into the bedroom to wake him:
“I move closer with caution, ready to flee. But he strikes when I least expect it and grabs me, and I laugh, even though he always does that. We have been together twenty years now, but he clings to the small things that make me laugh.”
And much later, in “I Am Not Your Mother,” a young woman struggles to escape the consequences inflicted on her by a recalcitrant sibling — her only sister. And a bad lot she is.
One day she runs away, leaving her illegitimate daughter for the poor young woman to raise. The situation is dire; yet the author chooses to highlight the innocence of the child, who knows nothing of her mother’s worthlessness. The writing here — as in so much of this remarkable book — is lyrical:
“She reminds me of someone, an elusive face that is hidden in the soft contours of the baby fat. A shadow that lurks behind the soft skin that is peeling off, and the unseeing eyes that blink in the soft light of the day…”
Other reviewers have focused only on the harsh and alien culture that needlessly inflicts Zimbabwe’s women with unspeakable harshness. And that is true.
But there is also much in these writings that speak eloquently of the triumphs of the heart — a trait shared universally by strong women everywhere.
Five stars to this fine collection of stories. They spoke to me in ways only great literature can do. That this book is the product of a person whose native language is not English makes it all the more singular.