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Painting A Mirage by Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure

‘I learnt that privilege implied I had an easy life and did not have to work for anything; yet the sad reality for me was I did in fact had to work for a lot of things, including parental love, which was supposed to be free and unconditional.’

Drama. I have never read so much drama in one family, well of course the Mafus in Sue Nyathi’s A Family Affair come close. Now that I have read ‘Painting A Mirage,’ everything in ‘Uprooted,’ a poetry collection by the same author fits perfectly (you can read my review of Uprooted here). I felt like I had met Ruva before because I read her diary before she told me her story in depth. ‘Painting A Mirage’ builds up on on the themes tackled in the poems in ‘Uprooted’ in a frank and detailed manner. It is also the first of a trilogy/series called the Mire. While reading Painting A Mirage I sensed the familiarity which was a good way to warm me up to the story.

In this complicated tale of a family that appears to be perfect from the outside, one finds in every chapter that there are bending truths, layered traumas from the selfishness, abuse, control and abandonment that bubble in the inside. The effect of these things on the mental and physical health of the characters is great and damaging. The optics are important, even from the title itself, it tells one about the creation of a disillusionment and how it’s existence is looked at. The dysfunction is real but the mind creates a mirage. Life is navigated from the eyes and experiences of Ruva, from her childhood right up to adulthood. The author explores several themes like family, love, culture, life as an immigrant, motherhood, friendship, hurt and personal growth. There are a few pockets of happiness in the text and at some point I got frustrated with some of the characters’ actions Ruva, Mama, Baba, Baby and the aunties. While I understood how important the intricate details of this story were, this is a very long story with 109 characters and sometimes I could not keep up. The plot is convincing and that kept me on track hoping that things would work out especially for Ruva.

This book highlights the importance of speaking up. Ruva is a strong character not because she endured abuse but because she was always willing to try again or to start afresh when things went wrong. At times Ruva’s privilege is blinding and what saves her is that she allows herself to learn. Having to deal with loss and grief have an impact on her growth; for the good or the bad. Her relationships with all the other characters are a reflection of her relationship with her parents and her upbringing. It is comforting that silence is not the beginning and the end of her story, somehow in the mire she finds the strength to do right by herself, or to at least try. She is a character that most people can relate to because we don’t always get it right. Several cultural practices are mentioned in the text particularly when the marriage and funeral events take place, these are very important events in African households.

Individuality and identity are important themes in the book. These two are linked to a number of important subthemes such as sexuality, womanhood, class and migration. Ruva grapples with her place as a woman, having been exposed to different sides of it in the lives of her aunts, her friends and her mother; forging her own identity and interpretations of what it means to be a woman turns out to be an uneasy task. After growing up being conditioned to aspire for marriage as a sign of the wholeness of a woman by her mother and even her father, she reduces herself in order to secure the ring, ‘I found myself seeking Baby’s approval for menial decisions that did not require his input, to make him believe that I respected him. I would ask him what he thought of every outfit I wore, and whether he liked my makeup, to make him think he could control me.’ In something that she personally thinks is merely deception, Ruva starts another toxic web in her life. Her decision to spend her life with this man is based on three weeks of pretense, skillfully painting an illusion. This is someone who had been exposed to some of her aunties’ lives as liberated women, but their liberation is not clear cut as most times they enable the patriarchy. On the other hand, Ruva’s performance is not peculiar, from childhood she was told ‘do/don’t do’ this otherwise you ‘will/will not’ be picked for marriage!

In addition managing the trauma stemming from sexual violence, being pimped out and the eventual realization of her father’s promiscuity blurs things further. It is also the emotional abuse of her mother by her father and in laws that alarms her. Her mother is isolated from the family, from her dreams and is placed in the recurring role of a martyr. Ruva questions her mother’s decision to stay with her father despite his flagrant disregard and disrespect for her. The chaos that she is naturally attuned to does not make it easier for her to see the problems in her own marriage. This is a great depiction of how the environment one grows in from childhood to adulthood has an effect on how they interrelate with others. Are these the things that finally become her undoing? Does time really heal all wounds? The important issues then become, how she defines herself, who she is as an individual and who she is when placed within the broader context of other women, other immigrants, society and other family members.

This book deals with many important themes that one can relate to or at least acknowledge their importance. The author herself affirms her cultural identity in the text through the use of her language, ChiKaranga and explores the cultural rites of her people. Which is always a bonus for me in any book. The plot is not set in one place and this gives it a punch, on parts where I found myself drifting I would eventually find my way back. Time is also an important aspect in this book, the past and the present give the story its backbone but the future remains unclear as the book comes to an end. Are Ruva’s hopes attainable?


Book Details

Title: Painting A Mirage

Author: Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure

Genre: Fiction

Pages: 376

Publisher: Carnelian Heart Publishing (2020)

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