“I need an expose. How your society is being fractured … Politics. Emotion. Sort of a protest piece...”
This particular request of a character, a journalist, comes in Rory Kilalea’s contribution to Writing Now, “Unfinished Business,” which revolves around the issue of — as expressed in Upper-Case emphasis — The Old People of Zimbabwe. “We never really hear about them in the local newspapers,” the narrator ponders. “AIDS, internecine politics, nasty whites, but the old?”
Perhaps another consideration amid the instability and fragmentation of Zimbabwe society shouldn’t be so surprising. But when it comes to a laundry list of recent writings that touch upon such issues as economic hyperinflation, government corruption, racial tensions, sub-par health service, and human and civil rights violations, there’s plenty of angles to go around.
In league with some down-to-earth humor and unworldly surrealism, 28 incisive and all-encompassing Zimbabwean stories — each comprising commentary and constituting “protest pieces” of a sort — make up this sequel to 2004's Writing Still: New Stories From Zimbabwe. From the subtle touch to the solid blow, these tales are told from the personal and humanistic perspective of varied Zimbabweans saddled with cultural and economic burdens rooted not only in an inequitable society, but one in which “the have-nots take from the have-nots" (“Unfinished Business”).
Writing Now takes it all in and spells it out with compelling characters, plots and themes, even in a story not set in Zimbabwe. In the vividly epistolary story by Farai Mpofu, “The Letter,” the main character Juba, caught illegally crossing over to the greener pastures of Botswana, experiences the tribulations of being imprisoned and breathing “the humid, stale smell of greasy armpits, groins, dirty mouths, urine and diarrhea in the unfinished pit. We starved.” But he also effectually marshals the resolve and pragmatic anticipation that “Mama, today I’m gonna sing to the stars because humanity has a blind cruelty. I’m gonna sing that I need a life, a dignity, and like the elites of this world, I need good food.”