Thursday, 7 January 2010

An Elegy for Easterly by Petina Gappah

Faber and Faber
Out of Africa?
Zimbabwean writer Petina Gappah won the Guardian First Book award with these stunning short stories.
A troubled land
In one story, the narrator’s aunt boasts that her daughter sent her a present of Z$250 billion - equivalent to £200 with Zimbabwe’s raging inflation.
And the words?
Lovely spare stuff, simple sentences piled on each other, making stories that take your heart out.
What kind of stories?
In the same story, a family is waiting for ‘something nice from London’ - the body of their son. And if he doesn’t turn up soon they’re going to go broke, because a host of hungry relatives are staying and feasting until they can bury him.
Like a lot of stories by the young, these are in no way cheery. But they’re brilliant. In one, the widow of a hero of the revolution attends his funeral - they’re burying a sack of earth, for political reasons.
The Party insists he be buried in the equivalent of the Republican Plot in Glasnevin; the family that he be buried in his home place. All very Soldiers of Destiny.
I feel almost at home
In another story, ‘Harare’s finest blackmailers’ - traffic cops - extract ‘fines’ from hapless motorists. In another, a man dances himself to death.
Eee! Too sad!
Oddly, not. The stories are so fascinating, the characters so entrancing, that their dark subjects don’t infect you. Even while you’re watching a successful young couple scammed by a would-be illegal emigrant, you’re laughing.
And the writer?
Lawyer with degrees from Graz, Cambridge and Zimbabwe Universities, works in Geneva for a body that gives developing companies legal aid on international trade law. Currently working on her first novel, The Book of Memory.
A buy, you say?
An antidote to our own sorry-for-ourselfness. And a fine work from a new voice. A buy.

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