A Moment in Gappah’s “The Annexe Shuffle”

Of the stories written by Petina Gappah that I have read, there are some whose narrator luxuriates in the musicality of language, introducing an ease in narration only exemplified in few instances in Zimbabwean literature. The few instances can be found in Charles Mungoshi, Memory Chirere, Yvonne Vera, and of course, now, Petina Gappah, who promises to take it to a new level. Here is a taste of the language play I am talking about, exemplified in “The Annexe Shuffle”, the Per Contra version:

They bring her to Dr. Chikara, Emily; the Dean of Students on one side, the Warden of Swinton Hostel on the other. Dr. Chikara is not who she expected. His office is an empty space with nothing on the walls. There are no books by Freud and Jung. There is no couch in sight. He does not talk about the id or the ego. Instead, from behind his government-issue desk, he directs her to a government-issue chair.

He smokes Kingsgate cigarettes, one after the other.

He writes down everything she says.

‘Canst thou minister to a mind diseased?’ she asks him. ‘Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow?’

He writes this down.

‘May I have a cigarette,’ she says, without a question mark.

‘Do you smoke?’ he asks, with a question mark.

‘I do now,’ she says as she lights one of his cigarettes. She coughs out smoke through teary eyes.

He writes that down too.

‘I am sending you to the Annexe,’ he says, ‘the mental wing at Parirenyatwa Hospital.’

The word mental and the word hospital combine to produce a loud clanging in her mind. ‘I am not mad,’ she says.

‘No, of course you are not mad’, he says. ‘Madness has nothing to do with it. You only need rest, all you need is rest.’ Read more in Per Contra.

There is something pleasurable about the style, and it makes me want to read more. Although I am yet to read the short story collection, I can safely say, based on the few anthologized stories of Gappah I have read, a new narrator is born in Zimbabwean literature.

Or did I state that  I have seen traces of this narrator in Toni Morrison, in Paradise, for instance? I have, but as you know, each individual is distinct. This narrator promises to make us laugh, cry, curse, but managing still to make us love her/him.


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