The novel is set in Zimbabwe in the 2000s. The economy is ruined and the populace are scrambling for what few opportunities are left for survival in the city. Smart office buildings in the city now house a motley assortment of small businesses providing different goods and services, whatever is in demand at the time. However bad things are in the city, they are worse in the village as few city dwellers can afford trips home or to send much-needed money and groceries. Yet with their generosity of spirit, people from the village send a share of their produce to help out family members in the city. Tambudzai Sigauke, the protagonist must use her wits to survive in the city. Degreed but unemployed like hundreds of thousands of others, she has to make her way in the unforgiving city environment, get a place to lay her head, feed herself and find her way back to the prosperity she feels entitled to, all without completely losing her mind.
If you ever lived in Harare any time after the year 2000, you can relate to this story. The looming possibility of descending into the ignorant bliss of lunacy is ever-present in a country where nothing makes sense. The narrowing range of choices and unspeakable deeds some people contemplate and others do in order to keep the wolf from the door are only things people in a post-conflict economy in a developing nation can understand. Zimbabwe may not have been at war with another nation, but the war by the state against its citizens continues unabated to this day.
This novel written in the second person, by the narrator taking a dispassionate look at Tambudzai and the choices she makes, that precipitate chaos within and around her. This is a novel that will need you to dig deep into the well of your English vocabulary and occasionally look up a few words. The expressions are an interesting, rendering of Shona to English, attempting to express the meaning without necessarily using direct translation. Being Zimbabwean, I easily recognise the stories, songs and the expressions that are particular to the Manyika dialect spoken in the Eastern region. This novel could easily be translated into Shona with no loss of depth meaning. Perhaps one day, there will be someone courageous enough to do that for all three of the novels in the trilogy. Our languages carry an entire knowledge system, which if we don’t preserve them, will completely disappear.
The story is a haunting testament to the women of our country who stand strong despite violence, abuse, poverty and deprivation but soldier on and triumph over circumstances that have broken people with a less robust mental constitution. The men are there, but not there, battling demons of their own, powerless over the circumstances that reduce them and sadly taking out that frustration on the women. Thank you Tsitsi for telling the story of our mothers, our sisters, the story of the women that endure to birth the future. May that future be a better one.