From Zimbabwe

Moving now swiftly from Ethiopia to Zimbabwe (with a brief refresher in Dublin, more about which, perhaps later), we encounter a writer new to me, at least, who while lacking the sometimes gorgeous prose of Maaza Mengiste, certainly does not lack her discerning eye.  And that eye is accompanied by a sharper and perhaps more acerbic wit than is witnessed in Beneath the Lion's Gaze.  This all makes for a very nice change of pace:

from "At the Sound of the Last Post"
in An Elegy for Easterly
Petina Gappah

[at a funeral oration] I listened to the rhythm of his speech. Having addressed theme number one, the liberation struggle, it was time for the second theme. By the time I counted down from ten, he would have begun to attack the opposition.

I reached six, his voice echoed out over the hills.

"Beware the puppets in the so-called opposition that are controlled from Downing Street. They seek only to mislead with their talk of democracy."

The microphone hissed slightly at puppets making it sound like puppies.

Downing Street was his cue to move to the next theme, the small matter of the country's sovereignty. "I say to Blair and to Bush that this country will never, a trillion, trillion times never, be a colony again."

The microphone gave a piercing protest at the trillion trillion making the phrase jump out louder than the other words.  There was a nugget of newness in the use of trillion and not million as a measure of the impossibility of recolonization. It is three months since inflation reached 3,000,325 percent per annum making billionaires of everyone, even maids and gardeners.


She makes as though to jump into the grave, and is stopped by her daughters. She stumbles into the president's wife, the second first lady, who soothes her with a perfumed hand to the shoulder. As Edna heaves dry sobs against the black silk of the second first lady's suit, my eyes travel down to Edna's shoes.  She really should start investing more money in her shoes; her unshaped peasant's feet require something stronger than cheap zhing-zhong plastic leather shoes to contain them.


We returned to an amnesiac nation, but our visits to State House were not so frequent. The unofficial wife in the small house had become the second lady at State House. She wore hats of flying-saucer dimensions while cows sacrificed their lives so that she could wear pair upon pair of Ferragamo shoes.

"If only I could," she said to the nation's orphans, "I would really, really adopt you all."

To this last can we say, even though apocryphally, and perhaps out of context, "Let them eat cake?"  The excerpts above give you a sense of Ms. Gappah not quite at her most cutting, but certainly getting her licks in.  Not all of the stories are so proportioned; the second I read was a considerable contrast.

In some sense gives relief from the unremitting awfulness that haunts much of the literature coming out of Africa today.  I'm not complaining about the other authors and stories, because it has so far been a very fine, very eye-opening reading experience. But surely there is a middle ground between Mma Ramotswe and Say You're One of Them.  I'd say that Ms. Gappah may have staked her claim in that territory--I'll have to see how the collection holds out.


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