Review of Not Another Day - Sarah Norman

Africa BookClub.com



Not Another Day by Julius Chingono

Jun 23rd, 2011 | By Sarah Norman | Category: Fiction, Poetry

Not Another Day

Julius Chingono was the son of a farm worker, and spent much of his life as a blaster on the mines in his native Zimbabwe, before a late blooming as a rather fine author. Not Another Day is a collection of his poems and short stories, and is an excellent introduction to his work.

The collection reveals Chingono’s ability to write revealingly, and with a sharply comic eye, about the lives of ordinary working people. Thus, for example, one story is about a funeral that descends into farce when the coffin will not fit through the front door; another is about a religious man’s attempts to ride a crowded bus without ever touching a woman. Even his serious stories are tinged with comedy; here for example, is his deliciously funny description of a woman who has just won an argument: ‘she shook her body vigorously, like a big hen after a sexual encounter.’

While rarely overtly ‘political,’ the work in this collection also reveals a real engagement with Zimbabwe’s recent troubles. Chingono did not come from a wealthy background, and perhaps because of this he has a real feeling for the concerns of the poor, and writes movingly about the difficulties of staying afloat in a collapsing economy. One especially sad little piece, ‘Tomorrow Is Not Another Day,’ is about a little girl who allows herself to be raped by a neighbour in exchange for food.

This collection is in English, and I was greatly impressed by Chingono’s mastery of what was his second language. It was only very occasionally that I found the construction or choice of words a little awkward – as for example in one story where he refers to someone’s ‘place of residence’ rather than their home, house, or room. His remarkable command of the language is best revealed in his poetry, which while apparently simple, is often impressively complex, and very moving. This poem, ‘The African Sun,’ is an excellent example of his manner:

The African Sun

shines bright

even upon dictators

warms even

absolute rulers,

Sets even upon despots.

Not Another Day is a very funny, and often very moving, collection of poems and short stories, which captures accurately life in contemporary Zimbabwe. Julius Chingono died on January 2, 2011, and the literature of that country is certainly poorer for having lost his sharp eye and kind heart. We are fortunate that a last collection of his work, with John Eppel, TOGETHER, is being launched this month in Zimbabwe.

Review of Not Another Day- African Publishing Book Record

Julius Chingono
Not Another Day: Stories and Poetry.
Harare: Weaver Books, 2006.
124 pp. £11.95 pap. ISBN 9781779220486
[African Books Collective]

The mere fact that Weaver Press still manages to produce books despite Zimbabwe’s economic woes is impressive. That these books consistently include some of the top voices among southern Africa’s writers is astounding. Julius Chingono’s collection of poems and short stories is yet another remarkable addition to an already formidable list. Chingono is better known as a Shona writer, but his reputation as a writer in English is growing. Not Another Day confirms his stature. The poems are marked by their simplicity: Chingono’s straightforward language allows no room for ambiguity, and the effect is striking. “Heroes”
emphasizes the significance of the unpraised, the ordinary citizens of who survive the rigours of life in Zimbabwe; these are the people from whom Chingono draws inspiration. The power of words becomes apparent in poems like “Ode to a Tree” in which Chingono dispels any doubt about the environmental disaster that looms before us; “My Sekai” raises questions of identity in a post-colonial world. The simplicity of Chingono’s language is deceptive. The stories complement the poems well. Here, too, it is the illusion of simplicity that gives the stories their power. In his stories, Chingono reveals a world in which hunger,
poverty, neglect, and government corruption and insensitivity are commonplace. Intimidation is a fine art and infighting among the political elites is rife. Chingono’s Zimbabwe is a world in which resistance is not spoken openly, but in which defiance can be signified in small gestures—the aversion of one’s eyes, taking a sip of beer before handing it to a party representative, or failing to respond immediately to an order. The blunt treatment of these realities is at once refreshing and deeply disturbing. Refreshing because it shows that Zimbabweans still believe in the possibility of a better world; disturbing because it reveals the enormity of the challenges that face them. Not Another Day is a compelling read. It is highly recommended.

Peter Midgley
University of Alberta

Review of Not Another Day- Mirror

Not Another Day
Julius Chingono
2006: 136 x 206; 124pp
ISBN 10 1-77922-048-0
ISBN 13 978-1-77922-0486

Reviewer: Phillip Chidavaenzi


Chingono’s stories reveal empathy for the underdog

When I first heard of Julius Chingono, I didn’t think much about him and what he did, as I’d never come across his literary works. So, what was the big deal? If he was worth a second look, I reasoned, then I would have heard of him before.

After reading Writing Still: New Stories from Zimbabwe (Weaver Press, 2003) soon after it’s publication, Chingono’s story, Maria’s Interview, was not one of those I revisited for a second read. It was just one of those stories.

Then I bumped into some of his poetry published on the Poetry International website, www.poetryinternational.org. Although I was amazed to realise that he was that good, maybe the fact that he had only published one novel, Chipo Changu (1978) and the award-winning play, Ruvimbo (1980), made me overlook his fine artistic touch.

Internationally acclaimed author, Charles Mungoshi, who graced the launch of Chingono’s short story and poetry anthology, Not Another Day, had noted in a paper published on www.poetryinternational.org, that Chingono “will one day achieve the recognition that he deserves in Zimbabwe”.

Then the sequel to Writing Still was published in 2005, titled Writing Now: More Stories from Zimbabwe, and Chingono was featured again with his short story, Kachasu.

Reviewing the anthology, writer, lecturer and literary critic, Memory Chirere, noted that “in a country where only (Shimmer) Chinodya seems able to publish annually, the old griots like Chingono have a chance for a brief second coming” (Southern Times, October 30, 2005: ppC5). 

With the publication of Not Another Day, it appears Mungoshi’s earlier prediction might as well come true.

The launch of the book had to be delayed by about 30 minutes as Chingono was yet to turn up, owing – as those in attendance were made to understand – to transport problems.

During the launch, the writer said: “In the anthology, I tried as much as I could to give a picture of the day-to-day lives of the poor people in Zimbabwe, honestly and objectively.”

The off-hand manner in which he seems to make ‘passing remarks’ like a distant observer makes one more keenly aware of his artistic prowess. All the stories in this anthology are somewhat understated, yet – as subsequent reading would reveal – powerful.

Zimbabwe’s story, with all the political, economic and social problems, would make for a grim reading. But the beauty about this collection is that Chingono consummately sidesteps choking us with a heavy dosage of tragedy. He however opts to give us a chance to laugh at ourselves despite all our problems, and some of the absurdities –– dressed as culture –– in our lives. His large sense of humour is enormous and makes for a pleasurable read.

This anthology, published by Weaver Press in the twilight of Chingono’s life, can as well be a multifaceted portrait of contemporary Zimbabwe. Chingono is 60. While any other writer worth his salt could find a fertile ground for a piece of literary work in Zimbabwe today, here is a writer whose maturity can prove to be the ace up his sleeve for, as they say, nothing beats experience.

Chingono will tell you of the dire circumstances of child abuse, the scourge of political violence and Aids and the tug-of-war between sisters-in-law, with the witty incisiveness and restraint of the mature. This anthology is very revealing in this regard.

Politics assumes a dominant role in Are We Together, An Early Supper and The Employment Agent which – when put together with the stories on culture like Sister-in-Law, Sahwira’ Condoms and The Funeral – betray a deep understanding of Zimbabwe’s political, economics and cultures.
While a significant number of these stories would have left any reader shaking their heads as they read more like tragedies, the humour that Chingono infuses here and there tends to lighten the collection.

Sahwira’s Condoms is a case in point. Imagine yourself at a funeral and the deceased’s sahwira turns up to disparage his late friend of having died of an HIV-related illness saying: “Your children do not heed wise words. This thin sheath (condom) is the solution to their sexual appetite” (pp.61).

The sahwira then starts distributing condoms at the funeral and “the young women accepted the condoms for safe sex. Some put them in their pockets, others into their brassieres and others into their handbags and purses” (pp.65).     

Then there is The Funeral, which seems to disparage some funeral rites, with business coming to a standstill as relatives argue on whether or not to break down the door so that the coffin of the deceased could fit. The coffin later falls apart during the procession to the funeral and the pall bearers scatter in all directions.

The sahwira – trying to diffuse the grim atmosphere – starts singing: “Zhin’ Zhan’ box Gurundoro! Zhin’ Zhan’! Zhin’ Zhan’!” (pp.82) and everybody else joins in.

In the Commuters, the author captures the nightmares of trying to find transport to go to work when a country in is the grip of fuel shortages while at the same time, bringing to life the lung-bursting comedies that one often encounters during a combi ride.

Chingono’s perceptions on a variety of situations and circumstances place him as an insider and the beauty about his stories is that they are polysemic in nature, lending themselves to various interpretations.

Here is an author who is pre-occupied with painting the picture of a fragmented society battling to come to terms with the realities of social hardships spawned by political and economic upheavals.

Chingono’s sympathy for the poor, far removed from the centres of power, is unmistakable and could as well be his major strength.

In Maria’s Interview, published elsewhere, Chingono seems to identify with the domestic maid Maria’s problem as she faces abuse, ranging from non-payment by her employer to being viewed with suspicion. Perhaps the greatest irony is that the abuse happens at the hands of fellow black employers.

Writing on the manuscript of Chingono’s first book, Chipo Changu, Mungoshi – who was among the assessors – reflected: “So, as assessors, we were divided over (the) book. The reason was that his novel seemed too simple: he used commonplace words and he had an understated plot. However, someone persuaded us that though the story was not thrilling, it contained a poignancy, a rare sincerity and concern for human beings.”

This is so evident in this short story and poetry anthology, which is certainly likely to jump-start Chingono writing career at the other side of 60.  

© The author/publisher