Monday, 22 February 2010

My Heartfelt Congratulations To Brian Chikwava & Petina Gappah

Congratulations to my good friend and comrade with an infectious laugh; Brian Chikwava for winning the Zimbabwe NAMA (National Arts and Music Award) award for his first book, Harare North and to my FB friend, the amazing Petina Gappah whose book An Elegy For Easterly has been a trailblazer, winning and being nominated for various prizes all over the world. She is one person I never tire of heaping praise upon; it's well deserved, and Brian is one person I really admire and feel, "if I only I could write like that and be so funny...", "if only I was so cool, calm and collected like that...."

Here is an excerpt from a review published in Pambazuka News:

"Harare North is a tale of a ‘paper-free’ immigrant who comes to the UK and claims asylum. Yet ironically in Zimbabwe, the migrant was part of the ruling party’s 'Green Bombers' who were instrumental in the political violence against the opposition MDC and the violent seizure of farms. Cleverly written in first-person narrative, Chikwava tells of the unnamed narrator's experiences in London, commonly known to Zimbabweans as Harare North because of the long history of large numbers of Zimbabweans who have gone to live and work there.

Chikwava’s comedic tale experiments with private voice and language to capture the immigrant experience of London. Arriving at Gatwick Airport as an asylum seeker, the narrator makes it past immigration to meet his cousin in-law. This first encounter shows how family changes when abroad, as he is made to feel very unwelcome at the home of his cousin Paul and Paul's wife, Sekai. Sekai’s manner toward him is so cold that he describes her 'a lapsed African'. Becoming increasingly aware he is an imposition and eager to fulfil his mission to raise £3,000 so he can return to Zimbabwe and live comfortably, he leaves Paul’s home in search of work and finds his way to Brixton where he meets Shingi who works as a carer or a BBC ('British Bottom Cleaner').

In this share-flat, the main characters of the novel are low-income earners who live on the margins of Britain’s middle-class society in the ghettoes of Brixton, where they work as fish 'n' chip shop workers, porters and hair shampooists and braiders. The most striking thing about these characters is the familiarity of their conditions. Many Zimbabweans and immigrants of other nations work in intensive labour low-paying jobs and suffer multiple, inter-connected forms of social discrimination that Chikwava’s novel brilliantly portrays. As the story unfolds, the somewhat good-intentioned narrator changes and the witty and humorous tone of the novel shifts to an embittered critique on the individual, and the collective circumstances which led to his demise.

...An Elegy for Easterly is a collection of thirteen tales about life in Zimbabwe that offers an intimate view of the everyday lives of ordinary people. Each of the stories shows how people survive in the hyper-inflationary, politically volatile and plagued society we are often (rightly or wrongly) told is Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe. This text shows the survival strategies people use in order to live from day to day. Despite the mass exodus of Zimbabweans to neighbouring countries and abroad since 2000, it is not everyone who can or wants to leave.

For as many reasons that people left Zimbabwe, there were as many reasons to stay and make life work as best one could. This, in my reading of Gappah’s book, seems to be strongest message: That life must go on in Zimbabwe. Despite the harsh conditions faced, people still live and they have triumphs and tribulations just like anyone else in any other part of the world. This is evident in the characters of Mai Toby who sews for a living and Martha the socially ostracized woman in "An Elegy for Easterly" and Emily in "The Annexe Shuffle", who is a promising, ambitious university student but has some deep psychological issues.

Gappah courageously tables issues that often produce deathly silences when raised among strangers for fear of persecution as one never knows to whom they are expressing their political opinion. The book is also filled with some truly hilarious stories like "Our Man in Geneva" and "The Mupandawana Dancing Champion" that the reader will love...." So far the book has won The Guardian UK 2009 First Book Prize and has been nominated for award the LA Times Art Seidenbaum First Book Award and the Sunday Times in Johannesburg.

             Makorokoto, Amhlope, Congratulations to both of you.  
picture of Brian jacked from and picture of Petina jacked from