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Collected Short Stories by Charles Mungoshi

‘He smelled a sudden familiar smell. Dry, harvest-time smoke of burning maize leaves. A shiver. Across the vlei the sun danced on the late red rapoko heads which nodded in the slight wind.’

Twenty six short stories by Charles Mungoshi in one book, what a gift! Charles Mungoshi is one of the most prominent authors from Zimbabwe and if you know me you know just how much I cry about how hard it is to find work by local writers in our book shops. Most of the work written by Zimbabwean authors in the last thirty or so years is out of print and when I saw this collection even before it was published you can imagine just how excited I was. I am glad that this book was finally published, it could be my most prized collection. Charles Mungoshi won the Commonwealth Writers Prize (Africa Region) in 1988 for The Setting Sun and the Rolling World and in 1998 for Walking Still. One of my favourite experiences growing up was attending the book fair! How can I forget the times when I attended the Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBIF)? Mungoshi was one of the Cofounders of ZIBF and the role that the book fair played in the book industry and the literary culture was indispensable then, I am not sure about now. The last three times I attended the book fair in Harare (2017-2019), it just didn’t feel the same (a post for another day). Among the many milestones he set, Mungoshi book ‘Waiting For The Rain’ was the first by a black author to be approved as a set book after independence in Zimbabwe.

This collection of short stories features stories from these collections; Coming of the Dry Season (1972), Some Kind of Wounds (1987) and Walking Still (1997). Firstly, the foreword by Jesesi Mungoshi (Zimbabwean actress and wife to the late author) is just apt, truthful and heartwarming. Reading the collection, Jesesi’s words that ‘…He was a people’s person and this showed through his writings.’ ring true. The stories are about the human condition, it’s ups and downs, the grey areas, the good and the ugly. This is a collection which bears truths that have stood the test of time. Stories about leaving home in search of a better life, which some manage to attain and others, well it just fades into hopes and dreams. Hopes which at some point slide away and dreams which fizzle as the days go by.

So many years later, unemployment is a problem that Zimbabwe is still battling. ‘The Ten Shillings’ is a short story that smacks of something out of the painful and desperate daily life of most Zimbabweans right now who are searching for jobs without any luck. Those from outside the city and those from within the city converge to try and make ends meet. “So he had gone to the interview without any hope of success. He went so that he would not waste his time later on telling himself: ‘If I had gone it might have been different.’” It is always a nostalgic experience to read Mungoshi’s stories, reminding me of primary school days. I first came across his work in an English Language text book and it must have been Ventures in English. Reading his stories feels like having a conversation with an old friend, he writes as one would speak. For me the simplicity in his work has to be one of the greatest aspects of his pen.

‘The Rolling Sun and the Setting World’ is one of my favourite stories by Mungoshi and reading it again gave me so much joy. ‘White Stones and Red Earth’ is one of the most heartbreaking stories because of the way it begins with a young man numb to the death of his brother. Reading the first few paragraphs reminded me of Tsitsi Dangarembga’s chilling opener in Nervous Conditions, ‘I was not sorry when my brother died…’ It has to the familiarity with characters who have experienced so much hurt and turmoil in their familial relationships that made me expect a certain ending to Mungoshi’s story. Surprisingly, at the end the young man confronts this frightening new reality, something in him breaks as he lays on his brother’s grave. That brokenness gives him a new found freedom. ‘Of Lovers and Wives’ is an important story because it portrays a multidimensional complex for all the characters. In what appears to be Shami’s story at first, one later realizes that this is also Chasi’s story about having to hide behind his marriage with Shami, hiding out of necessity and the fear of facing the wrath of a society that perceives homosexuality as an unforgivable sin. Shami’s hurt stems from the eighteen years of deception. Like the society around her, she views the relationship between her husband and his best friend as ‘unnatural.’

This is a collection of stories that accurately captures the Zimbabwean life; past (pre-colonial, post-colonial) and present (because somethings never change or writers are just prophetic). It also paints a picture of the dreams of its people. Some stories are too short for my liking. The constant suffering of women in the stories is one of the things that confronts you as you read. It is the string of scorned wives who treat their partners as weaklings, ‘evil’ mothers, abused girls and women, the disdain for a particular kind of woman by the male characters; the woman who is free to be, free in her body (which probably speaks to the time when the stories were written). ‘Who Will Stop The Dark,’ ‘The Victim’ and ‘The Day The Bread Van Didn’t Come,’ are some of the stories that explore the relationships between the women and men. At the same time relationships among men are explored in most of the stories be it; brothers, fathers and sons, grandsons and grandfathers, friends and lovers. The consideration of power and perhaps fate is important in all the stories in the collection.

Where there is joy to be felt it flows freely and where there is pain it’s depth is immeasurable. That is not the beginning and the end of it. This collection of stories also raises questions that call a society to introspect and work around the answers to the problems it has created itself or otherwise. The stories confront you with the truth that life is murky at times; neither black nor white and the reader is left pondering about existence. The simple language is alluring and the powerful metaphors across the stories are relevant and serve a great purpose, making this a worthwhile read. I enjoyed most of the stories from this collection, about twenty out of the twenty six. Some stories are chillers while others are scorchers!


Book Details

Title: Collected Stories

Author: Charles Mungoshi

Genre: Fiction

Pages: 344

Publisher: The House of Books (2020)

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