I finished reading one of the content-rich novels written recently by a Zimbabwean. When I first started reading The Uncertainty of Hope, I responded to the use of language, especially the transposition of Shona and English words in character dialogue, with a hint of dissatisfaction. Well, I read on, and my attention switched to the grim story of survival that the novel portrays.
The novel offers dizzying details of problems ranging from AIDS, government corruption, cultural decay, gender strife, to the ordinary people’s increasing victimization in a society changing rapidly. The narrator is at best an advocate for the poor, for women, for the girl child, for everyone who is affected by the difficulties piling up in the daily experiences in Zimbabwe. It is indeed a novel of intense realism, placing Mbare under a microscope and reflecting the lives of the characters in great detail. While the primary concerns of the novels seems to be the life in Mbare, it also takes a general sweep on other classes of characters, showing that the suffering in Zimbabwe affects everyone, home and abroad.
The narrator attempts to pace the story by making frequent switches in the scenes of action, but some of the details slow down the story. As the story draws to the end, however, it speeds up, building tension as we wonder if Mawaya will recognize Onai, if John will return from South Africa, and if Faith and Tom will break up or proceed with their plans to get married; then the story comes to its end with Onai securing employment with Mr. Jongwe (Mawaya) and movng to Borrowdale. This journey from Mbare to Borrowdale is as fascinating as it is a hero’s coming to a better understanding of the hardships of the times.
While Tagwira covers different levels of the society, the emotional center for her story is the experiences of ordinary Zimbabweans (especially women and children). These characters, ravished the most by the economic collapse in the country, are ennobled only by their resolve for survival. They exist in a world where they should either endure or fade away, willing to live as “semi-criminals”, but for some endurance alone doesn’t work anymore. Something else is needed, and that, if there is a way to know it, is what the society needs.
If this missing ingredient is hope, the writer seems to argue that it is uncertain, but it is there somewhere. Onai finds it and plans to budget it well for her children’s future. But is her destiny really now in her own hands? The title of the book answers this question, somewhat.
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