Valerie Tagwira

The Zimbabwean book review

In Books, Literature, Reviews, The Uncertainty of Hope, Writing on September 9, 2007 at 12:57 pm

The Uncertainty of Hope
The Zimbabwean
April 13, 2007

This satisfying and thought-provoking book from Weaver Press reminds me of award-winning Ghanaian writer Ama Ata Aidoo’s novel Changes. Valerie Tagwira writes confident, inspirational prose about the predicament of women in modern Zimbabwe. It’s good to finally see a prolonged meditation on this subject and one told from a variety of perspectives, which achieves a certain nuance and balance in the portrayal of different male-female relationships particularly during a time of HIV and AIDS. It was satisfying to see HIV and AIDS frequently mentioned and treated in a realistic and practical day to day way, but the lives of the two women: Onai Moyo and Katy Nguni, were also detailed and intriguingly related such that your sympathies are easily and clearly drawn to these courageous and indomitable women.

Onai Moyo, a market woman and mother of three children is regularly beaten by her drunken husband who drinks and fritters his money away on prostitutes and beer, and yet Onai refuses to leave him, much to the annoyance of her best friend Katy. While driving Onai to the hospital, Katy’s caring husband John grumbles that this will be the last time he will waste his precious fuel on such an errand. In contrast John is shown to be loving and loyal, though his work regularly takes him away to South Africa, as he is a lorry driver. Both women are aware that their husbands carry the threat of HIV infection home to their wives and this thread is carefully pulled throughout the novel.

The devastating events of Murambatsvina are detailed with a clarity and detail not yet seen in Zimbabwean fiction and provide a backdrop to the hardship and political double standards experienced by Onai and Katy, who continue to sell their wares despite government warnings to the contrary. Katy’s double-dealings with a policeman depict with great irony the hypocrisy of a system which tries to destroy the black-market, while relying on it to keep its own business interests afloat.

Tagwira also weaves in the lives of the daughters of these two different families: Faith is training to become a lawyer and Ruva hopes to become a journalist. It is through this inter-generational movement that the novel achieves its balance and complexity, taking the reader from the market place to the university, to school and the rural areas. Faith must decide whether to marry her long-term boyfriend Tom Sibanda whose intentions are entirely honourable, or lead the independent single life suggested to her by her career and modern outlook. Tom’s sister in turn shares Faith’s outlook; as a doctor Emily Sibanda meets Mai Ruva (Onai) when she is first brought in with a badly beaten head and goes on to treat her husband when he develops liver cirrhosis. Both young women see the position of women in Zimbabwe from similar perspectives, but find it difficult to convince those around them that things must change if women are to survive.

Although certainly not as stylistically complex as Yvonne Vera, perhaps a young rival for Tsitsi Dangarembga is emerging, who shows us that modern Zimbabwe is a place where one can still hope for change.

© The author/publisher.


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