This is more than five stars read, no way I could do it justice with my review; however, I will endeavour. A Zimbabwean woman writes a letter to her daughter, Zenzele, in a university abroad, discussing issues (social issues) that affects us as Africans. It is an epistolary novel.
She wrote about growing up in a racial segregated Rhodesia and the meaning of being an African woman. Also, about the African culture through the eyes of Europeans, how underestimated we are to them and how ignorant they are of our civilisation. Again, she expounded on interracial marriages, relationship to other westerners with African heritage and falling in love. Furthermore, she put in writing their fight for liberty, her relationship with God not the European God but God in her own image "dark-skinned Jesus and his Angels". Finally, she narrated about life in the village, there, lay their library and their encyclopedias. The lyrical, the romantic and the tragic that shaped them as Africans.
"Rhodesia", named after a so called "Cecil Rhodes", was under the predominantly white government. Native Africans were banned from all manner of well being. They were forbidden access to the chick-European suburbs except, of course, they were to work as house maids. They lived in a state of constitutionalised racism that limited their education, laughter, play and pain. All they knew was deprivation, austerity and hard labour. Until, after years of bloodshed and struggles to obtain freedom, they regained their land and put up the name Zimbabwe that gave them the keys to the Kingdom of their country. Nevertheless, in the process of ensuring that their children received every opportunity of the "western privilege" something went wrong. "Well being" was translated into a material definition of success. They all wanted to be like their colonial master instead of cultivating their own culture.
To her mother-in-law to be an African woman means be at peace within, to always listen to that inner voice and not let others take it away from you. To her mother it means to work hard. However, it is left to Zenzele to define herself as the African woman she wants to be.
Most of the times, Zenzele's mother used stories to discuss some of those topics mentioned before. For instance, she wrote her daughter the story of her cousin (mother's cousin) that was sent to UK on a scholarship, awarded by the village people, to study medicine. After many years of isolation living abroad, he came back without a degree. Not just that, he was as well ashamed of Africa in so far as he refused to understand and speak his native language, not even to his mother in her deathbed. He was always on his high horse. When he was queried, he responded
"Proud of what? of the mud huts? of the children running around in rags, playing with rusted tins? of coup after coup? proud of potholes in the streets, queues for sugar, buses that do not work? Is that what I am to hold my head high about?..........Poor beggars, we should be ashamed, not proud!.... the world most miserable excuse for a continent.....a cultural desert and a political swamp... and so on and so forth".
He was told that he sounded like a parrot of the European anti-African jargon.
"Our continent has no life, no definition, and no spirit of its own. It is an object to be acted upon. It needs to be molded, freed, bought, sold, aided, and sabotaged, all at the whim of the benevolent and all-seeing Europeans."
As Chinua Achebe said and was also repeated in this novel "Until the lion learns to write, tales of hunting will always glorify the hunter."
What a brilliantly written novel! Poetic, elegiac and lyrical, full of emotions, inspirations and wisdom. A must read and a re-read. In fact, I highly recommend it to all people of African heritage or simply to all lovers of African Literature.
Actually, J. Nozipo Maraire is a Zimbabwean doctor, married with four children, a full-time practising neurosurgeon. She attended Atlantic College in Wales, received her undergraduate degree from Harvard University and went to Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City. And then completed her neurosurgery training at Yale. She currently lives in New Haven, Connecticut. Finally, I would like to say a big thank you to her for writing such a moving novel!
With this I end my reviews for the year 2012!