Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende Reviews “African Roar 2011”

This resplendent collection of short stories by African writers does indeed roar. The breadth and depth of topic, style, perspective and powerful story telling found within the pages of this treasure trove is enough to make you emit a roar of your own: in appreciation, in agony, in mirth, and in sheer exuberance.

The story by the 2011 Caine Prize recipient, NoViolet Bulawayo, is powerfully evocative of a time and place in Zimbabwe’s history. Her unique use of language and imagery produces a story of a people buckling under economic hardship and political repression. She achieves all this on Main Street- ‘Adjusting her faded black push –up bra so she hold everything together, the police, the expectations, the boiling cars, the broken dreams, the falling dollar, the billions of worthless money, the queues- Jesus- Jesus-Jesus the queues.’

‘Lose Myself’, by Nigerian writer Peter Umez is a tale of love, commitment, temptation, and dilemma. The author does a fine job of creating a protagonist battling for principle over passion. Chukwudi finds himself breaking a vow of fidelity to his wife, a vow taken in order to prove that contrary to what she believes he was not a philanderer, like other men. In the aftermath, the predictable guilt and self loathing ensue.

Emmanuel Sigauke’s story is set in a village in Zimbabwe, where a young man who is convalescing from a mysterious illness is visited by a snake. He suddenly remembers, with the help of his brother’s wife, a prophecy that was made concerning snakes sent by witches intent on his destruction. The snakes portend evil and doom and Sigauke weaves traditional Shona mythology with modern beliefs embodied in the young man, and the result is an interesting story in which at times, the line between myth and reality is blurred.

‘Diner Ten’ is a stand-out story about a community of cockroaches whose lives begin and end in what they call diner ten. The story follows middle aged Radic through his regimented days as part of the community of roaches. Their lives are dominated by the necessity to avoid deadly encounters with human beings. Radic has become bored with his predictable and mechanical existence and he spends time pondering the nature of human beings and whether they see roaches the way his kind view them. He ponders too the meaning of his own existence and whether it is on any intrinsic value, given the fact that danger is always lurking close by and death as close as his own exoskeleton. The story is reminiscent of the 2007 Pixar animated movie Ratatouille directed by Brad bird and like the movie Ivor Hartman’s story is very entertaining and in parts, thought provoking.

Mbonisi P. Ncube’s story telling prowess is on full display in his heart rending story ‘Chanting Shadows’. Zimbabwe’s Land Reform program acquires a human face in this story and the complexity of the issue is not lost in the telling of this riveting tale. The character Mzala Joe is a, loyal, courageous friend who fights to the death for what he believes in, all the while under the watchful eye of young Jonasi. Both Mzala Joe and Jonasi are farm hands on a farm that is invaded by war veterans. The white farmer who owns farm is killed at the farmhouse and the laborers in the field come face to face with the war veterans in a corn field.

The hilariously funny story of a couple’s quest for water is set in housing complex in Accra, Ghana. Isaac Nequaaye’s descriptions of the thoughts and emotions that trying to get water evoke in both the husband and wife are vivid their detail and amusing in their accuracy. The frustration of this couple is palpable as they wait for their supplier to deliver the long promised water. Each is seething with anger at not being able to partake of the normal daily ablutions that require water, and each is holding the other responsible for their predicament.

This collection of stories is wonderful representation of talent from the African continent. Each of the fifteen writers tells their story with great skill, passion and convincing dialogue. Each story has its own distinct flavor. Each story will leave the reader changed. This, after all, is the effect of all great stories.

African Roar 2011 is available through the Kindle platform worldwide for nearly every eReader.

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