Review of Sketches of High Density Life - The Zimbabwean

Please note the following reviews of Weaver Press titles, published in The
Zimbabwean week ending Saturday 10th September, best viagra 2005



Peeping through the keyhole at life
BY CHIKWAPURO
Title: Sketches of a High Density Life
Author: Wonder Guchu
Publisher: Weaver Press, 2005.
Price: £6. 95


Short-short stories have been described as peeping through a keyhole. Only a
fragment of a scene inside is visible. Like a glance, but you get the sense,
an ambience. The image lingers, persists suspended in the mind like a jigsaw
piece. How does it fit - in the mind or in the picture it is a part of?
Wonder Guchu's sketches are not rough. They are like a reflection in a
fragment of a broken mirror: each piece is true and fully formed.


Zimbabwe is not a happy place at present, and has not been for sometime.
With 14 keyholes to look through, nine show images of death. The first one
[243rd Street] is only about 500 words long. It starts by presenting
something very familiar. Footsteps in the dark outside tell us something is
going on out there. We feel safe where we are, inside ourselves, inside our
house. We try not to get involved, at least until it feels safe.

What is safer than the company of other people in broad daylight? In broad
daylight we are curious and step outside, or press out from within
ourselves, we explore. What do we find? An anonymous dead person, everyman.
We are not surprised but we are shocked, saddened. It could be anyone, one
of us, a friend, a relative an acquaintance: the brutality of it. It's
shocking. He, however, is anonymous; we don't know how we are connected to
him. We must gather our life and go on, not get involved, not turn our shock
into anger and outrage.
The police must gather him, or his remains. Not us. We don't expect more of
them. In fact we suspect them. They don't try to do better. As everyone
disperses to meet the remains of the day, all that is left is blood on the
ground, justice betrayed. In five hundred words, a few strokes of the brush
an image is created of life lived, and lost. All we can do is cover it up
with pious words of the sanctity of life.

If you live in town you expect always to be cheated. One always blames
oneself for appearing to be foolish enough to be cheated. But when one is
trying to help, a decent enough human feeling of compassion for others, then
ending up the victim of a trick is galling. Such stories are often told in
ways that are humorous.

Guchu's stories are told in anger, 'I felt bad.' He says. 'Harare had once
again taken me for a ride.' It does not leave room to engender feelings of
compassion in future. The feeling of being wounded is raw. This depth of
feeling is like the persistence of vision, scanning us into every flash
story. Don't expect to read the slim volume and put it down and think that
it's over.

I was disappointed that there were only 14 stories. Wonder Guchu is reputed
to have written hundreds. For someone of his obvious skill, this is but a
morsel.
Short-short stories have been likened to poems. The very tight structure,
every word highly selected and the profundity or force of its rendering. It
has also been compared to a joke. From the moment of its telling we
anticipate the punch-line. Most of the success of a joke is in the
unexpectedness of the punch line, the surprise. It is to the point and
flashes rather like a thought, or like a camera arresting an action. Wonder
Guchu's punch lines are memorable, not in their surprise, but in the way
they underline or emphasize how ordinary we make our lives, even faced with
life changing events.

WH Auden made much the same point in Musee des Beaux Arts:

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone is else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully
along

We want suffering to mean something, to result in some change, to be
significant, to be a milestone. Actually suffering is everyday. It only
becomes meaningful when we give it a meaning, like making it a life changing
experience. Guchu's flashes of life seem so grim because everyone is
suffering on their own. Whether it is 'Lunchtime in the Park' or 'Fading
like a Flower' or 'Ward B4'. People do not connect with each other; they do
not share their suffering or have a shared meaning of that suffering. So
they cannot act together.

Very short stories have been with us for as long as there have been stories.
As a written genre they have tended to be overshadowed by the classical
short story or the novel. Stories of less than about 1500 words can be read
during a short train or bus journey without feeling interrupted. The
internet and the brief attention span of a busy life are well suited to this
style. It may just promote reading among those who find the novel a task and
poetry impenetrable. For me, these stories brought back the unadulterated
reality of living in Harare - in a flash!

Review of Sketches of High Density Life - Trends Magazine

TRENDS MAGAZINE JUNE 2005

Book Review with Philbert Khumalo
Sketches of High Density Life by Wonder Guchu Published by Weaver Press


Just after reviewing Short Writings from Bulawayo 11, this writer received another collection of short stories entitled Sketches of High Density Life by Wonder Guchu. The book Sketches of High Density Life comprises short stories detailing life in Harare.
However, Sketches of High Density Life celebrates the powers of vivid physical portraiture of township inhabitants who are a mixed lot. Thus, a cocktail of languages, traditions, mysteries and characters from the city’s inhabitants and its peripherals.
The first story 243rd Street aptly describes the dangers of muggings and the propensity of murders  that occur most frequently at night. The death of a man in the story most probably a victim of muggings is evocative of the city violence that makes life so fragile especially in the evil hours of the night. Infact, the sight of a corpse in an urban setting is so common, even to children, who should in all instances be saved the agony of viewing the dead.
Furthermore, still on the theme of death, Wonder Guchu tells a fascinating story on the The Black Hen. Traditions and urban myths converge in this story. In a house where an aunt is just on throes of death, senior family members leave at the crack of dawn and return with a black hen. Innocently, a child plays with it in the evening anticipating a delicious meal the next day. Unfortunately, come next morning, the hen was nowhere to be found. The black hen could be a symbol of evil, the illness and death of the emaciated aunt in bed. The black hen could have been used to take over the evil spirit in the aunt so that she could be liberated or healed from the disease and escape death. The black hen is to left to wonder in the bush and aunt unfortunately dies.
Sketches of High Density Life is also confined to rumours. The sad story But Why? Tells of a prominent businessman who had a chain of degrees but threw himself in front of an overcoming train. It is rumoured that the dead man had found his wife in an uncompromising position with another man. Failing to swallow this, the businessman found solace in committing suicide. The stiory But Why? Also equivocates on the vanity of education, money and prominence in our lives. For making more money does not guarantee happiness and being highly educated is not a passport to contentment.
Sketches of High Density Life contains other stories that depict urban reality. The story The Township Fella presents the archetype conmen who walks the width and breadth of the city streets across Zimbabwe. The Harare conmen in The Township Fella story is a tall figure who walks with a limp and talks with a serious stammer. In a meeting a stranger he presents a sympathy-arousing story about him having been  discharged from hospital and needing money to go back home. When the conmen receives donations, he quickly walks away and continues begging for more money. This “professional beggar” dupes people to feed his familyand enjoy two chocolate ice-cream cones per day. What a way of making money.
The story Fading Like a Flower gives readers a glimpse of a deadly disease  that is wrecking havoc in many households on the urban areas. In the story the father figure is confined to his sick bed as he cannot stand up, let alone walk. He cannot feed himself as his jaws are locked but his wife forces teaspoonful of food into his mouth. This is all in vain because the food trickles out like spit. The man’s physical stature is a sorry sight. He is skeletal, his limbs are stiff and the head hangs down limply. He finally succumbs to the incurable disease and dies.
In conclusion, Sketches of High Density Life is a book which gives a graphic account of life in the townships. The book is thought –provoking to many readers since it “opens as many doors as it closes” and thus leaving the reader to wonder. The vocabulary used is second to none.

Review of Sketches of High Density Life - The Sunday Mirror

Glimpses of life in the ghetto

Title:           Sketches of High Density Life
Author:                    Wonder Guchu
Publisher:         Weaver Press (2004)
ISBN:             1 77922 031 6

Reviewed in The Sunday Mirror, viagra buy Harare 23.1.05
by Phillip Chidavaenzi


I CAME to know of Wonder Guchu through the then Sunday Mail Magazine (now Sunday Entertainment) where a diverse collection of his short stories where published when I was still a Form 3 student way back in 1996.
It was only logical that with the passage of time, Guchu would into a fine writer claiming his stake as one of the finest wordsmiths in Zimbabwe’s literary tradition. His debut publication – Sketches of High Density Life – is an eloquent testimony that nothing beats experience.
This collection unmasks, in its own way, the strength of the short story genre; brevity. In crisp and concise language Guchu unflinchingly explores the colourful, often bizarre and painful tapestry of life in high-density suburbs, usually referred as ‘the ghetto’ in urban parlance.
Through a reading of these stories, you learn a lot more about life in the ghettos in Zimbabwe, of how people contend with the agonies and joys of their everyday life, how they get on despite the hardships they encounter, their feelings and their dreams.
I found his obsession with “the dead body” rather morbid. It remains the chilling thread running through the entire collection. But on a closer reading, it emerges that death – which hauntingly permeates the fabric of this beautiful collection – is like a reminder of our own mortality and fragility as human beings, something that living in the ghetto often testifies.
Traditionally, death was something that was very rare. But in the vicious modern world where one can easily lose their life, it has become normal thus in the opening story, 243rd Street, when a dead body is discovered, people take comfort in that “it’s not new to 243rd Street” (p1).
The stories are about the futility of our efforts in a rather hurried world, in an urban setting that is almost inhabitable. It is also about the strength of the human spirit, the ability to live on despite the harsh realities of life that often collide with people’s hopes and ambitions. Some, like the trickster in The Township Fella, resort to unorthodox survival means by pretending to be stranded and milking unknowing sympathisers willing to lend a helping hand.
The echoes of desolate loneliness in most of the characters when they retreat into those inner places in their souls for moments of self-introspection, despite the overwhelming crowds in the ghetto, is aptly captured.
But Why?, Fading like a Flower and Endless Journeys – which I feel are by far the best pieces in the anthology – bring out the poet in Guchu. The first is like a reminiscence of a man who looks back to the cause of a stranger’s suicide after having been haunted by his discovery of his wife in “a compromising position” (p19) with another man. The story tellingly rubbishes education that does not serve an individual in his hour of need. Thus the narrator rightly asks: “But where was your education, stranger? Wasn’t it suppose to help you then? To tell you that there are other women out there; that when one door is closed, others open? (p19).
In Fading like a Flower, the persona takes us on an emotional journey that she had embarked on as she cared for her husband who was wasting away in the clutches of Aids, and the emotional burden it brought both on the persona and their children as they helplessly watched their father wasting away.
The poetic touch in Endless Journeys is as refreshing and deeply moving as it is beautiful.
Guchu brings out a whole new dimension to the short story genre, particularly the way in which the pathos that he brings out in his stories plumb the depths of human emotion, and this is further reinforced by the first person narrative style which makes the stories too personal, thus our own too.  
In these stories, the city – Harare – becomes a symbol of a prison from which the inhabitants cannot escape. It speaks back to earlier African writers who de-romanticised the city in their works which young Africans glorified as they mistakenly equated it to civilisation and progress.
The anthology captures the whole range and texture of the ghetto experience as Guchu delineates the life of ordinary people seeking to humanise their space and make ends meet despite all the odds staked against them.
Some of the stories to look forward to in this collection are Lunchtime in the Park, The Black Hen, Wooden Bridge (first published in Weaver Press’ Writing Still, 2003), The Child of Sin, The Dollar, Size 4, It will never be yesterday and Visitor from Beitbridge.
Guchu has to be commended for coming up with this refined compilation of 14 stories, a piece of work that any serious reader must have in their library.

Review of Sketches of High Density Life - Sunday Times

Guchu’s book to change the meaning of “short story”
(A review by Memory Chirere)
Sketches of High Density Life, Wonder Guchu
Weaver Press ,2004, Harare
Isbn: 77922 031 6



I have always been waiting for Wonder Guchu’s book. Any book by him on anything. You will know why  and, maybe understand. Wonder Guchu has just published a short story collection in English called Sketches of High Density Life but I am not surprised.  I  have always been waiting for something from him. You will understand.
I am also waiting for anything; a play, novel, film, song… anything substantial from the likes of Robert Muponde, Stanley Mupfudza, Nhamo Mhiripiri, Zvisinei Sandi, Eresina Wede, Thabisani Ndlovhu… This is a whole  generation of fine and brave writers who have been caught up in a literary drought sparked by ESAP of the early  90’s.
That drought has remained with us, offering only chance reprieve to a young writer or two. After Nevanji Madanhire’s success, a certain kind of jinx fell on younger writers immediately after him and if you are not Mungoshi or Chinodya, or Hove or Zimunya or Nyamufukudza or Vera… then you can’t write! You can’t publish.
The hard times of the past one and half decades have trained the local publishers to be incestuos and the song goes on; Hove, Vera, Mungoshi, Hove, Vera, Mungoshi…They are determined. They will not experiment with a new voice.
They will work only with trusted hands of international acclaim. The economy is  stupid. Their song does not haunt them  and it continues relentlessly; Hove, Vera , Mungoshi, Hove, Vera, Mungoshi…
I started waiting for something from Wonder Guchu from the first  time I saw him. It was at one writers workshop in Bindura’s Chipindura High School.
He was in a heavy crimson jacket and a green–green oversize trousers that trailed on the floor.
He peered alternately at the resource person and at something out in the school grounds and seemed disinterested and bewildered. At break he ambled to a corner and cracked a dog-biscuit (they were hard!) On being introduced, much later in the day , the unsuspecting budding writers were pleasantly surprised to be in the company of a popular Sunday Mail magazine short story writer! Then the Sunday Mail, unlike today believed and knew that a Sunday paper worth its name must have a short story somewhere. You searched fir The Sunday Mail in order to read a short story and it went down well with a Sunday tea and biscuit. Wonder Guchu and the late Stephen  Alumenda wrote  short stories for the nation every Sunday in turns.
The Wonder Guchu story tended to be about clever township fellows who fell into carefully set traps.
The Alumenda story was about anything, but always had a somewhat unbelievable ‘twist of the tale.’ I suspected the two were friends and Wonder admitted.
But Wonder Guchu was not very happy. Sipping his tea and between bites of the stony biscuit, he volunteered that he was looking for a “new form”. Something that approaches the story “from inside”. I honestly thought he didn’t know what he meant and his slight stammer didn’t help matters.
I thought he would write a long novel-like Doestovesky because I thought he looked severe, energetic and also wayward enough. Much more enigmatic than his contemporaries Ignatius Mabasa and Ruzvidzo Mupfudza!
Guchu’s Sketches of High Density Life is thankfully very be experimental and bound to change the meaning of “short story” at least in Zimbabwe.
Trailing a long way behind current literary traditions, the editors  have named it “Sketches.”  Which is slightly unfortunate. Sketches? What Sketches? These are deeper and finer narratives than sketches.
These are “flash” stories. That they are short –short does not mean they are not ‘serious’. In fact each of these stories here have ate “haiku” effect.
Dwelling on one seemingly insignificant feature of humanity – a person, a subject… the stories invite the reader to feel, sniff and stew in sensual experiences.
The writer’s intention here is to bore a tiny-tiny hole with a needle in order to make you howl.
The intensity of each of these stories pays you dearly and makes up for the physical brevity and “abrupt” departures and arrivals.
There is something about Hughes’ ‘Thank You Mum’ and Hemmingway’s ‘Up In Michigan’ that our literary community have to appreciate. The short story has fast retreated from being a novella. The short story is fast approaching the intensity of ngano and subtlety of a joke well told.
The sense of “mischief” in Wonder Guchu’s stories comes closest to Stanley Nyamufukudza’s “Curious Cows” although the language and sense of aura is clearly moves towards Charles Mungoshi’s. Guchu has done well to choose particular locale- the city of Harare its down-trodden ‘fellas’. Here, as in Laguma, Gordimer, Mphahlele and others, ‘writing’ the high density suburb calls for a ‘hurrying’ style. People and place are glimpsed and only become whole in their collective bewildering monotone. This is ably executed in “The Wooden Bridge”. There is a realistic sense of place and you are not  “reading” but you are there:
I heard footsteps- four or five behind me. Breaking into a trot… No footsteps approached. The road was deserted. The night was still. A few neon lights flooded the dark streets with an assortment of colours. Streetlights, some choked with dead insects, flickered on and off.
There is a very silent theory here. It is the world painted that demands a special kind of brush, stroke and a certain texture of canvas. These are not “sketches.” This is  how this ‘world’ has to be presented if it has to be true.
If a prize will be given, it should be for Guchu’s ability to ‘hurry’ and create pathos at the same time. Usually narratives about the city as in Laguma’s rarely achieve immediate pathos but Wonder Guchu’s does. Though sneaky and measured, “Fading like a flower” is underlain by very poetic echoes:
It’s the children. Then ask too much. And every time they ask, I force a smile. But I tell them that it’s alright …They believe me. Later, I sneak into the bedroom because I do not want them to see my tears because they will then know that I’m lying…
In  a very short space and with very few words, the writer manages to peg down the reader, causing almost the equal amount of depth and force which would take Dickens or Doestoevsky acres and acres of print.
The intensity of these short-short stories sometimes comes through the “photographic” style used. “Size 4,” for instance, reads like a film script- the sense of staccato, the deliberate over visualisation and the move toward the twist in the tale. A shoe is thrown into a room- but you don’t see the man who throws it. You see a man’s feet walking- but you don’t see the full frame of the man. A man dies and the suburb wacthes the police collecting the carcass and the aura attacks the reader like a sharp adze.
But there is one aspect of a Wonder Guchu short story which I fail to define however how hard I try. It is the idea of “the dead body”. In many of these stories there is a dead body. The urban violence is almost a machine churning out dead bodies at the rubbish dump, the river, the bridge and even right on the road between the rows of houses.
I am generally unnerved by dead bodies in stories or film but each of Wonder Guchu’s dead bodies tends to be metaphorical. Like in William Golding, each dead body is a kind of ‘harvest’. Each dead body is as anonymous as the crowd of onlookers. Always its face is deformed or hidden from the view of the crowd. Looking for lunch, one meets a dead body in the park. These stories dwell on the fragility and temporariness of the body. The dying is as easy as taking a cup of tea. These stories are set in Harare and they tend to challenge a certain blind love for the city young Africans often have. In these stories Harare is a giant which man built  but now Harare escapes man’s grip, forcing man and fate to perform a curious art. One senses that there s a sick God on the loose. The pursuer and the pursued dash in a certain madness doomed to catching or being caught. Even at midnight sleep is pretence and death is next door.
Wonder Guchu achieves a certain description of city people that does not render them visitors or passersby. These people here trap and are trapped by the city. The brutalities do not make  them less human.   They still love, listen to music and laugh and one identifies with their fears and desires. In ‘the dollar’ a man helps  strangers look for a dollar coin one of them has lost, yards and yards into the tall grasses until he is mugged. In “The Township Fella” a man turns into a witty begger-conman and he laughs with pride as he does it. Recently Wonder Guchu won a prize as the country‘s leading music reporter. In most of his reports the short story writer is very evident. He brings out the life of the singers and you actually touch their souls. Alongside Robson Sharuko, Lovemore Banda, Ruzvidzo Mupfudza, and Mabasa Sasa’s, Guchu reports rank amon the best one can read in the Zimbabwean papers. And for Guchu’s close buddies and contepmoraries Sketches of High Density Life Signals the end of a jinx that had tthreatened a whole generation of writers

Review of Sketches of High Density Life - Philbert Khumalo

Sketches of High Density Life
Wonder Guchu
2004: (pp: 76) 205 x 136 mm
ISBN: 1779220316

Trends Magazine
June 2005
Reviewer: Philbert Khumalo


Just after reviewing Short Writings from Bulawayo 11, I received another collection of short stories entitled Sketches of High Density Life by Wonder Guchu. The book details life in Harare through vivid physical portraiture of township inhabitants, who are a mixed lot. Thus, a cocktail of languages, traditions, mysteries and characters from the city’s inhabitants and its peripherals.

The first story, '243rd Street', aptly describes the dangers of muggings and the propensity of murders that most frequently occur at night. The death of a man in the story is evocative of the city violence that makes life so fragile. In fact, the sight of a corpse in an urban setting is very common, even to children, who should be saved the agony of viewing the dead.

Still on the theme of death, Wonder Guchu tells a fascinating story in 'The Black Hen', where traditions and urban myths converge. In a house where an aunt is in the throes of death, senior family members leave at the crack of dawn and return with a black hen. Innocently, a child plays with it in the evening anticipating a delicious meal the next day. Unfortunately, come next morning, the hen is nowhere to be found. The black hen could be a symbol of evil, the illness and death of the emaciated aunt in bed. The black hen could have been used to take over the evil spirit in the aunt so that she could be liberated or healed from the disease and escape death. Though the black hen is to left to wander in the bush, the aunt unfortunately dies.

Sketches of High Density Life also deals with rumours. The sad story 'But Why?' tells of a prominent businessman who had a chain of degrees but threw himself in front of an overcoming train. It is rumoured that the dead man had found his wife in an uncompromising position with another man. Failing to swallow this, the businessman found solace in committing suicide. This story also equivocates on the vanity of education, money and prominence in our lives. Making more money does not guarantee happiness and being highly educated is not a passport to contentment.

Sketches of High Density Life contains stories that depict urban reality. 'The Township Fella' presents the archetype conmen who walks the width and breadth of the city streets across Zimbabwe. The conman in 'The Township Fella' is a tall figure who walks with a limp and talks with a serious stammer. In a meeting a stranger he presents a sympathy arousing story about him having been discharged from hospital and needing money to go back home. When the conman receives donations, he quickly walks away and continues begging for more money. This 'professional beggar' dupes people to allow him to feed his family and let him enjoy two chocolate ice-cream cones per day. What a way of making money.

'Fading Like a Flower' gives readers a glimpse of a deadly disease that is wrecking havoc in many households on the urban areas. In the story the father figure is confined to his sick bed as he cannot stand up, let alone walk. He cannot feed himself as his jaws are locked but his wife forces teaspoonful of food into his mouth. This is all in vain because the food trickles out like spit. The man’s physical stature is a sorry sight. He is skeletal, his limbs are stiff and the head hangs down limply. He finally succumbs to the incurable disease and dies.

In conclusion, Sketches of High Density Life gives a graphic account of life in the townships. The book is thought-provoking as it 'opens as many doors as it closes' and the vocabulary used is second to none.

© The author/publisher

Review of Sketches of High Density Life - Phillip Chidavaenzi

Sketches of High Density Life
Wonder Guchu
2004: (pp: 76) 205 x 136 mm
ISBN: 1779220316

The Sunday Mirror
23 January 2005
Reviewer: Phillip Chidavanezi


Glimpses of life in the ghetto

I came to know of Wonder Guchu through the then Sunday Mail Magazine (now Sunday Entertainment) where a diverse collection of his short stories where published when I was still a Form 3 student way back in 1996.

It was only logical that with the passage of time, Guchu would into a fine writer claiming his stake as one of the finest wordsmiths in Zimbabwe’s literary tradition. His debut publication – Sketches of High Density Life – is an eloquent testimony that nothing beats experience.

This collection unmasks, in its own way, the strength of the short story genre; brevity. In crisp and concise language Guchu unflinchingly explores the colourful, often bizarre and painful tapestry of life in high-density suburbs, usually referred as ‘the ghetto’ in urban parlance.

Through a reading of these stories, you learn a lot more about life in the ghettos in Zimbabwe, of how people contend with the agonies and joys of their everyday life, how they get on despite the hardships they encounter, their feelings and their dreams.

I found his obsession with 'the dead body' rather morbid. It remains the chilling thread running through the entire collection. But on a closer reading, it emerges that death – which hauntingly permeates the fabric of this beautiful collection – is like a reminder of our own mortality and fragility as human beings, something that living in the ghetto often testifies.

Traditionally, death was something that was very rare. But in the vicious modern world where one can easily lose their life, it has become normal thus in the opening story, '243rd Street', when a dead body is discovered, people take comfort in that 'it’s not new to 243rd Street' (p. 1).

The stories are about the futility of our efforts in a rather hurried world, in an urban setting that is almost inhabitable. It is also about the strength of the human spirit, the ability to live on despite the harsh realities of life that often collide with people’s hopes and ambitions. Some, like the trickster in 'The Township Fella', resort to unorthodox survival means by pretending to be stranded and milking unknowing sympathisers willing to lend a helping hand.

The echoes of desolate loneliness in most of the characters when they retreat into those inner places in their souls for moments of self-introspection, despite the overwhelming crowds in the ghetto, is aptly captured.


But why?, 'Fading like a Flower' and 'Endless Journeys' – which I feel are by far the best pieces in the anthology – bring out the poet in Guchu. The first is like a reminiscence of a man who looks back to the cause of a stranger’s suicide after having been haunted by his discovery of his wife in 'a compromising position' (p. 19) with another man. The story tellingly rubbishes education that does not serve an individual in his hour of need. Thus the narrator rightly asks: 'But where was your education, stranger? Wasn’t it suppose to help you then? To tell you that there are other women out there; that when one door is closed, others open?' (p. 19)

In 'Fading like a Flower', the persona takes us on an emotional journey that she had embarked on as she cared for her husband who was wasting away in the clutches of Aids, and the emotional burden it brought both on the persona and their children as they helplessly watched their father wasting away.

The poetic touch in 'Endless Journeys' is as refreshing and deeply moving as it is beautiful.

Guchu brings out a whole new dimension to the short story genre, particularly the way in which the pathos that he brings out in his stories plumb the depths of human emotion, and this is further reinforced by the first person narrative style which makes the stories too personal, thus our own too.

In these stories, the city – Harare – becomes a symbol of a prison from which the inhabitants cannot escape. It speaks back to earlier African writers who de-romanticised the city in their works which young Africans glorified as they mistakenly equated it to civilisation and progress.

The anthology captures the whole range and texture of the ghetto experience as Guchu delineates the life of ordinary people seeking to humanise their space and make ends meet despite all the odds staked against them.

Some of the stories to look forward to in this collection are 'Lunchtime in the Park', 'The Black Hen', 'The Wooden Bridge' (first published in Writing Still, (Weaver Press: 2003)), 'The Child of Sin', 'The Dollar', 'Size 4', 'It will never be Yesterday' and 'Visitor from Beitbridge'.

Guchu has to be commended for coming up with this refined compilation of 14 stories, a piece of work that any serious reader must have in their library.

© The author/publisher

Review of Sketches of High Density Life - Memory Chirere

Sketches of High Density Life
Wonder Guchu
2004: (pp: 76) 205 x 136 mm
ISBN: 1779220316

The Southern Times
9 January 2005
Reviewer: Memory Chirere


I have always been waiting for Wonder Guchu’s book. Any book by him on anything. You will know why and, maybe understand. Wonder Guchu has just published a short story collection in English called Sketches of High Density Life, but I am not surprised. I have always been waiting for something from him. You will understand.

I am also waiting for anything; a play, novel, film, song … anything substantial from the likes of Robert Muponde, Stanley Mupfudza, Nhamo Mhiripiri, Zvisinei Sandi, Eresina Wede, Thabisani Ndlovhu … This is a whole generation of fine and brave writers who have been caught up in a literary drought sparked by ESAP of the early 90s.

That drought has remained with us, offering only chance reprieve to a young writer or two. After Nevanji Madanhire’s success, a certain kind of jinx fell on younger writers immediately after him and if you are not Mungoshi or Chinodya, or Hove or Zimunya or Nyamufukudza or Vera … then you can’t write! You can’t publish.

The hard times of the past one-and-a-half decades have trained the local publishers to be incestuous and the song goes on; Hove, Vera, Mungoshi, Hove, Vera, Mungoshi …They are determined. They will not experiment with a new voice. They will work only with trusted hands of international acclaim. The economy is stupid. Their song does not haunt them and it continues relentlessly; Hove, Vera, Mungoshi, Hove, Vera, Mungosh i…

I started waiting for something from Wonder Guchu from the first time I saw him. It was at one writers' workshop in Bindura’s Chipindura High School. He was in a heavy crimson jacket and green oversize trousers that trailed on the floor. He peered alternately at the resource person and at something out in the school grounds and seemed disinterested and bewildered. At break he ambled to a corner and cracked a dog-biscuit (they were hard!) On being introduced, much later in the day, the unsuspecting budding writers were pleasantly surprised to be in the company of a popular Sunday Mail magazine short story writer! Then the Sunday Mail, unlike today believed and knew that a Sunday paper worth its name must have a short story somewhere. You searched for The Sunday Mail in order to read a short story and it went down well with a Sunday tea and biscuit. Wonder Guchu and the late Stephen Alumenda wrote short stories for the nation every Sunday in turns.

The Wonder Guchu story tended to be about clever township fellows who fell into carefully set traps.

The Alumenda story was about anything, but always had a somewhat unbelievable 'twist of the tale'.

I suspected the two were friends and Wonder admitted it.

But Wonder Guchu was not very happy. Sipping his tea and between bites of the stony biscuit, he volunteered that he was looking for a ‘new form’. Something that approaches the story ‘from inside’. I honestly thought he didn’t know what he meant and his slight stammer didn’t help matters.

I thought he would write a long novel – like Dostoevsky because I thought he looked severe, energetic and also wayward enough. Much more enigmatic than his contemporaries Ignatius Mabasa and Ruzvidzo Mupfudza!

Guchu’s Sketches of High Density Life is thankfully very experimental and bound to change the meaning of ‘short story’, at least in Zimbabwe.

Trailing a long way behind current literary traditions, the editors have named it ‘Sketches'. Which is slightly unfortunate. Sketches? What Sketches? These are deeper and finer narratives than sketches.

These are ‘flash’ stories. That they are short – short does not mean they are not ‘serious’. In fact each of these stories here have a ‘haiku’ effect.

Dwelling on one seemingly insignificant feature of humanity – a person, a subject … the stories invite the reader to feel, sniff and stew in sensual experiences.

The writer’s intention here is to bore a tiny-tiny hole with a needle in order to make you howl.

The intensity of each of these stories pays you dearly and makes up for the physical brevity and ‘abrupt’ departures and arrivals.

There is something about Hughes’ ‘Thank You Mum’ and Hemmingway’s ‘Up In Michigan’ that our literary community have to appreciate. The short story has fast retreated from being a novella. The short story is fast approaching the intensity of ngano and subtlety of a joke well told.

The sense of ‘mischief’ in Wonder Guchu’s stories comes closest to Stanley Nyamufukudza’s ‘Curious Cows’, although the language and sense of aura is clearly moves towards Charles Mungoshi’s. Guchu has done well to choose particular locale – the city of Harare and its downtrodden ‘fellas’. Here, as in Laguma, Gordimer, Mphahlele and others, ‘writing’ the high-density suburb calls for a ‘hurrying’ style. People and place are glimpsed and only become whole in their collective bewildering monotone. This is ably executed in ‘The Wooden Bridge’. There is a realistic sense of place and you are not ‘reading’ but you are there: 'I heard footsteps – four or five behind me. Breaking into a trot… No footsteps approached. The road was deserted. The night was still. A few neon lights flooded the dark streets with an assortment of colours. Streetlights, some choked with dead insects, flickered on and off.'

There is a very silent theory here. It is the world painted that demands a special kind of brush, stroke and a certain texture of canvas. These are not ‘sketches'. This is how this ‘world’ has to be presented if it has to be true.

If a prize will be given, it should be for Guchu’s ability to ‘hurry’ and create pathos at the same time. Usually narratives about the city as in Laguma’s rarely achieve immediate pathos, but Wonder Guchu’s does. Though sneaky and measured, ‘Fading like a Flower’ is underlain by very poetic echoes: 'It’s the children. Then ask too much. And every time they ask, I force a smile. But I tell them that it’s alright … They believe me. Later, I sneak into the bedroom because I do not want them to see my tears because they will then know that I’m lying …’

In a very short space and with very few words, the writer manages to peg down the reader, causing almost the equal amount of depth and force which would take Dickens or Dostoevsky acres and acres of print.

The intensity of these short-short stories sometimes comes through the ‘photographic’ style used. ‘Size 4', for instance, reads like a film script – the sense of staccato, the deliberate over-visualisation and the move toward the twist in the tale. A shoe is thrown into a room – but you don’t see the man who throws it. You see a man’s feet walking – but you don’t see the full frame of the man. A man dies and the suburb watches the police collecting the carcass and the aura attacks the reader like a sharp adze.

But there is one aspect of a Wonder Guchu short story which I fail to define however how hard I try. It is the idea of ‘the dead body’. In many of these stories there is a dead body. The urban violence is almost a machine churning out dead bodies at the rubbish dump, the river, the bridge and even right on the road between the rows of houses.

I am generally unnerved by dead bodies in stories or film but each of Wonder Guchu’s dead bodies tends to be metaphorical. Like in William Golding, each dead body is a kind of ‘harvest’. Each dead body is as anonymous as the crowd of onlookers. Always its face is deformed or hidden from the view of the crowd. Looking for lunch, one meets a dead body in the park. These stories dwell on the fragility and temporariness of the body. The dying is as easy as taking a cup of tea. These stories are set in Harare and they tend to challenge a certain blind love for the city young Africans often have. In these stories, Harare is a giant which man built but now Harare escapes man’s grip, forcing man and fate to perform a curious art. One senses that there s a sick God on the loose. The pursuer and the pursued dash in a certain madness doomed to catching or being caught. Even at midnight sleep is pretence and death is next door.

Wonder Guchu achieves a certain description of city people that does not render them visitors or passers-by. These people here trap and are trapped by the city. The brutalities do not make them less human. They still love, listen to music, and laugh and one identifies with their fears and desires. In 'The Dollar’ a man helps strangers look for a dollar coin one of them has lost, yards and yards into the tall grasses until he is mugged. In ‘The Township Fella’ a man turns into a witty beggar-conman and he laughs with pride as he does it. Recently Wonder Guchu won a prize as the country's leading music reporter. In most of his reports the short story writer is very evident. He brings out the life of the singers and you actually touch their souls. Alongside Robson Sharuko, Lovemore Banda, Ruzvidzo Mupfudza, and Mabasa Sasa, Guchu reports rank among the best one can read in the Zimbabwean papers. And for Guchu’s close buddies and contemporaries Sketches of High Density Life signals the end of a jinx that had threatened a whole generation of writers.


© The author/publisher