Sunday, 12 September 2010

ELEGY FOR EASTERLY by Petina Gappah


This collection of short stories won the Guardian First Book Award recently. One can't help but feel proud of a Zimbabwean girl flying the flag high!

I actually read my first of her stories when it was in the Guardian in 2009. It was set in the Mabelreign OK, which was very weird, as that's the supermarket that I grew up going to with my parents (every Saturday, without fail, same till, same packing guy, etc, etc, my parents are like that). On a side note, I've probably never interacted with a piece of art set specifically somewhere I know in my life before, so that was notable for me. It was a sweet and sad story about a meeting with an old teacher.

I enjoyed the book itself, especially "Something Nice From London", about trying to get a body back from the UK, and "The Annexe Shuffle" about a UZ student who was briefly interned in a mental institution. I think Ms Gappah's at her best when she's writing about middle class life (perhaps because that's the world she grew up in?) and a bit more unsteady when dealing with people outside that world. The class gap in Zim is truly immense.

I also thought there was something peculiarly and charmingly Zimbabwean about her light-hearted and cheerful handling of the country's serious problems. I was once told by a theatre's artistic director (who shall remain nameless) that a Zim project I was working on was 'too cheerful.' Apparently, for some, Zimbabwean stories must always be stories of misery. English people can laugh and be silly, but we Africans are all tragic figures apparently.

What nonsense. Zim couldn't stagger on if Zimbabweans did not have a strange ability to keep their chins up (if only to stop the water closing over their heads . . .)

Petina Gappah's blog is great too. Here it is.

4 comments:

  1. That seems to be the main cause of debate currently; what readers of Zim lit expect, but strong voices like PG will help paint a clearer picture of the diversity of issues our literature covers...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Very true, Emmanuel. I hope to see more Zim literature in that mould!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Very interesting stories indeed, and I did appreciate hearing a middle class perspective as that is not often the case. I agree with your general take on it, and also enjoyed the story about getting the body from the UK to Zim. I particularly liked the ending.

    ReplyDelete
  4. It was really sad wasn't it? I see on her blog, by the way, that Gappah has moved back to Zim. Interesting . . .

    ReplyDelete