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Nidima Nidma cover

Book Review: ‘Ndima Ndima’ by Tsitsi Mapepa, from Catalyst Press

Ndima Ndima

Ndima Ndima by Tsitsi Mapepa, published by Catalyst Press, shows the human condition. Its story traces the lives of Zuva and her daughter Nyeredzi through the turbulent 1990s in Zimbabwe.

The book begins as the Mutongi family is establishing a new home in Southgate 1, a suburb of Harare on the edge of the modern city and the natural environment. Each environment is fraught with dangers that leave scars deeper than flesh as Zuva’s four daughters grow seeking their places in a complex, violent world.

The novel has two protagonists, Zuva and Nyeredzi, giving each a point of view in different chapters. The voices are distinct, with Zuva’s deep reflections and fierce commitment to the church as opposed to Nyeredzi’s innocence and wonder.

In Nyeredzi’s early monologue about eating red dirt, she craves “the taste and texture of the iron-rich dirt on her tongue” but would never let anyone catch her doing it for fear they would mock her as being pregnant. Seeing through the different characters’ eyes shows just how different they are, and we are. Yet ultimately we can see the similarities that run through us all.

Time flows quickly through the chapters, with much of Ndima Ndima focusing on the first years at their new home. Zuva rules the household while their father is away working, and even when he is home shows her mastery, such as the way to get rid of snakes. Her method of burning stalks to thick, dark smoke to drive away snakes works not just for a black mamba that strays into their garden but also the snake that Abigail awakens to find wrapped around her leg under the blankets. Although their father arrived with the hoe to kill the snake after the smoke drives it away, it is Zuva who beats it with a heavy log. Each event is memorable, like flipping through a photo album of neighbors and strangers.

Throughout the book, Nyeredzi constantly seeks out mentorship from women she perceives as role models, or at least as very cool people. While her other sisters tease each other, Nyeredzi can find no faults with her oldest sister, Ruth. When Nyeredzi is fortunate enough to escape the shared room with Hannah and Abigail to stay with Ruth, each night is full of folktales and jokes before bed and shared secrets, like flushing the nest of baby rats they discover. As Nyeredzi grows, she finds others, like her Zulu roommate Sibo at university.

Through it all, however, the struggle is to find a connection with the one who should be her greatest mentor, her mother. As early as the third chapter, we read that “Zuva had promised to teach her daughter a lot of things.” Yet Nyeredzi struggles to comprehend the complexity of Zuva’s personality after the horrors she experienced, just as Zuva herself does.

Mapepa’s prose flows smoothly, like listening to stories from an old friend. The description is vivid yet terse, painting a picture while handing most of the image to the reader’s imagination. With its matriarch and four girls living together, some might draw comparisons with Alcott’s Little Women, but Ndima Ndima is its own creature, distinct and resilient.

About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.

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