Review of The Trek and Other Stories - Lisa Maria Burgess
1st November, 2013
The Trek and Other Stories
by Lawrence Hoba
Harare: Weaver Press, 2009. 2010 NAMA shortlist.
Reviewed by Lisa Maria Burgess
These ten stories by Zimbabwean author, Lawrence Hoba, form one of the most engaging collections to come out of Zimbabwe in the last five years. Each story opens readers’ eyes and hearts to the rural lives of Zimbabweans.
Set during the period 2003 to 2009, many of the stories offer an understanding of the challenges faced by farm workers as they sought to create farms of their own. Academic analysis of the land reform programme in Zimbabwe abounds, as do memoirs by the farmers affected by the reform. This collection is one of the first to provide a fictional – non-didactic – window through which readers experience this contested period from the perspective of small farmers.
In an interview in 2010, Hoba said he was inspired to write the stories after living in Chiredzi: “I was also lucky to have been assigned as a relief teacher in 2003 to a farm school where the new Black farmers were living side by side with a white farmer. I witnessed the despair, anger, humanity, stupidity and so on that came as a result of the tensions brought about by their co-existence…” (http://conversationswithwriters.blogspot.com/2010/02/interview-lawrence-hoba.html).
Hoba uses various points of view in telling the stories. Several stories are told from the perspective of a little boy. “The First Trek – the Pioneers,” for example, tells of a family’s move to a sugar-cane farm. The story is simply that of their travel in an ox-cart, but, the boy’s description of their belongings reveals the nuances of his parent’s relationship and their hopes. Two subsequent stories from this child's perspective tell of how these hopes are betrayed. Other stories are told from the perspective of a young man who has had a Western education. “Specialisation,” for example, tells of how several men try unsuccessfully to produce a good harvest, and pokes fun at both those who seek easy solutions and the educated, whose book learning offers only misdirection. Hoba has received particular praise for his ability to capture the child’s voice, focusing on the child’s concerns and reporting adult activity without full understanding.
A number of the stories highlight the position of women in this farming world. “Maria’s Independence” is a love story whose main character is a woman in a man’s world, laying claim and establishing her farm even as she lays claim to a man and establishes a relationship. What could be more romantic or more poetic than the last line, “Sometimes he meets her at the Revolutionary Council’s organised pungwes and when she is tired of dancing the kongonya she jumps into no other man’s lap except his” (7)? In contrast are stories of women supporting their families even as the men disappear: In “The Second Trek—Going Home,” the boy’s family loses their new farm, the father disappears, and the mother picks up the pieces. Similarly, in “The Traveling Preacher,” it is the woman who cares for the preacher’s children when he too disappears. These stories call attention to the importance of women in maintaining and caring for families, even while exploring the possibilities for more financial stability through women’s access to land ownership.
Finally, a group of stories underscores the incomprehensibility of the HIV/AIDs plague. In “Tonde’s Return” a sister receives her brother to die at home after years of absence, while in “A Dream and a Guitar”, a grandfather plays the guitar, sings songs, and descends into insanity in the face of the deaths of his children and grandchildren. The stories enable readers to feel both the devastation of loss and the inscrutability of a plague that strikes down the young.
The Tek and Other Stories won’t take you long to read, but you won’t forget the stories.
Review by Lisa María Burgess, Ph.D.: Lisa María has lectured in literature and writing at Tsinghua University, Howard University, Rhodes University, and the University of Dar es Salaam, having earned her doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania.
Review of The Trek and Other Stories - Mukai
Review published in Mukai// Vukani Jesuit Journal for Zimbabwe 52, April 2010
A Child tells Zimbabwe’s Bitter Story
Lawrence Hoba, The Trek and Other Stories, Weaver Press, 2009, 52 pp.
There must be countless ambitious young writers envying Hoba for his early success. What makes him succeed where others fail? I would say his simple language with which he describes the ‘taking of the land’ in sober detail, without any hyperbole or rhetoric. We see through the eyes of a child what happens to one family moving on to an ‘invaded’ farm. Most of the ten stories of this slim volume of 52 pages accompany this one family, shifted from the ‘sandy reserves’ to the glory of the deserted farm house and back again to the old village. The storyteller sleeps in the bed of a white child uprooted with his family and driven out of his home. But so is the black child uprooted and homeless.
So much in these stories shows decay and disintegration. What makes these stories so real is that we are not lectured in the jargon of social engineering or political oratory. We meet people. Maria who claims independence not only for her country, but for herself, to the disgust of the war vets who maybe liberators, but think little of liberating women.
There is Mai Piki, the pious woman who gives herself to the travelling preacher. ‘Never again would she give her bosom to anyone when it was dark,’ she is determined as she is nursing his baby. In the anonymity of life on the farms men and women meet momentarily and drift apart again. “Not that he ever asked them their names”.
Rootless drifters, all of them, invaders and new farm occupants turn to the ancestors for protection. “Our war heroes had suddenly remembered that they needed the ancestors’ specialist protection against their enemies (an opposition that wanted to get all of them out of power, not the former white colonists)”. But such direct political references are rare.
Old man Kunaka loses all his family to AIDS. Little Cathy, fifteen but with the body of an eight-year-old, dies, following her parents. Why? “Mhama is calling me to come to her”. Or is it “God’s will”? But the phrase is meaningless and does not enlighten the mourners. AIDS seems to dislocate and disorient people even more than moving them to unknown destinations and back again.
Like a defeated army the settler family from the ‘sandy reserves’ withdraws. This is no political pamphlet, there is no militant sloganeering. But the actual failure of the ‘rightful owners’ on the ‘ancestral land’ – though the ancestors have really nothing to do with it, it is all about lack of know-how, fertilizer, seed and irrigation pipes – told in painstaking detail, makes the point so much more effectively. The father is now more of a drunkard than before. The mother, hardened by the experience, takes comfort in her new possessions, the private property of the evicted farm owners, carried on the old ox-drawn cart to the ‘sandy reserves’.
Review of The Trek & Other Stories - Phillip Chidavaenzi
Zimbabwean Land Saga, Discrimination, Oppression and Plenty More
Review of The Trek & Other Stories by Lawrence Hoba
First published in the Critical Literature Review
Sunday 10 January 2010
Reviewed by Phillip Chidavaenzi
Critical Literature Review is happy to present its first review of 2010. Phillip Chidavaenzi begins this year by covering Zimbabwean author Lawrence Hoba's short story anthology "The Trek & Other Stories" which is published by Weaver Press. Here is hoping that this whets your appetite for the plethora of reviews that Critical Literature Review intends to bring your way in 2010. Enjoy!
It is heartening that young writers are being accorded the space to tell their stories while showcasing their writing skills in the cut-throat world of literature.
One such writer, Lawrence Hoba, had just had his collection of short stories – ‘The Trek & Other Stories’. Hoba is no stranger to the contemporary Zimbabwe literary cannon, with some of his stories having appeared in newspapers such as the now defunct “Mirror” and various short story anthologies both in print and online.
However, it is the recent publication of his slim volume of short stories that is poised to consolidate his voice as a writer in his own right. Perhaps the collection’s major strength is that it sits right on the pulse of a nation battling to correct historical wrongs in land ownership patterns in a way that has drawn contradictory perceptions, while trying to be understood as a justice seeker rather than a sadistic punisher.
A number of the stories here give multiple perspectives on this contentious issue, although they tend to easily lend themselves to the anti–land reform debate. In a highly polarized nation where there is no middle ground, Hoba has chosen a viewpoint that poses many questions and gives us an opportunity to reflect on the pressing need for land reforms and the manner of implementation. When all the propaganda and romanticism about reclaiming rich, productive ancestral lands have died down, there is always need for a candid, honest review of the programme. And ‘The Trek & Other Stories’ does just that – it could well be one of the missing links in the body of literature in Zimbabwe that looks at the aftermath of the land reform programme.
Over the past years, there have been countless land reform audits that however have remained locked up in some government offices, and their contents have remained shrouded in a veil of secrecy. Most of the stories in this collection – such as ‘The Trek’, ‘Maria’s Independence’ and ‘Having My Way’ – all explore the land resettlement saga in Zimbabwe, which has over the past 10 years dominated local and international media.
A close reading of the land resettlement discourse in Zimbabwe reveals the glaring absence of women, whose voices have been significantly annihilated. This is one anomaly that the first story, ‘The First Trek – The Pioneers’, somewhat addresses. In this story, the young narrator says, “mhamha’s hoe is worn from use, baba’s is still new and clean” (pp.2) Ironically, at the gate of the farm there is a sign post that reads, ‘Mr. B. J Magugu, Black Commercial Farmer.’
In addition, the story ‘Maria’s Independence’ gives us an insight into the diversity of characters washed onto the farms by the political waves. I think this is a very important story in as far as it rightly locates women within the issue of land reform. The land reclamations were not only about men, but some women have stood the test and managed to turn themselves into successful farmers regardless of societal perception of the woman as the weaker vessel, particularly within political discourse.
In ‘The Second Trek – Going Home’ Hoba’s focus is on the black farm worker who is caught in between the feuding white commercial farmer and the belligerent black peasant farmer fighting to occupy the commercial farm. The story further highlights that the commercial farm –previously occupied by the peasant farmers – is not necessarily a humanized space that is easily habitable. There are no social utilities such as schools and hospitals. Furthermore, those farm workers that originated from countries such as Malawi remain trapped within the farm under new ownership because they can’t go back home. This is the dilemma that many farmers who originated from other countries face.
Two stories, ‘A Dream & A Guitar’ and ‘Tonde’s Return’ explore the ravages of the HIV and AIDS pandemic which has wreaked havoc in many families and communities, especially in Africa.
Hoba has to be commended for coming up with a competent collection of stories that are a true reflection of contemporary Zimbabwe.