Valerie Tagwira

Book Review: The Herald

In Books, Literature, Reviews, The Uncertainty of Hope, Writing on February 25, 2008 at 4:08 pm

Book a welcome addition to Zimbabwean literature

Reviewed by Charles Mungoshi, The Herald, April 30, 2007.

The Uncertainty of Hope is a welcome addition to the cannon of Zimbabwean literature not only because an unknown young woman wrote it but also for its fine artistry in the execution of themes that many writers would find rather daunting.

Tagwira pays tribute to a wider spectrum of the not-so-fortunate people of Zimbabwe in a particular place at a particular time thus, her story makes a deep gut-slash gash across today’s Zimbabwe, at different levels of our lives.

On the surface, the story reads like today’s news in the daily papers or on television, but further down, it is the life of ordinary people caught up in the everyday hassle.

It is the story of life lived in detail, of the lives of these people all put together in one place (and what this means) that gives one a not very comfortable feeling that what we call life could be something else askew.

There is the looming shadow of the scourge called HIV and Aids that menaces every other page of the story like vultures hovering over a dying animal or like a refrain from the devil’s own orchestra.

To the above is added the unprecedented unpredictable changing of things, as seen in prices of commodities, human behaviour and lifestyles — all of which have managed to beat the weather at its own game.

As if this is not enough, somewhere in the offices where lonely desperate women can (find solace?) easily fall victim: “We really don’t need your money. Money is not the problem. There are other ways of negotiating.”

Sex. For services rendered, or, most of the times, not rendered or to be rendered.

And, of course, somewhere, someone has hit on a plan and eases his dollar blues.

He is a public transport operator, a businessman, who receives a kind of quota of fuel from Government to run his 10 (or so) kombis to ferry people. Now he has parked all of them — drained of juice, which is now packed in drums and, of course, the rest is our life.

This is simply to illustrate the kind of details of the situations dealt with in this book, situations which are as many-faceted as there are masks that each one of us has to put on to face the different times, moods and circumstances of each day.

The story: Onai is a vegetable vendor who is married to a not so good, hard-drinking womaniser named Gari Moyo.

Her story, therefore, the writer’s story, therefore, our story — opens right in the middle of things, in the middle of our problems.

The dogs have started this racket. Onai is between sleep and wakefulness. She is alone in a bed for two. She puts out her land. There is no one where her husband should be. The dogs are barking.

And she thinks of matsotsi who now roam freely on the streets of Jo’burg Lines, Mbare.

And, of course, this is the night the burglars have targeted her house. She is alone with her children. She does what she can do while the burglars work the dining room and the sitting room.

All she tells herself is not to scream. She is now with the children in their bedroom.

At last, the outside gate squeaks as the burglars leave.

They have taken only the family TV.

With this tense, uncertain atmosphere at the beginning of her story, with this helplessness of Onai at things as they seem to just happen to her, with this, the author sets the pace, the tone and theme of the rest of the book.

And, in the character of Onai, the details of the story are foretold. You can easily tell Gari is at one of his “small houses”.

Right from here and throughout the book, the character of Onai is so graphically drawn that one almost viscerally shares her anguish (or joy) with her.

Onai is to be understood with that guillotine — AIDS — caressing her neck. It is a credit to the author’s skill that even in her nightmarish existence, Onai doesn’t succumb to her husband’s demands for sex.

But one does get angry — together with Onai’s best friend Katy and others — that Onai keeps on staying with Gari. Is this love? Gari is just a born two- or three-timer and that is all he is all about. And Onai is too much of a faithful wife (one thinks; stupidly so) and too much of a devoted mother to leave Gari and the children.

The story revolves round Onai. It is to her that things happen. Or don’t happen. It is she who has to make it or break.

Her marriage is no marriage. Despite that, they are “still living together” and so much is loaded against Onai that, once again, it is the author’s skill we admire in providing Onai with the wherewithal necessary to fight fate and determine her destination.

Onai has a very, very close friend, Katy, who has a very loving and caring husband, John. Both Kath and John are “dealers” in the new Zimbabwean sense. John brings in much-sought-after foreign currency from his cross-border long-distance truck driving trips.

Katy stays at home, minds the vegetable stall at Mbare Musika, and not profitable, sells foreign currency to the willing, the needy and the greedy.

John and Katy give Onai much needed help, hope, and emotional, mental and physical sustenance.

The most beautiful part of the story is the supportive group: composed of those who understand Onai. Students at the university, people in the business world — very close young people fighting for their lives, walking the tight rope between corruption-for-survival and good-works-for-other-people. These are Onai’s people. They open the door at whatever time she knocks. There is Tom and Faith (Katy’s son-in-law and daughter).

Emily and Ben, and there is a very mysterious man who is in a kind of self-exile and goes begging from door to door. They call him Mawaya and he is a constant visitor at Onai’s door. And she always has something to eat, to give him. There are other negative forces — Maya is one of them.

She is a colleague at the vegetable market tables. Maya is blubbery, multi-chinned and a chatterbox who seems to revel and feed off the misfortunes of other people. A vividly drawn minor character.

This is their entire story. They all pitch in to help or harass Onai and through all their actions Onai changes a few corner stones in her life and proves the old saying to be exactly what it is: your destiny is in your own hands.

Mawaya later turns out to be not who he seems to be and provides us with and makes possible — the best part of the story: the neatly-tied up, but still intriguing and ambiguous, quite surprising and satisfying ending.

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