Novuyo Rosa Tshuma's exploration of Zimbabwe's traumatic past

by Linda Herrick / 16 October, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Novuyo Rosa Tshuma House of Stone

Novuyo Rosa Tshuma. Photo/Getty Images

The violence of Zimbabwe's past is leavened with wit, tenderness and exuberance in Novuyo Rosa Tshuma's House of Stone.

Zamani, the young man narrating 30-year-old Zimbabwean writer Novuyo Rosa Tshuma’s clever, cunning debut novel, House Of Stone, declares at the outset that he is a man on a mission “to remake the past”.

Zamani, who has no family, is a blank canvas. Through circumstances, which are slowly revealed, he attaches himself, firstly as a lodger, to a troubled couple in Bulawayo, Adeb and Mama Agnes Mlambo.

Adeb, a recovering alcoholic, is quick to anger and inclined to beat Mama A (as Zamani calls her). They are both hugely damaged by past events, and they are also under enormous stress because their teenage son Bukhosi has gone missing after attending an illegal political rally.

Zamani initially lives in a humble shack in the backyard. In his mind, he lays claim to the Mlambos as his surrogate parents, although they don’t know it yet. Therefore, as someone who believes he must have a strong family lineage to build his own identity, he plies Abed with “Johnnie” (Walker) and slowly coaxes out his history. Later, he uses flattery and wheedling to do the same to the very vulnerable Mama Agnes.

Their stories provide a broad platform for Tshuma to explore some of Zimbabwe’s most traumatic events over the past 50 years: the dying days of British colonial rule; Abed’s encounters with guerrilla movements; civil war; Robert Mugabe’s Independence Day celebrations in 1980, attended by Prince Charles and Bob Marley; the expulsion of white farmers from their lands; and systematic atrocities carried out post-independence against Ndebele civilians defined as dissidents.

In one horrific chapter, Tshuma confronts what is known as the Gukurahundi series of genocides, long suppressed and never accounted for. A merciless real-life figure emerges here, “black black so, like a polished stone and has these whitest eyes you have ever seen”. You’d never want to meet Black Jesus, aka Colonel Perence Shiri, who later became commander of Mugabe’s air force and is still alive. Zamani keeps a scrapbook of press clippings about him.

For all the violence Tshuma exposes in House of Stone, unavoidable when dealing with Zimbabwe’s history, she leavens the load with a sparkling exuberance, punctuated by passages of poetry and song, and an abundance of humour and tenderness.

Against a contemporary backdrop of power cuts, food shortages, corruption and hyper-inflation, the crux of the matter is that Abed and Zamani have both spent their lives trying to reinvent themselves because of their lineage.

Zamani’s dreams come true on Christmas Day when he presents his “parents” with a gift: a photoshopped portrait of himself.

“Don’t I look handsome in it?” he demands. And, for good reason, Abed starts whimpering. Zamani has brought the past back to life.

HOUSE OF STONE, by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma (Atlantic, $32.99)

This article was first published in the September 29, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

Trump's stolen slogan and the campaign advisor who did his bidding
100401 2018-12-13 00:00:00Z World

Trump's stolen slogan and the campaign advisor who…

by Emma Land

If you thought Donald Trump came up with the slogan "Make America Great Again," you’d be mistaken.

Read more
Big Little Lies author Liane Moriarty on how life became stranger than fiction
100261 2018-12-13 00:00:00Z Profiles

Big Little Lies author Liane Moriarty on how life …

by Diana Wichtel

When Liane Moriarty was summoned to meet Nicole Kidman in a Sydney cafe, the Hollywood star made it clear she was serious about optioning the book.

Read more
Dear Oliver: A son's poignant tribute to his mother
93895 2018-12-13 00:00:00Z Books

Dear Oliver: A son's poignant tribute to his mothe…

by Peter Wells

A reminder that nothing can really prepare us for the death of a beloved parent.

Read more
Big Little Lies author does it again in Nine Perfect Strangers
100041 2018-12-13 00:00:00Z Books

Big Little Lies author does it again in Nine Perfe…

by Catherine Woulfe

The new book by Liane Moriarty can induce cravings despite its health retreat setting.

Read more
Barbershop confidential: Nelson's Man Cave offers more than just haircuts
99534 2018-12-13 00:00:00Z Psychology

Barbershop confidential: Nelson's Man Cave offers …

by Fiona Terry

In Nelson, there’s a place where modern “cavemen” can go to be groomed, chill out to music, and find someone to tell their troubles to.

Read more
The Listener's 50 Best Champagnes of 2018
100190 2018-12-13 00:00:00Z Wine

The Listener's 50 Best Champagnes of 2018

by Michael Cooper

Celebrate the festive season with sparkling wines from Central Otago to Champagne, priced from $10 to $125.

Read more
Win a double pass to Vice, the new Dick Cheney movie
100368 2018-12-12 10:44:10Z Win

Win a double pass to Vice, the new Dick Cheney mov…

by The Listener

Oscar-winning writer-director Adam McKay brings his trademark wit to the true story of US Vice President Dick Cheney in Vice.

Read more
End of an era: Auckland's independent film library Videon to shut its doors
100360 2018-12-12 10:00:59Z Small business

End of an era: Auckland's independent film library…

by Alex Blackwood

An iconic Auckland store is closing.

Read more