Author: Novuyo Rosa Tshuma
Publisher: Kwela Books
Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, in the opening of the book writes, ‘For you, Dear Reader, Give me a pen and paper, And let me tell you a story.’ The next 189 pages of Shadows is a weaving of stories and characters entwined in the reality and hardship of life.
Comprisng of a novella (also titled Shadows) and five short stories, the beginning of the book is reminiscent of Dambudzo Marechera’s House of Hunger. What else would one in a poverty stricken, corruption-infested environment want, other than to be alone? And so Novuyo starts with a simple sentence, I want to be alone. Quite similar to Marechera’s, I got my things and left.
Capturing the staggering, weak socio-economic existence of Zimbabwe, Novuyo flings decency and political correctness to the winds and floods us with images so raw and powerful and unabashed.
The township is like a loud woman who follows you everywhere, staggering with a Castle Lager in hand, she will not let you alone.
Through the first person narrative in Shadows, we are introduced to shanty streets and poverty. We are introduced to life as it is for a struggling Zimbabwean. A life characterized by queues and frustration. And the life of a young man whose mother is a prostitute.
We meet Mpho, an artist. He’s dropped out of school where he was studying chemical engineering at the National University of Science and Technology after an encounter with the riot police. He is consumed by his art. When Nomsa his lover says,
‘But you will get a job?’
‘I do have a job. My art is my job. My life.’
It’s interesting that Novuyo would use an artist as main character. This raises questions; is the artist an emblem of the ideal? Especially in a place where oppression is the currency of the day? Moreso this artist is pushed to his limits when he seeks to display his paintings at a gallery and cannot. He becomes the voice of the people, the articulator for the voiceless. And even when he makes a speech against the government, he doesn’t know he’s been videoed. It goes viral.
In a very contemporary setting, one can point at Pastor Evan Muwarira, the Zimbabwean pastor who started #ThisFlag campaign that gained a widespread attention. If fiction mirrors life, Novuyo has portrayed that perfectly.
Her language reeks of poetry and honesty. Her characters are life sized paintings and her dialogues are nothing short of what you’ll likely hear in present day Zimbabwe. Obviously ignoring to describe large chunks of Ndebele words and Zimbabwean expressions, the beauty of this book is that it transports you to the centre of Zimbabwe’s turmoil and the struggles the people face in everyday life.
Her pockets bulge with much-coveted forex.
‘Us’phatheleni khuwa,’ she hisses again.
What do you have for us, baas?
‘Lamhla irate iphezulu.’
Today the rate is high.
‘Ufunani khuwa? Ngilakho konke – amarands amapula amaUSdollar. Buyangapha sikhulume.’
If Shadows talks about Zimbabwe, then the book could also be talking about Nigeria. Same hardship. Same oppression. Varying degrees. Same citizenry, quiet in the face of oppression. Dennis Brutus’ lines on the apartheid government, can be aptly captured here:
Bruised though we must be
Some easement we require.
From the inadequate power supply from ZESA to the scarcity of foodstuff, Novuyo engages in what could be a sociological project. One can clearly understand the exodus of Zimbabweans to South Africa. To speak, is to be arrested and be declared missing and never be found. Mpho finds himself caught in that position where he has to defend his truth. Labelled as a traitor by the government and a hero by Amnesty International he is faced with the question from Mansfield’s book, given to him by the Amnesty woman, Shelly: what man can live with himself, who has failed his duty to live for others?’
With many underlying meanings and stories touching on characters so real, Novuyo has written nothing short of a beautiful book.
The remaining short stories nearly become tiring to read because one is already filled with the novella. The short stories are a little continuation of the novella. Some set in Zimbabwe, others in South Africa, it explores the rat race Zimbabweans fall into in South Africa. Nigerians feature prominently here in the streets of Johannesburg.
Told from second person POV’s to first person POV’s the stories explore struggle and the quirks of adapting to a new environment in a foreign land. Most importantly they explore sexual abuse and harassment from father, to a stranger on the streets to the South African police.
This is a book on hardship and how we as humans survive.