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Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo

If she were to listen to her stomach she’d have long ceased eating, but then this isn’t really an issue of the stomach at all. And it’s not Destiny. You are also eating for other things too. You’re eating for the time you’ve been gone, no? For faces you’ve forgotten, no? For the phone calls you didn’t make, no? The letters you didn’t write no? For the grief you’ve carried no?…” (page 146)

Tholukuthi at first I struggled with this book . Sometimes I have to leave a book on the side and come back to it when the time is right (you’ll know when it’s right). NoViolet Bulawayo is a Zimbabwean writer whose debut novel We Need New Names has won multiple awards. Glory is a different kind of book; fresh, honest and relevant. While I could not get the hang of Glory at first because of it’s allegorical nature and evident loopholes, I eventually decided to focus on the importance of the message. The story is written from the point of view of animals in the land of Jidada “with a -da and another -da.” This method of storytelling is nothing new, as Zimbabwe has a strong background of oral storytelling where animals are used as characters in inganekwane/ngano to teach important life lessons. So from the onset there is a strong foundation of familiarity to the nature of storytelling which I grew up familiar with. My grandmothers were very good at telling such stories. Bulawayo deals with delicate themes in a careful manner and makes sure that the reader faces the truth be it in the past, present or future. Some of the themes that Glory deals with are independence, freedom, violence, family and the power of dreaming. The general story is set in Jidada and most of the action happens  in Lozikeyi.

Independence is a major theme in this text. The word is familiar to many, yet it remains to be truly and fully experienced. Independence seems to come to the animals of Jidada in phases, independence from the colonial rule, independence from the Father of the Nation (The Old Horse) and a possible independence from the Saviour of the nation (Tuvious Delight Shasha). The spirit of revolution runs throughout the thread of the story yet one finds out that resistance, reformation and restoration mean different things to different animals. After all, not all animals are created equal. After forty years of rule the Old Horse is dethroned. The animals of Jidada learn once again that independence does not always come with freedom. In my previous review (you can read it here) Freedom Nyamubaya a liberation struggle veteran and poet highlights the illusionary vision of independence and freedom walking hand in hand. The place of social media as one of the tools for the fight for freedom in Jidada is intriguing, is it real, is it effective and just how much of a threat is it? Bulawayo highlights the role that religion and the military have played in the past and continue to play in governance.

Memory and the power of storytelling are primary themes. There are people who experienced political violence during the period of Gukurahundi, there are people who experienced political violence in the post-election period in 2008 and still live with those wounds. Destiny’s (the goat) storyline shows that the effects of the political violence cannot be ignored. There are many people who say they want to learn about the history of political violence in Zimbabwe, here’s an opportunity. Bulawayo gives you the story and she does an excellent job. The work that she has done in this text filled with political satire will stand the test of time. For those who can not imagine it, here is a picture in the form of Glory that has been painted for you. For those who cannot remember it, here is a memory that has been awakened to aid your own retrieval.

Bulawayo takes the great responsibility to tell this story because silence is a heavy burden to bear for some. Destiny’s grandfather believed in storytelling, “…talking about the past never passing-passing, talking about the importance of telling one’s story if you want it told right because otherwise there was no shortage of those who’d take it upon themselves to tell it for you and tell it however they pleased, talking about the importance of keeping records to make sure the truth remained true,” (page 222). Just like Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi highlights in ‘The First Woman,’ you have to own your narrative and tell your story as an act of resistance too (you can read my review of her book here). Bulawayo leaves no stone unturned, the brutality of it all, the destruction and silence around it. There is a weight in names, of the old towns and the people that ought to be remembered. Simiso (Destiny’s mother) remembers 1983, Destiny remembers 2008 and through oral storytelling the two realities coincide only to reveal the repetition of history. History will repeat itself if some patterns are not broken. Simiso and Golden Maseko’s Wall of the Dead bears the memory of injustice and is a direct confrontation to the society to remember those who have not been atoned (the murdered, the disappeared, the beaten, the stolen and the censored). “Isn’t it something, Destiny, how sometimes stories will raise the dead, as if they are not dead at all but alive in our mouths, only waiting to be animated by our tongues?,” (page 344).

Bulawayo’s style of writing is effective. Through the use of repetition some important narratives are memorable. The emphasis on words and sentences like “I can’t breathe,” “talks to the dead,” “take-take-take-take-take,” creates the relevant feeling, tone and mood that provoke the reader into participating in whatever may be happening in the text. This is the obvious repetition but one can also find subtle repetition in instances where the country of animals is mentioned, “Jidada with a -da and another -da.” Perhaps, to centralize this state which is the setting of this story. Even in the land of animals the man and woman must know their place, the rich and the poor must know their worth. The use of satire makes this a humorous read, even when the subject matter is serious. The exaggerations and irony pop out in this social commentary. I have lived to see some parts of the political and social plot play out in real life so that made it easier for me to tell who is who and to a greater extent, resonate with the book.

This is an important text that had me thinking about the question of duty, belonging and dreaming. The end is hopeful yet it is also a call to action.  Even where some victories have been won, one cannot simply sit on their laurels. There is still a lot to be done, a lot of hard things to be done for many to experience freedom. Tholukuthi writers are allowed to dream, to inspire readers to dream and act. I wanted more from Destiny and Golden’s storyline but a reader gets what the writer gives. What I’ll remember is Bulawayo’s courage to tell a story many are not willing to tell, to own her narrative and her powerful commentary on the state of the nation. Storytelling is an act of resistance.


Book Details

Title: Glory

Author: NoViolet Bulawayo

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Viking (2022)

Pages: 416

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