Thursday, February 4, 2010

Speech at launch of Shimmer Chinodya's novel "Strife"

Weaver Press Book Launch: 30th November 2006
Strife, a novel by Shimmer Chinodya
Speech given by Ignatius Mabasa, poet and writer, to launch the book.

Strife! Writing is also another form of strife. Writers write from inspiration, from imagination, from society, madness, etc. They write in privacy – so many lonely days – and nights conversing, arguing and fighting with characters – some rude, some foolish and so forth. Some characters want to lead when they are not supposed to, some refuse to talk when they are supposed to – and some may be murdered by the writer, although some, off course, die because they must die. So there is also blood on the hands of a writer!

When all is said and done, and the story is finished – readers and non-readers, reviewers, academics and the public all come in with their views about how they think the story should have turned out, how the characters should (or should have) behave(d), what they should have said to who and when. Wait, even before all that, writers try to avoid questions invading their peace – questions such as – so when is the next novel appearing? Will it be as good as the last one? Suddenly, writing becomes a game whereby the spectators or readers score more goals than the players on the pitch!

Tonight, I am not here to tell you what I think Shimmer’s novel should have been like. I am here to talk about writing, and to congratulate Shimmer on successfully telling a story that is difficult to tell – even harder to express in a foreign language. Nyaya dzengozi, kuripa, minyama, midzimu, huroyi, zvidhoma – are stories that continue to puzzle us Africans even as we embrace our modern lifestyles. He writes of matters that still fascinate us and create a great deal of discussion when they are reported in the local media. Shimmer seems to be asking the question: Can’t we, as Africans, detach ourselves from the religion of our people? Is it true to say that to detach ourselves is to be cut off from our roots, our foundation, the context of our security, our kinships and the entire group of those who make us aware of our own existence?
Is life itself a curse? Do the dead wield power and control over the living? What is the point of libations and ceremonies that are supposed to pacify the dead when they don’t help?

Zimbabwe today has many writers’ organisations and pseudo-writers, part-time writers, professional writers, retired writers, women writers, budding writers as well as non-writing writers. Of these many writers we have, very few show the ease and self-mastery and simple freshness some of us are always looking for in novels. I believe good literature is finally determined by the serious reading public, and is certainly not based on any one person’s opinion.

I enjoyed reading Strife and was at the same time devastated by the debris of cultural orphans left groping for the meaning of life. I said to myself, maybe the meaning of life for Shimmer’s characters is in Christianity, which surprisingly Shimmer only makes reference to in passing compared to the detailed manner in which he delves into the bira ceremonies. Judging by the strife in this novel, I could not help feel that it confirms the words of the preacher in Ecclesiastes that all is vanity. According to the Amplified Bible, The book of Ecclesiastes is the book of the natural man whose interests are confined to the unstable, vanishing pleasures and empty satisfactions of those who live merely "under the sun". The natural man is not aware that all the affirmative answers to life are to be found in Him Who is above, not "under", the sun. The natural man grovels in the dust and finds only earthworms, while the spiritual man may soar on wings like eagles (Isa. 40:31) above all that is futile and disappointing, and may live in the consciousness of God's companionship, favour, and incomparable, everlasting rewards.

Strife is not a low fat, sugar-free, diet food. It is a window to African thinking and beliefs. The philosophy is deep. Shimmer has a touch of sincerity that has now become his trademark and will tickle you to the marrow. Take a quick read of the last chapter – how the story ends as a stage play with Godi Gwanangara to conversing with Tradition, Fatalism, Shame, Modernity, Education and others….

None of us has the power to create reputations, and this includes the generations preceding us. In general, like one Chinese scholar put it, writing should be like sailing clouds and flowing water. It has no definite (required) form. It goes where it has to go and stops where it cannot but stop. One thus has a natural style, with all its wayward charms. If a story is not beautiful, it will not be read far and wide. In writing, some of us are looking for the successful expression of an idea which Shimmer here has done very well, I think.

And as for academic honours, these are in the hands of my learned friends from the universities. I think I have played my part and now want Shimmer to autograph my copy.

Thank you.

Copyright © Ignatius Mabasa, Harare, Zimbabwe

1 comment:

  1. 'the tragedy is not that things are broken, the tragedy is that they are not mended' unfortunately research has shown that language is a vehicle for development, the chinese officially use Mandrin and they are developed, the french use french and they are developed, the japanese use japanese they are developed. the malawians use english and they are underdeveloped so as zimbabweans if we continue to use english we will remain underdeveloped. i also support the use of Shona as a decolonisation process. so thumps up for sticking to our language.