The new novel by award-winning Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo Glory opens with an Independence Day rally in Jidada, a fictional nation inspired by Zimbabwe. A group of women, the Sisters of the Disappeared, interrupt Old Horse, the father of the nation, in the middle of his speech by storming the naked podium in protest, calling for the return of missing persons by his government.
Despite their discomfort with the nudity, those present “heard the roar right through their guts, where memories of missing friends and relatives or relatives of friends and also known and unknown Jidadans they had heard of lived. in the newspapers and on social media, yes, the tholukuthi heard the songs deep in their hearts, where also lived the unanswered prayers, the bleeding wounds, the nightmares, the incessant anguish, the questions about loved ones , about known and unknown Jidadans who had dared to dissent against the Seat of Power only to vanish like smoke, never to be seen again.”
Indeed, the Sisters of the Departed are beaten and dragged offstage by the nation’s defenders – Jidada’s brutal military/police force – but keep roaring their demands. The rally then continues as planned.
Glorypopulated by animals rather than humans in a nod to George Orwell farm animaluses these allegorically powerful creatures to explore both Zimbabwe’s particular history since fighting – and gaining independence – against British colonialism and, more broadly, the nature of protest and survival under corrupt governments and violent.
(By the way, the word “tholukuthi” – pronounced to-lu-ku-ti — literally translates into English as something like “you find that” and is used throughout the novel also in the way you might use “so what” or “and then” or “for real” or “in truth” according to the context ; in other words, it’s not really translatable, but after several pages readers unfamiliar with the word will have become comfortable with it.)
The novel fictionalises the ousting of longtime Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe in a sanitized coup in 2017; the rise to power of its former vice-president, Emmerson Mnangagwa; and the years that followed, during which the economy of Zimbabwe – and therefore of Jidada – suffered and the political promises of the new regime were not kept. Old Horse, Father of the Nation, replaces Mugabe; Tuvy, the Savior, for Mnangagwa.
Other elements of Zimbabwe’s history, both recent and ancient, are thinly veiled Glory. Sometimes these are satirized, such as President Mnangagwa’s well-known scarf, which in Tuvy’s case is said by his personal sorcerer to protect him against absolutely all enemies. Other elements are deadly serious, such as Gukurahundi, the genocide that took place over several years to cleanse the nation of so-called dissidents, perpetrated by Mugabe’s 5th Brigade.
Glory The tale enters the minds of Old Horse, his wife, Dr. Sweet Mother, and Tuvy, and attempts to understand how they got to where they are, how they became what they became, and why. To be clear, the novel does not explain their actions, but it does contextualize them by exploring their stories, the depths of their delusions of grandeur, their self-interest and distance from the real people of Jidada, and the issues that affect the nation.
In one of the novel’s most moving threads, an in-and-out political drama, a goat named Destiny returns to post-regime change Jidada in his hometown of Lozikeyi. The city itself “rises to its full height, drapes its boldest shawl over its shoulders so that this returnee can also enjoy all its glory in case exile, which is known to sometimes bewitch the memories of its children , would have made him forget.” Destiny too, after walking through Lozikeyi to her mother’s house, “feels something that’s been squatting inside her for the ten years she’s been gone finally straightening up.” Anyone who has ever been in self-imposed exile from a place they call home – if that home still holds the love of family or community – will surely feel these words right in their gut.
Throughout, Bulawayo’s narrative vocals are exquisite in their modulation, at times tracing a phrase with repeated phrases or in a particular cadence reminiscent of a chant, and at others using conversational asides or social media posts to convey the strong and varied opinions of the people of Jidada. It also brings humor and joy, despite the novel’s powerfully serious subjects, reflecting the reality of human nature: in the worst of straits, children still play games, neighbors gossip and taunt each other. others, and people are finding ways to be creative. say their tyrannical leaders. Often, too, the humor stems from pop culture references (“Miseducation of a Donkey: Will the Real Father of the Nation Please Stand Up?”) or the irony that Bulawayo injects into his characters’ voices, such as when a Jidadan said, “I don’t care what the enemies say, saying that we don’t even follow our own constitution, at least it’s our constitution that we don’t follow.”
Glory goes beyond its immediate inspiration in how, despite Zimbabwean idiosyncrasies, it expresses one people’s frustration, terror, resilience, uprising and hope in a way that can be applied to a multitude of nations and political realities around the world. Hope is not an easy thing — abolitionist organizer and educator Mariame Kaba has said that “hope is a discipline” — but, as Gloryhe is indeed glorious in his power.
Ilana Masad is a fiction writer, book reviewer and novel author All my mother’s lovers.