A collection of short stories and poems by Awesome Authors
Compiled by Thandiwe Nyamasvisva
A Review by David Mungoshi (renowned short story writer, novelist, poet, arts critic and all-round editor)
Thandiwe Nyamasvisva and her colleagues have come up with an anthology that at best can generally pass as something readable and at worst can be tolerated as nascent steps towards recognition by voices at the periphery of the literary jungle. The voices are at various stages of emergence with Nyamasvisva herself, Nqobile Malinga, Constance van Niekerk, Hannah Tarindwa and Patrick Mahlasera practically there. Indeed, their misfortune could be the fact of having their short stories appearing between the same covers as some other pieces that can only be described as journalistic rather than creative as well as amateurish and half-baked! The poetry is, however, much more engaging and accomplished and could quite conceivably stand alone as a separate collection. Dafydd leuens brings some Welsh insights into the poetry section of the anthology while Nyamasvisva is predictably erudite and Constance van Niekerk makes lovers nostalgic.
What makes ‘The Collaboration’ a still-birth is not far to seek. To begin with, it is unimaginatively titled. The Collaboration! Nyamasvisva could certainly have done a better job. How about, for instance, ‘Latter-day Stories and Poetry from Zimbabwe’. ‘Ghosts and Shebeens’, or even ‘Stories and Poems of Excesses, Indulgences and Intrigue’? Something that invites readers to begin to think about the contents of the book is probably best. But easily the most ready candidate for vilification is the atrocious editing! In some cases hardly any editing seems to have been done at all. Glaring grammatical errors and ineffective punctuation are allowed to stand. The reader often has to grapple with elementary tense hurdles created and botched by the writer. Such a pity! Several of the short stories in this publication should never have seen the light of day. The writers concerned must get used to the fact that writing requires a rigorous work ethic even when you are self-publishing.
Effective editing must necessarily mean among other things looking at and attending to matters of felicity and copyright. This of course does not exonerate the writer from literary due diligence so to speak. The writer must know his world and must research it where necessary. A bank card is not the same as an ATM card. The former allows you to make cash withdrawals inside the bank, normally using a cheque, up to the amount indicated on the card. It is a guaranteed overdraft underwritten by your branch. An ATM card is quite another proposition and needs no explanation. With it you eat what you kill! Brian Tafadzwa Penny seems to have problems with this differentiation.
Lest I be accused of vagueness let me be a little more specific with my criticism and appreciation. Penny’s Pay Day Pays Back has a number of problems including the one just enumerated. The second sentence of his story is ungrammatical. ‘Pain’, an abstract noun, is also uncountable. You cannot therefore speak of ‘An excruciating pain…’. Penny’s use of modal verbs is also suspect. He uses ‘would’ where he should use ‘could’. For example Penny writes, ‘I took my bank card with me from home early morning so that I would go straight to the bank…’ If Nyamasvisva can look at this story again it might be redeemable. It is a story that should be appealing to bohemian free spirits as well as those looking for morals in stories.
Edwin Msipa’s ‘Duped’ has potential but needed to have been less journalistic by paying meticulous attention to matters of plot, incident and characterization. This is a regrettable omission given that the theme is apt and relevant. The scourge of hard drugs and substance abuse among youths from the affluent leafy suburbs has fast become a matter of huge concern in Zimbabwe. A case in point is the suspicious ‘drowning’ in Harare (late last year) of three young people after a wild all night party. Following investigations police have now asked for an inquest.
Wabvuta’s ‘Bananas’ has the makings of a tragicomedy and moves from being hilarious to being disturbing. Wabvuta takes liberties with words like the Afrikaans word ‘voetsek’ which he writes as ‘footsek’. I also have a sneaking suspicion that if a certain Tinashe Mushakavanhu were to read this story he might feel that there are copyright concerns. The incident with the fat woman is reminiscent of a similar incident in Mushakavanhu’s story.
All is not gloom, however. ‘Chains’ by Constance van Niekerk is a vivid woman’s story that affords readers the opportunity to see into the psyche of a woman and to understand some of the predicaments women are subject to in perhaps too many marriages. When romance flees a marriage abuse sets in. The woman in ‘Chains’ feels cheap, dirty and violated where she would prefer to be wooed and appreciated as a matter of course. The verbal abuse she suffers is so demeaning that she begins to entertain drastic measures to make the problem go away. Van Niekerk writes with verve and conviction.
‘The Violin Player’ by Hannah Tarindwa captures the perennial struggle of woman to be accepted as an artist in her own right. This is a problem that goes back a long time. George Elliot was a woman! Mr. Liang is pained that Rose who obviously has vintage talent on the violin is about to throw it all away to get married. As if the marriage rituals could not be rescheduled! Her predicament is reminiscent of the story in the classic jazz hit song ‘Dance Ballerina Dance’ by Nat King Cole’. Might there come a time when she might wonder if she ought to have put love first? As the ballerina dances and as Rose caresses the violin Nat King Cole croons: Wasn’t it you who said his love must wait its turn? / We live and learn/ Now love has gone/ So da-a-nce, ballerina da-a -nce!
Could Thandiwe Nyamasvisva be a thriller queen in the making? Who knows? Her story, ‘The Perfect Murder’ is intricately woven and fascinating. The resolution hits you with the force of a gale. ‘Perfect Murder’ transcends the limitations of a woman scorned!
Nqobile Malinga’s ‘Handei Kumasowe’ and Patrick Mahlasera’s ‘Counter 2 (Part 1) are both inspired by recent and current events and trends in Zimbabwe. Some of the men in flowing white garments and esoteric beards in Zimbabwe have become synonymous with salacious behaviour. One such person is Madzibaba Maringa who surreptitiously fathers two children with a childless Chipo who is beguiled into thinking he has solutions for her. What then happens is an all too familiar story. Discovery comes like a bolt from the blue and Themba cannot stand it. Malinga though, needs to be less fanciful in his flights of the imagination. Honeymoon in a Hollywood hotel for a typical Zimbabwean couple in times of adversity is as unlikely as it is infelicitous. Mahlasera’s diction is often quite incisive but he needs to project his mind away from theatre when writing the short story and not depend so much on dramatic irony. Nevertheless, it is a useful technique that he could cultivate with advantage. The humorous streak in his story creates a delicate balance with otherwise very painful situations of loss and deprivation. Like Gogo going to the bank and discovering that her zimdollar account has become moribund.
Although Givemore Mhlanga’s ‘A Joke I Will Never Tell My Wife’ is a misnomer as a title, he successfully exploits the common story about encounters with departed people on dark drunken nights. The story is more of a misadventure than it is a joke. A roving Casanova has his comeuppance when the single bed comfort promised him by his amorous ‘catch’ turns out to be a grave come morning.
My verdict is that this collection was a noble idea that did not receive due care and attention. This is especially true of the short stories I have not commented on. Nyamasvisva might want to rescue her mission!
In the next installment I shall look at the book’s poetry section.
About the Author:
David Mungoshi wrote this article for L’Afrique Beat. He is a multi-talented practitioner, has until recently been employed by the University of Zimbabwe in Harare where he taught Communication Skills and Applied Linguistics courses in the Department of Linguistics. David is a published poet, short story writer and novelist as well as a text-book writer, freelance copywriter, actor and editor. In 2010, David’s novel, ‘The Fading Sun’ was awarded Zimbabwe’s prestigious NAMA for outstanding fiction. The book has since been incorporated into the Advanced Level Literature syllabus in Zimbabwe. For the moment David is keeping his options open and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The eBook can be downloaded for free from http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/513181