He was a celebrated Zimbabwean poet, novelist and essayist whose work was often studied in schools and universities. Chenjerai was educated at the University of South Africa (UNISA) and the University of Zimbabwe, and worked as an educator and journalist.
He was also a known critic of the policies of the Mugabe government which led him to live in exile in Norway. Chenjerai Hove published numerous novels, poetry anthologies and collections of essays and reflections.
His publications include:
• And Now the Poets Speak (co-editor), poetry, 1981
• Up In Arms, poetry, 1982
• Red Hills of Home, poetry, 1984
• Bones, novel, 1988
• Shadows, a novel, 1991
• Shebeen Tales, journalistic essays, 1989
• Rainbows in the Dust, poetry, 1997
• Guardians of the Soil, cultural reflections by Zimbabwe’s elders, 1997
• Ancestors, novel, 1997
• Desperately Seeking Europe (co-author), essays on European identity, 2003
• Palaver Finish, essays on politics and life in Zimbabwe, 2003
• Blind Moon poetry, 2004
• The Keys of Ramb, children’s story 2004
The book is set on a farm in post-colonial Zimbabwe though when you first read it you think it is still colonial Rhodesia. This is powerful portrayal of the prevailing theme that for the ordinary illiterate woman on the farm the promise of independence has still not been realized and it is business as usual. Hove has a mastered the art of creating a setting that speaks volumes without using words.
The book has many voices and is based on the Shona tradition of interactive storytelling around a fire and each person listen while the storyteller speaks. Marita is the main character a woman who has been shunned by society when she cannot conceive. A woman’s identity is deeply rooted in motherhood and she has a son whom she is searching for. She bears the burden of womanhood, loss of son and illiteracy and poverty at the hands of her cruel employer Manyepo (Liar) the white farmer who constantly verbally abuses her and others. She is outspoken contrary to tradition which believes that women are to be seen and not heard. She humanizes the struggles of the forgotten people in society that has moved on while others are let behind searching for answers and a way forward. “Many scars, many wounds which are as big as Chenhero dam…” Marita is courageous to break her silence and challenge the status quo. She is not a complainer, just a woman who is searching for her son. She forges a relationship with a young lady in which she is like the mother in law to the Janifa whom her son once wrote a love letter to. The love letter is the means by which they connect and what holds their hope and her connection to the future.
Chisaga the cook is an interesting character who uses passive aggressive retaliation by spitting into Manyepo’s food. At face value one may despise him for his methods but we empathize with his character. He has a ‘good’ job on the farm; indoors where it is nice and cool compared to the other Africans who work in the hot Zimbabwean sun without a break and are constantly whipped by the foreman? The foreman is used in the ‘divide and conquer’ a common colonial practice where other blacks were used to institute punishment upon all who did not obey.
This book gives an insight in the conditions on a colonial farm where there is total disregard for human life. The story of the father who works at the sugar plantation and angers his foreman is thrown into the fire. The life of a father has little value to the plantation owner but when he disappears there are not consequences but the family is left grieving, they have no voice. Silence is a prevailing theme in the book that aims to tell the story of the forgotten people on Zimbabwean commercial farms and gives a glimpse of the terrible conditions that existed even when people were ‘free’.
Hove was a literary genius who managed to paint the picture of life in Zimbabwe in the 1990s using the fewest possible words. It is great for a book club, ” reading a book is as solitary as writing them. So Zimbabweans choose to talk” the author writes. He is really the first author to highlight the importance of an interactive audience in Zimbabwean storytelling. His works are filled with dialogue which is a big part of Shona prose making it great for book clubs and other interactive sessions.
The book gives a history lesson through the eyes of an ordinary citizen. The society’s contradictions of the structures of brutality brought about by colonialism yet alive and well in a democratic society. During colonial times black people could not drink and relax in clubs so they drank and discussed issues that affected their societies in Shebeens. The Shebeen was to Zimbabwe what the barbershop was to black in the western world.“These people are doomed to silence by this burden of illiteracy.”
“Democracy can never thrive in a political monologue in which the leaders like rain gods pour messages on the heads of the disempowered individuals and communities.”
“Only informed citizens can become democrats”
QUOTES FROM THE BOOK:
“Donor agencies and governments feature daily on television and in the newspapers, pouring their begged-for-money in to our national coffers. Thus we become a nation of beggars whose hands are fully stretched to receive every cent from the wealthy nation of the north. No word about our national identities, our aspirations and perceptions, nothing.
“Not many people listen to the echoes of their dreams in the morning. Most dreams in this world do not require attention; they are slowly abandoned to the warpaths of this life. The poet has come to grips; do battle with these dreams, reminding the dreamers that they have a right to their own dreams. Their dreams deserve a spot on the map of the world.”