Writing has been mostly liberating for women. It has enabled them to envision the world they want for themselves and also to challenge long-standing stereotypes and the status quo which puts men front and centre.
Here is a list of books by Zimbabwean female writers I have read and enjoyed. This is far from being an exhaustive list, just the ones I am sharing with you today.
- Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga (1988)
“Can you cook books and feed them to your husband? Stay at home with your mother. Learn to cook and clean. Grow vegetables.”
Nervous Conditions is popular among students who might have studied it as a set book in high school. It allowed me to live in books as a young Zimbabwean woman and gave me the inspiration that I, too, could write. Author Tsitsi Dangarembga chronicles the story of a young woman, Tambudzai Sigauke who while growing up kumusha in poverty embarks on her education. She shows resilience by growing vegetables to help pay her fees. The death of her brother, Nhamo, means that her affluent and Christian babamkuru takes her to the capital city to get an education. Here she experiences culture shock and limitless possibilities. Nyasha, her anglicized and rebel cousin opens new worlds to her. This book explores racial, gender and cultural dynamics in Zimbabwe during the 1980s- some of which remain relevant today. Dangarembga penned a sequel to this book, The Book of Not (2006).
- An Elegy for Easterly by Petinah Gappah (2009)
“They had become a nation of traders”
This collection of short stories by Petinah Gappah is for the open-minded reader who is willing to see the world through the lens of others. At its beginning, this book is easier to discard as one of those books Africans in the Diaspora write, attacking their homelands. The elegy is clearly for political, economic and social oppression and gender imbalances. Gappah displays lyricism and humour as she writes about burying an empty casket at the national shrine and in narrating the unforgettable character of Mdhara Vitalis’ in the Mupandawana Dancing Champion. She explores hope in Something Nice from London and tragedy in An Elegy for Easterly which chronicles the abuse of a mentally-disturbed woman by a man with a sterile wife. These are just some of my favourite stories. Gappah’s illustration of economic migration and the identities of individuals in foreign lands are worth poring over.
- Shadows by Novuya Rosa Tshuma (2012)
“I feel maddening whorls of poetry. Stirring and stirring my soul like a wooden ladle in a size twelve pot”
The lyrical language and intelligence in Shadows are outstanding. The book which is both a novella and a collection of short stories, was written by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma at the age of 25. Tshuma paints a vivid picture of Johannesburg life and does a good job of giving a view of Bulawayo life during the queuing era: bank, clinic, visa and border. At the beginning of the novella we are introduced to Mpho. He wants to be alone, does not know his father and hates his mother, a prostitute. He drops out of a Chemical Engineering course at NUST and he drowns his sorrows in writing while attending rallies for food and t-shirts. He skips the boarder to South Africa searching for the love of his love and eventually returns home. Tshuma explores the black female bleaching drama and other humorous aspects of contemporary womanhood, albeit showing the sadness they stem from. This book is a must-read for a lover of beautiful language.
- Zenzele: A Letter For My Daughter by Nozipo Maraire (1996)
“There is not a man in the world who is worth your dignity. Do not confuse self-sacrifice with love.”
This book was written by neurosurgeon and entrepreneur Nozipo Maraire. To date, it has been translated into over 14 languages. In this book, a mother writes a letter to her daughter who is at University abroad explaining the social complexities of the lives of Africans. Maraire tells the tale of the Zimbabwean struggle for independence and explains about the men and women who shaped it. The book exposes the complexities of Zenzele’s father, a lawyer, her cousin who doubles as a maid and a spy, as well as her aunt, who teaches during the day and is a guerilla fighter at night. Maraire as the mother tells her daughter about racial segregation and the lowly position of African women. She unpacks their failure to understand African civilization and her worship of her African God and her ‘dark-skinned’ Jesus. This book depicts the sorrow of a dilapidated country but is clear in its hope that a woman should choose her own identity.
- We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo (2013)
“(Jesus Christ) used to have blue eyes but I painted them brown like mine and everybody’s, to make him normal.”
The beautiful language in the depiction of Darling and her friends by Bulawayo is what makes this book outstanding. The storyline is along the same lines as has now become common in this genre of writing about everything that is wrong with our nation. Darlings’ friends, Sbho, Stina, Bastard, Godknows and Chipo spend their time playing and stealing guavas in Paradise a shanty area. They used to live in proper houses with proper furniture prior to this. Darling soon moves to another Paradise (America) where life is totally different; the complexities of different values are explored here. I enjoyed the book more when Darling was still in Paradise and could relate with most of the children’s escapades which reflected a national socio-political scope. “We Need New Names” is impressive in its ownership and recreation of the English language. The book has won several awards and was shortlisted for the much-coveted Man Booker Prize.
- Why Don’t You Carve Other Animals by Yvonne Vera (1992)
“The elephant has ruled the forest for a long time, he is older than the forest, but the giraffe extends his neck and struts above the tress…”
The late Dr Yvonne Vera’s first book was constructed as a collection of short stories. The collection focuses on issues around security, land, power structures, and the relationships between sexuality and power and between race and power. The first story, which is the longest, chronicles the life of James, a black man working at a farm for white people. The name James is given to him by Norah the wife of Charles (the couple he works for) because his indigenous name is complex. James needs land and has to consult his ‘bosses’ in a country that ought to belong to him. Another story, “Why Don’t You Carve Other Animals,” is loaded with metaphors and imagery. It chronicles two sculptors stationed in front of an ‘Africans Only’ hospital. The animals to me represented the struggles between the settlers and black people as embodied by the struggle of the elephant and giraffe. Vera’s writing provokes thoughtfulness by pushing societal boundaries.
- The Polygamist by Sue Nyathi (2012)
“The tears rolled down her beautifully chiseled face. Huge perfectly formed droplets …this was not the man she had once loved and coveted.”
Sue Nyathi explores the lives of four women who are focused on the love of one man. As a result, the lives of the four women become intertwined. The Polygamist of the title is Jonasi Gomora. His legitimate wife, Joyce, has the life of plenty that every woman aspires to: a black Mercedes Benz and four children. Next is Matipa who is a highly-educated woman whose mission is to replace Joyce. Essie is the poverty-stricken woman whose history with Jonasi dates back to before he was the successful man he is today. Lindani, on the other hand, is a beautiful woman with a beautiful body and nothing else going on for her; these assets she hopes can secure a bright future for her. The book expresses the different personalities and tastes of these women and is candid in its exploration of femaleness and love in this age of the HIV pandemic. A lover of relationship drama should certainly read this one.
- The Uncertainty of Hope by Valerie Tagwira (2007)
“Matomati, mazai pano!” The piercing, energetic chant of a street vendor, peddling tomatoes and eggs, cut through the near-silence and disappeared.”
Valerie Tagwira is a medical doctor. In The Uncertainty of Hope she shows the ability of Zimbabwean writers to use their surroundings and lived realities to write a story. This book has been described as a dominant gendered text as it focuses on the lives of Zimbabwean women in the 2000s. The book explores the labour and hardwork of Onai Moyo, a mother of three children and Katy Nguni, her friend who doubles as a black market currency dealer and vendor. While the book is set in Mbare, it also explores other worlds of Harare in the form of Faith a law student and her boyfriend, Tom who is a businessman and farmer as well as Tom’s sister, Emily, a health professional. The book unpacks gender-based violence and poverty which makes these women lose control of their sexual choices, putting them at the risk of HIV and AIDS. This book is now a set book for the Zimbabwean Advanced Level literature (ZIMSEC).
Man image taken from www.blogs.stockton.edu