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Turquoise Dreams:Anthology of short stories by Zimbabwean women edited by Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure

It is always refreshing to read new voices from Zimbabwe and this anthology does just that. It mirrors a society that is reeling on its knees (due to the economic, social and political environment) but even then the society has a firm and destructive hand on women. The questions asked are relevant and urgent. Some of the answers provided are what we all ought to consider and decide. The cover is alluring to both the eye and the hand! The content is remarkable. If I were a crier I would have stayed with my box of Kleenex close by because most of these tales are harrowing. It is a great thing that the Editor gives a trigger warning!

My Thoughts

The anthology is written by ten Zimbabwean women who had not been published prior to this publication. Nine of the ten author’s penned three stories each and one penned two. Twenty nine diverse stories which usher the reader into the lives of Zimbabwean women in different circumstances. With such a wide selection of stories one can find one or two that strike the right chords. Some of the major themes that one can expect to find are loss, pain, justice, truth, family, feminism, identity, migration, abuse, hope and mental health.

I cannot ignore the violence inflicted upon women that is portrayed in this body of work. Directly and indirectly just like the many faces of power; be it emotional, physical, sexual or economic so is the violence. This violence is depicted from different perspectives such as individual and collective. The short stories go on to show that the violence is rampant in intimate relationships, work spaces, academic spaces and in our communities. A heavy hand is always dealt by the system towards women.

This is evident in the story ‘Saving Trymore’ by Tinatswe Mhaka which is about an individual but also sheds light on collective suffering inflicted on the young girls during a time when their community is navigating the aftermath of a natural disaster (Cyclone Idai). Panashe Mawoneke’s ‘Cyclone Idai’ also shows the loss effected by the disaster. In a tale so raw and vivid, one is left clenching on to the characters’ despair but how else can one write about loss? Mantate Queeneth Mlotshwa’s, ‘The Evidence’is another story that depicts the suffering of one individual yet the main character’s single actions are meant to save the community of young girls in academic institutions facing abuse. Edith Virima’s ‘The Promotion’ gives a candid picture of abuse of power in the workplace and how that can have devastating effects.

The weight of expectations that is put on women by an unforgiving society is too great a burden to bear as shown by Nkosilesisa Ncube in ‘Precious.’ The expectations chain the young woman in this story and so many others. Nadia Mutisi’s story, ‘Sinking Roots,’ though different also shows that women always have to carry something, a certain weight. The pursuit of freedom is one that is thorny and requires a united front. There is also a loss of identity when these expectations become the rule book of one’s life. Where expectations are heavy, secrets aid to the weight and darkness. I see how Precious changes her name from Tjawanga to Precious, just to fit in and make herself better. Through this story Nkosilesisa advocates for the freedom to be, if anything that is the first step to being truly free.

There is a balance that is sought by most of the characters. Gwadamirai Majange’s ‘Her Dilemma‘ takes us through the process of reflection and seeking balance. Can balance be ever attained? For working women facing competing interests? For women and girls facing harsh circumstances? For those walking in unfamiliar territories? The most frustrating thing is that in this journey of life, like many other things balance is never guaranteed yet we continue to strive for it.

All hope is not lost as shown by. Sibonginkosi Christabel Netha in her stories where pain is turned into hope and pending doom inspires a positive change, but that takes work too. She also explores the dynamics in several relationships such as friendship, romantic relationships and family relations. ‘Ukuhlalukelwa‘ is a sobering story about the effects of death and how people deal with grief. Nyasha Melissa Chiyanike’s ‘Screwed from Birth’ is a beautifully haunting story about loss in all forms and the possibilities of light at the end of the tunnel. Chipo Moreblessing Mawarire also shows how the responses to loss or death cannot be structured but how it is deeply personal in ‘Tombstone Unveiling.’ Every reaction is valid.

What I liked about these stories is that they are current affairs. Further, the response to the oppressive circumstances (agency) by the characters is commendable. Whether or not the agency is perfect is a case for another day. Justice, I do not know. All I can see are women who reflect and take action in these stories. The manifestation of violence against women and the response to that violence by those women is something that deserves attention. It is unfortunate that the choices which women are faced with after going through all these forms of abuse, are also not favourable (and appear to be a set up; the system leaves you with no choice but to commit murder, an unsafe abortion, to leave everything that you have worked for and set up else where). The women in these stories are women who want to breathe out a sigh of relief and in that urgent need they decide to take action within their means, for themselves and others. This is an important message.

Although they are in different shades, the struggles of these women are the same. They all boil down to the structures created by a patriarchal society. Men in positions and in possession of power. The anthology ushers us into a world of displacement, where the characters long to belong to an alternate reality through their truths which are very different. It is not a mistake that they all want to claim their power from their pasts, the men who abuse and shame them, death, mental and physical battles.

Here are some quotes from the book:

1. Mantate Queeneth Mlotshwa
‘He told me I had so much to learn and part of that was understanding the voice I needed to take to the public was the voice and the interests of the party. That meant I did not get to choose.’ page 37
2. Nyasha Melissa Chiyanike
‘For days Kiki took all her rage and shoved it under her bed but each night it would creep up and engulf her soul.’ page 46
3. Tinatswe Mhaka
‘She had not been sure of who she was for years now. But at least he had belonged to herself.’ page 97
4. Nkosilesisa Kwanele Ncube
‘Alone in my room, I had thought about Munda…so upright and so proper on the surface but beneath all that, he was rotten just like my father.’ page 117
5. Nadia Mutisi
‘Women always had to carry something. If it was not babies, then it was expectations. page 132
6. Sibonginkosi Christabel Netha
‘Sitting in a valley of a rock and a hard place does not give one the liberty to be settled. A place where the ‘wide and narrow’ are not clearly defined, and one must decide it for herself.’ page 198
7. Chipo Moreblessing Mawarire
‘The mind is a dangerous place, and grief worsens the situation. Life would be better if I was good at expressing the grief…’ page 230
8. Edith Virima
‘She had been passed for the promotion though George knew she deserved it more than Keith.’ page 240
9. Gwadamirai Majange
‘Why did things have to be so complicated? Was the universe telling her to choose and why was she the one caught up in this dilemma?’ page 237

10. Panashe Mawoneke
‘Heavy winds destroyed house roofs, which were carried away in floods. Downpours of rain freely flooded the roofless houses, weakening walls and foundations, and finally bringing the houses down.’ page 308

This anthology is quite long and one definitely needs time to plough through all the stories. Perhaps, if the anthology had been made up of twenty stories, I would have enjoyed it more than I did. There are different writing styles some which I liked more than others and definitely there is something for everyone. There were also some mishaps e.g on page 39, I was not sure if that was the end of the story or the sentence was continuing. I experienced this on page 68 too, the reader is left hanging. This does not take away anything much from the value of the body of work. I appreciate that this anthology is the authors’ first publication and I cannot wait to see what they each have in store for us. This is a refreshing and relevant read that cuts across several significant issues.


Book Details

Title: Turquoise Dreams: Anthology of short stories by Zimbabwean Women

Author: Several edited by Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure

Genre: Fiction Anthology

Pages: 328

Publisher: Carnelian Heart Publishing Ltd. (2020)

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