Review of White Gods, Black Demons - The Standard

Stories capture life home and abroad
White Gods, Black Demons: David Mandishona
Published: Weaver Press
Reviewed: Charles Mungoshi
In The Standard 14.02.10


These ten short stories, at times pithy and acerbic, ironic and humorous cut right across the troubled human landscape of Zimbabwe today. They reveal Zimbabwean life, at home and in the diaspora, through the unblinking eye of a formidable new talent on the literary scene. The scintillating polish to the stories could easily persuade the uninformed reader to believe that he is in the presence of a more-than-one-title published past master of the genre.

The stories depict the ordinary – or as is now extraordinary – everyday life of a people caught in the deep miasma of a political nightmare and reeling under an economy nose-diving to rock bottom. White Gods, Black Demons was the subject of a discussion at the Book Café in Harare on Thursday, 21st January.

The stories, almost all of them read well and deceptively smoothly with the pungent urgency of a fresh news item in a daily newspaper, but you can sense the strength of their staying power in the silent under tour of the deeply lived human experience both spelt out or implied in between the lines.

A kind of almost tangible melancholic aura hovers over most of them like the distantly just audible hum of a dirge. they should offer satisfying reading for the thoughtful reader and those interested in what is happening in literature in Zimbabwe.

Review of White Gods, Black Demons - Charles Mungoshi

White Gods Black Demons by Daniel Mandishona
Published by Weaver Press, 2009

Reviewed by Charles Mungoshi


These ten short stories at times pithy and acerbic, ironic and humorous, cut right across the troubled human landscape of Zimbabwe today. They look at Zimbabwean life, at home and in the diaspora, through the unblinking eye of a formidable new talent on the literary scene. The scintillating polish to the stories could easily fool the uniformed reader to believe that Mandishona is in the presence of a past-master of the genre.

The stories depict the ordinary (or, as of now, extraordinary) everyday life of a people caught in the deep miasma of a political nightmare and reeling under an economy nose-diving pell-mell hellwards amid the ridiculously diabolic kaleidoscopic changing prices of consumer goods on the market and the escalating cost of living in a land where inflation has broken world records. Whoever you are, an ordinary working housewife who has gone AWOL from work to join an already incredibly long queue for the rumour a sugar delivery at one of the city supermarkets – only to be told, hours later, that only dog food has been delivered; or, you maybe a government minister, a high-ranking official in the ruling party whose daughter has expressly asked you, her mother and siblings to be with her at her wedding in the UK, and when you are raring to go, air tickets and passports in hand, you realize that not  a member of your family can step on English soil, you are on the blacklist of ‘bad guys’ – you are surprised and wonder at the ignorance of your wife and children when they ask, in all innocence, ‘But why, whatever wrong did we do them? They don’t even know us!’; or you could be the young parent assisting his primary school son over the sudden appearance of zeros in dealing with money in his maths homework and the child asks: ‘Dad, what does one dollar look like? Is it paper or coin like the USA or the Rand? Can you truly buy anything with it?’ Your son is naturally puzzled when in Zimbabwe a billionaire can’t afford the price of an ice-cream cone.

Whoever you are, one way or the other, life will get at you. It can even stretch out the long hand of the past and throttle you – like your uncle who committed suicide leaving your father to inherit his pre-independence debts; debts which only increase and also drive your father to suicide – after independence, imagine! Or you could be the war vet with the special license from the party to take over a white farm and with pride you drive your family to the farm with your family and they roar with laughter as you gleefully tell them, how you shook the rattled Mr Bradford and kicked him off his farm! But imagine your surprise and humiliation as you approach the contested farm, to find another black Zimbabwean family has already occupied the main building and the outhouses. When you tell them the farm belongs to you they say no, it is their land. And when you show them your claim and tell them your story, these new ‘invaders’ ask, ‘When did you fight Bradford off the land?’ And the ‘invaders’ shake their heads and say, ‘Sorry, we fought the white man off this our father’s piece of land in 1896!’ Or you may have decided to stick it out (while others flee to seek asylum in the enemy’s camp!) like the man who works for the bank, daily doling out the useless paper they call Zimdollars to a furious but paralytic populace congested on the sewage-swamped streets, waiting, hoping that maybe in the next elections the Right man will win. You even drive your friend, Venus, who has come all the way from her exile in the USA, to cast this one last vote for her two-time losing father. And when her father finally and completely loses, Venus offers you an invitation to go and live in the USA and you say no. You face the future like the married couple who can’t have a child – fighting each other for control of the remote. He loves to watch sport programmes on TV. She is into Jerry Springer and Oprah. There is a reprieve when they discover that they both like the sermons of Pastor Johannes Dollar and a brief peace between them ensues – brief, because not long after they have discovered him, Pastor Dollar is dragged into the law courts, accused of sexually abusing some female members of his congregation. The sermons turn into a real life soap opera as event follows event until the Pastor is given a nine-year jail sentence for rape.


Mandishona’s stories read deceptively smoothly with the pungent urgency of a fresh news item in the daily paper, but you can sense the staying power of these stories in the silent undertow of the deeply-lived human experience both spelt out or implied in-between the lines. A kind of almost tangible melancholic aura of ghostly sepia, seems to hover over them like the just-slightly-audible distant hum of a dirge. They should offer satisfying and interesting reading for the thoughtful reader and those interested in what is happening in literature in Zimbabwe.

Review of White Gods, Black Demons - Pambazuka News

Pambazuka News 472: Daniel Mandishona's Book Review
Thu, 4 Mar 2010 22:28

TURNING BACKWARDS TO AN UNEASY PAST

A review of 'White Gods, Black Demons'
Bella Matambanadzo


The ‘magic’ of Daniel Mandishona's ‘White Gods, viagra canada Black Demons’ is that  ‘it feels startlingly familiar’, writes Bella Matambanadzo. Another book to add to the ‘treasure trove’ of literature in Mandishona’s anthology of short stories is ‘the product of prodigious observation and research’, writes  Matambanadzo. ‘What a reader will cherish is that there is a kind of fidelity about the stories that leaves you knowing it to be true', while healthy 'doses of candour give breadth and wisdom, to what is a  collection of comic tragedy told with tenderness'. 

http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/books/62737

Review of White Gods, Black Demons - Mukai

Review published in Mukai// Vukani Jesuit Journal for Zimbabwe 52, April 2010


NO WAY FORWARD

White Gods Black Demons, by Daniel Mandishona,

Weaver Press, Harare, 2009, 110 pp.


The author, a graphic designer and architect, draws his images of the people of Zimbabwe of recent years with a sharp pencil. These people really do exist, Venus who despises Zimbabwe’s current rulers, but has run away to the United States and the good life there, and her old friend and admirer who tells us her and his story, who “wants progress, but not change”, sees the absurdity of it all, but repeats obediently the current propaganda lies, and who has decided to stay – “I like it here”. There is much wit and irony, but no vision, no real alternative, no hope.

There are no heroes in these tales, except possibly the WOZA heroines who appear briefly, “The women scream, shout, wail, and then wilt under the onslaught. The violence is over as quickly as it began. Torn banners and shoes lie scattered on the tarmac, a forlorn reminder of the power of brute force….”

Zimbabweans in foreign exile figure large in these stories, perhaps because the author himself lived in London for fifteen years, as a student. But they too are no heroes, come back with no answer to their homeland’s misery, may not even have gained personally much for themselves. “In the thirty years that was your secret life in the land of the BBC, the Queen, cricket and snow you had achieved nothing.  You had wasted thirty years of your life and come back….with only the clothes on your back and a baggage of bittersweet memories”.

One emigrant, come back to his home country after years of chasing money in crime-ridden South Africa, eventually decided that he had to take sides in the violent conflict and promptly got himself assassinated by ruthless party agents. Eldridge Gunguwo, at last married to a woman he really loved with two adorable little daughters, seemed destined for a quiet life as a family man. What made him become “an active member of the opposition, an unforgivable sin in the turbulent and brutal politcis” of the country? The clinical report on the autopsy, quoted at length, does not tell us. Was he a hero or just a fool?

The writer does not expect anything from the Church either. “According to Eldridge, there were three professions that required a fair measure of ruthlessness, dishonesty and cunning in a man: law, politics and the priesthood”.

This is illustrated in the final story. A married couple, addicted to TV, but unable to agree on which programme to watch, introduce us to Pastor Johannes Dollar whose devotees they have become.  His luxurious wedding to a young girl attended by most prominent people in the country is a TV sensation. His preaching voice which keeps the dollar rolling has made it possible. But the dream collapses with a big bang when he is convicted of abuse and rape. “Society has to be protected against monsters like you,” says the magistrate.

If you look for ways out of our Zimbabwean mess, neither white gods nor black demons have an answer.


Review of White Gods, Black Demons - The Zimbabwe Independent

White Gods, Black Demons by Daniel Mandishona
pp.110; 135 x 208 mm
Reviewed by Isabella Matambanadzo
The Zimbabwe Independent
Thursday, 29 October 2009

Daniel Mandishona's White Gods, Black Demons is an anthology of ten short stories published under the Weaver Press stable. Its magic is that it feels startlingly familiar, whatever your politics may be. Each portrait in the 110-page collection is the product of prodigious observation and research that resembles a return to the 16th century Every (wo)man theatrical genre. 'Smoke and Ashes' is set during an election that is held in March and then again in June, in a fictitious country. It is told through the eyes of a man and woman on opposing sides of the political divide whose reunion takes us through their mirrored lives: same ghetto growing up, same university, and same degree. It is an irony of disharmony, at once arcane and obvious.

'Cities of Dust' chronicles the horrors and double standards of a smash-up operation that sees the townships razed to the ground, while the neighbourhoods of the rich go untouched. Greased palms provide political protection in a commentary about the power of race and class in a society built on failed nationalism. 'Kaffir Corn' is a story that ostensibly concerns itself with the abortive hopes of a 'new farmer', who having chased away the 'inflexible Mr Allan Bradford, comes face to face with 'war vets' who claim to be the descendents of the original owners of Pangolin Farm, their ancestral land.

'A Wasted Land' a story of two failed patriarchs, told by a young boy who within the space of a year survives the tragedy of their double back-to-back deaths. Preceded by Cicero's quote, 'Laws are silent in war,' both father figures survive the country's war of liberation, only to die as the fruits of Independence are in blossom. This story was originally published in Contemporary African Short Stories, a Heinemann anthology edited by Chinua Achebe.

'A Time of Locusts' is an intimate tale about young love, innocence, loss, anger and grief. With lyrical simplicity the story stands out in the collection for its internal comprehension of the complexity of human existence and choice. It is also a striking example of how taboo and shame are resolved in a family that suffers a series of disturbingly dark tragedies that can only be put right by an honour killing. It is ultimately a story about the attitude of solution, so evident in Zimbabwe over the last few years.

As a young adult, a dissatisfied man returns home to his father's deathbed to face the demons that have tormented him in 'A Secret Sin'. This story captures the emptiness of the Diaspora experience, and the isolation of being at home. It is a nugget of feeling: dealing with identity and belonging in stirring prose. It also digs deep in the brain of a young man in search of his true place, and never quite finding it.

'Blunt Force Trauma' is a story that unfolds around a death of a seemingly ordinary man living an ordinary life. As his body lies in the morgue of a crumbling public hospital – a ghost of its former glorious self – awaiting an autopsy, the details of his not-so-ordinary life come to light in bits and pieces that suggest an assassination. The interplay between an assault in police custody and an apparent armed robbery where nothing is stolen is in no way febrile. A pedantic, narratorial logic provided by the mechanical notes of a post-mortem report betray a society dealing with a culture of careless bludgeoning for whom no one is brought to account, ironically by the same cops.

This is a collection so politically acute and sensitive that a reader cannot avoid recalling the clear influence of both Chinua Achebe and Dambudzo Marechera in the author's seamless craft. The stories have a trans-generational appeal.

The present can only be understood by turning backwards, to an uneasy past, and imagining the possibilities of a future for the cast of characters that have been frustrated in their dreams. They have flaws, indeed, and live by hope. But it is the tenderness with which the author deals with each character, relating to his diverse tapestry of protagonists as if they were part of his own, that makes the work a fluent portrait of troubled people in a troubled place.

A complex network of slippery narrators provide all the coda: from a flag planted on a kopje in honour of a distant monarch in 1890 to Independence in 1980. T he signifiers that this is the country where – in the main – all the intrigue unfolds, are all there. A cursory reference to Victoria Falls, to Lake Kariba, to Posa, to a militant women's rights' groups in battle with riot police chanting the revolutionary chorus, 'Zimbabwe ndeyeropa, baba'. And yet readers will be left wondering why an author so capable of dealing deftly with detail has left Zimbabwe unnamed?

It is a believability that is at once cruel and comic. Healthy doses of candor give breadth and wisdom to what is a collection of comic tragedy told with tenderness.