Book Review: Laughing Now

Laughing Now – New Stories From Zimbabwe

Book Review by Jerá

Laughing Now, edited by Irene Staunton and published by Weaver Press, is an anthology of 14 short stories, which follows up from previous Weaver short story collections – the critically acclaimed texts, Writing Now and Writing Still.

Conceived at the height of the era of galloping inflation and foreign currency and fuel shortage, - known to many as Zimbabwe’s lost decade – the stories in the anthology are a laugh a minute, showing that in the face of adversity laughter can, indeed, be the best medicine.  The most recognizable contributing writers are the late Julius Chingono, John Eppel, Daniel Mandishona, Bryony Rheam and The Guardian’s First Book Award winner, Petina Gappah.  Literary heavyweight, Shimmer Chinodya, also lends his talent to this collection.

There is humour in ‘A Grave Matter’, Dianna Charseley’s tale of an undertaker’s assistant who tries to find his feet after he is evicted from his parental home. In ‘Minister Without Portfolio’, Julius Chingono, equally adept in prose and poetry, manages to fit ministerial corruption, land redistribution, a hip twirling courtesan, oodles of liquor, black market foreign currency deals and sidesplitting humour, all into the confines of a moving Mercedes Benz, which is the setting for a well-crafted story.

Amidst the economic troubles of the last decade, the discovery of diamonds in Chiadzwa provided one bright moment for the country.  In his story, ‘The Chances and Challenges of Chiadzwa’, Edward Chinhanhu puts a fictional spin on events in surrounding the diamond rush in Marange.

There are man-eating lions, rhinoceros chases, lights, cameras and action in Rory Kilalea’s wickedly funny story, ‘African Laughter’.

Possibly one of the most difficult things to do, for an adult, is to see the world through the eyes of a child.  Bryony Rheam brings out her inner child as she narrates ‘Christmas’, through a 10 year old protagonist and she does it to great, and often humorous, effect.

Petina Gappah is the queen of diction and her story, ‘Murambinda Dancing Champion’ deserves special mention.  In this story, Gappah’s language is so descriptive that one is transported to the scene of a dance contest in Murambinda growth point. Amidst the ubiquitous punch lines, Gappah makes subtle political commentary in this expertly composed piece. 

All in all, Laughing Now is a time capsule, in which a fragment of the country’s history is stored but, thankfully, made less painful by the humour of the authors.  It is the one instance where the reader is permitted to judge a book by its cover and is a read-worthy divertissement from the troubles of everyday life.

Review of Laughing Now: New Stories from Zimbabwe 2007

Title: Laughing Now: New Stories From Zimbabwe, 2007

Edited by: Irene Staunton

Genre: Short story

Literary Elements: Wit, irony, motif

Reviewed by Rosetta Codling in the Atlanta Examiner

6th April, 2011

Synopsis: This work is edited by Irene Staunton of Weaver Press. It is a collection of stories by some of the most renowned Zimbabwean writers of our time (John Eppel, Rory Kilalea, and Daniel Mandishona). The stories Grave Matter(Diana Charsley), Minister without Portfolio (Julius Chingono), and Mpofu’s Sleep (Brian Jones) represent the stalk reality of Zimbabwean Postcolonial life. Within Grave Matter, a funeral home becomes the setting for foreshadowing a gloomy finale. And in the selection entitled Minister without Portfolio, the tragic irony bestowed upon the antagonist is justly deserved. Most accurately, colonial protocol in Mpofu’s Sleep is actually illustrated as being brutally insensitive and insane in Zimbabwean society. Each work offers evidence of the skillful craft of the editor. The works are painfully humorous. Yet, each work offers the reader a look at a society that is able to laugh at the foibles of a republic in a habitual post-colonial, post-humane, post-fraternal state. Educators in the areas of English, Social Studies, World History, African Studies, Sociology, and Political Science ought to consider this collection for studies. The true irony is that Zimbabweans and Zimbabwean society are far more similar to us and American society than ever imagined…this is tragic for us both.

Review of Laughing Now - New Stories from Zimbabwe and Women Writing Zimbabwe - Financial Gazette

Laughing Now – New Stories from Zimbabwe
edited by Irene Staunton
2008: (pp: 113) 210 x 130 mm
ISBN: 9781779220684


Women Writing Zimbabwe

edited by Irene Staunton
2008: (pp: 144) 210 x 132 mm
ISBN: 9781779220738

The Financial Gazette
November 2008
Reviewer: Di Rodrigues

The best Christmas present you could send to a homesick diasporan, or to anyone planning to visit Zimbabwe, would be a copy of Laughing Now – New Stories From Zimbabwe, edited by Irene Staunton of Weaver Press. For good measure include Women Writing Zimbabwe, and the lucky recipient will need no further entertainment at least until Twelfth Night.

Few of the writers featured in both these collections need any introduction, having regularly appeared at 'short story slams' and poetry readings at local cultural centres such as the Book Café, the Alliance Française and Gallery Delta. Ranging from the mature to the youthful, they all speak of a life lived in the Zimbabwe of here and now, with a voice that varies according to style and experience. Every reader will recognise the subjects of their fiction – black market fuel in the Avenues, boerewors braais at Matopos, the n'anga with a cure for AIDS, and the difficulties of applying for a visa to visit Britain, to attend a family wedding.

In Laughing Now, the much-celebrated writer Shimmer Chinodya shows an almost Shakespearian talent for characterisation and dialogue in his story 'Last Laugh'. Readers will find themselves and see their friends as Chinodya brings to life the motor mechanics, electricians, plumbers, police constables and secretaries who flock to Mai George's open air kitchen in the industrial sites, towards lunch time. Her husband having departed for Botswana in search of work some years ago, Mai George has made a living as a 'benevolent matron of meals', dishing out cow and pig trotters, ration beef, fish, madora and steaming hot sadza to her eager clientele.

A young man in the queue for food, not having the credentials to voice his opinion, is put down with the words 'Shut up, Bornfree. You never got expelled from school or detonated a landmine'. A delightful story is told about the 'chef who never took the trouble to study the speeches his aide wrote for him. Once he reached the end he read straight on, "Sorry, chef, I have to queue for cooking oil. Now you're on your own! Good luck, sir."'

In 'Ashes', ageing baby-boomer John Eppel pokes fun at so-called 'Rhodie' culture, at the young female NGO-employees who 'believe that if you've got something good you should share it', and at 'these sentimental local boys, falling in love at the drop of a G-string; what's with them?' There is white mischief in the black humour Eppel uses when he describes how the rowdy group scatter the ashes of a friend who has committed suicide following unrequited love.

And there is more than a passing resemblance in Eppel's dialogue to the earthy style of Geoffrey Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales. The feminist Wife of Bath, boasting of numerous deceits and vices and her control over five husbands, could have been a role model for Eppel's young female character who describes her 'fling with Kudakwashe' as 'only a fucky-wucky'. It is not easy to speak in a voice other than your own, which is why narratives by mature adults passing themselves off as adolescents or undergraduates, by men fictionalising themselves as females, or by whites assuming a black identity, do not always ring true. Daniel Mandishona, in 'A Dirty Game', manages to pull off this difficult feat. The thirteen-year-old schoolboy narrator who cannot attend his big sister's wedding in England because 'my country is still on the European Union's list of bad guys' evokes our sympathy. He imagines a 'win-win situation' in which for each farm returned by the government to a white farmer, a visa could be 'given to a prospective traveller.' Concluding that for now it's 'bye-bye Piccadilly Circus, bye-bye Big Ben', he imagines that 'a real win-win situation' will occur if 'our government and the British will work out their problems.'

In 'Senzeni's Nativity', the first story in Women Writing, Pat Brickhill shows herself to be an authority on distressed women. Against a background of drought, starvation and AIDS, Esi, a domestic worker, described as 'childless, barren, a reject', has to deal with the pregnancy of her niece, an 'O'-level pupil at a rural school.

In contrast, the protagonist of Petinah Gappah's short story, 'In the Heart of the Golden Triangle', illustrates problems of a different nature. Married to a banker, this desperate housewife spends her time shopping, lunching with friends, taking the children to and from school in the Range Rover, and flying to Johannesburg on shopping trips. Idyllic as this may sound, she reluctantly shares her husband with Imbadiki, the mistress who 'inhabits the small house of his heart'. In constant competition, and to maintain her good looks, the official wife works out at the gym and spends hours at the beauty parlour. Furtive inspections of her husband's jacket pockets have never revealed any condoms: she hopes against hope that he keeps a supply of these in the small house.

Chiedza Musengezi, a stylish and articulate young writer, describes in 'The Carer' the suburban life style of Hannah, whose husband is away earning hard currency while working in Dubai. Besides dealing at home with water shortages, rubbish disposal, employing of domestic staff and protecting her property from thieves, Hannah is concerned with the welfare of her difficult mother-in-law, recently arrived from Buhera to live with her son and daughter-in-law. When Hannah decides to visit Crispen in Dubai, finding someone to look after the old lady in her absence proves more difficult than she could have imagined.

There is a growing body of Zimbabwean literature, each writer giving an individual voice and form to the best and worst aspects of our collective culture. Acquire each new offering as it is published, not only for the sheer pleasure its reading will bring, but to encourage future writers to put pen to paper.

© The author/publisher

Review of Laughing Now- Petina Gappah

Laughing Now – New Stories from Zimbabwe
Edited by Irene Staunton
ISBN: 978 1 77922 068 4
pp.113: 130 x 210 mm

Blog entry by Petina Gappah, a contributing author February, 2008

At last! Yesterday I received my three contributor's copies of Laughing Now, the new Weaver Press anthology. It was much smaller than I expected, but a real treat for all that. There is some cracking writing in here. I particularly liked the balance between the new voices and the established. Well known writers like Julius Chingono, Alexandra Fuller, Shimmer Chinodya, Daniel Mandishona, John Eppel and Rory Kilalea are joined by new writers, some of whom are already becoming well-known, like Diana Charseley, Edward Chinhanhu, Erasmus Chinyani, Albert Gumbo, Lawrence Hoba, Brian Jones, Bryony Rheam and yours truly.

I particularly enjoyed Chinhanhu's wonderfully titled The Chances and Challenges of Chiadzwa, and his omnicient authorial voice, which worked seamlessly for the story. Chinyani's Land of Starving Millionaires, the bitingly funny story of Baba vaAlphabet and his unruly brood, not to mention his money problems, made me laugh out loud. I loved Diana Charsley's cross-dressing Sidney, a vividly imagined and unusual character. Rory Kilalea is always excellent, I don't think anyone writing in Zim today writes dialogue like he does.

And as for Shimmer Chinodya's story: he may not agree, but I think the short story is a more natural fit for him that the novel. His Last Laugh has a manic quality that echoes the manic condition of these our Zimbabwean times. Ashes by John Eppel is imbued with the acerbity and shrewd observation you expect of Eppel. A side note here, I first read his novel The Giraffe Man when I was at university 15 years ago, and I could not believe that I had never heard of him before.

All the stories in the collection will be a pleasure to read again and again. I have a last special word for the sublime Julius Chingono: a million and five thank yous for a story in which a woman who trades sex for money is portrayed as a real person with reasoned and considered motivations for living the life she does, and not just as a symbol of our national degradation, or, worse still, a stereotypical tart with a big heart.

Congratulations to Irene Staunton and Weaver Press. Who said Zimbabwean writing was dead? I should also mention the cover art, which features the photography of Bester Kanyama. Growing up, I noticed that most of the Shona novels published by the Literature Bureau used his photographs on the front cover and credited him with these words: mufananidzo naBester Kanyama.

I did not ever imagine that I would one day feature in a book with his photography on the cover. What a thrill.

© The author/publisher

Review of Laughing Now- The Herald

Laughing Now – New Stories from Zimbabwe
Edited by Irene Staunton
ISBN: 978 1 77922 068 4
pp.113: 130 x 210 mm

The Herald (Harare)
Feb 20, 2008
Reviewer: Richmore Tera

Short Stories Book Full of Humour

This is yet another landmark contribution to Zimbabwean literature in English from the publishers of best sellers such as Writing Now and Shimmer Chinodya's award-winning novel, Strife.

Edited by Irene Staunton, the 14 short stories featured in this anthology are remarkable for the way their authors employ humour and satire to critically appraise life while constructively scoffing at the follies and frailties besetting people. The reader cannot afford but laugh at the jokes that the authors so skilfully use to spotlight on the grim, sad yet truthful ironies of life. Albeit Gumbo story's rather indicting tone, reminds that laughter, after all, is the best medicine that people have to their plight, no matter how big or cumbersome the load might be.

The authors probe a wide range of contemporary issues – social, political and economic – with the precision of a surgeon's scalpel. The authors use the devise of realism that invests their characters with the ability to act out the almost realistic plots. Most of the characters are poor ordinary people precariously struggling to cling to the edge of the dog-eat-dog world they survive in. On the other hand we are however encountered with the gallery of greedy and unscrupulous influential individuals who wantonly abuse the power and confidence invested in them by the societies they represent.

Usury Chimbadzo in Erasmus Chinyani's fable, A Land of Starving Millionaires, is as his name suggests, a very greedy money-lender whose ever bloating family coupled with the ever skyrocketing prices of basics are too much for him to bear, thus driving him almost insane.
Chimbadzo resorts to deceiving and conning the weak and vulnerable for survival, so typical of the heartlessness of many people today.

Chinodya is represented in the collection with his short story, The Last Laugh, about Mai George, a strong-willed enterprising woman of steely-strength who refuses to bow to the forces of single-parenthood, stereotype and poverty inherent in her society. Because of her very successful but 'backyard' informal kitchen, she becomes the object of jealous even from her evil-minded landlady, Mbuya MaSibanda, who becomes envious of, and irked by, her lodger's achievements. 'Mai George began to LAUGH ... She laughed and heard the voices of the other lodgers in the adjoining rooms shrieking with hers, conspiring with her against the ageless tyranny of the world' (p. 37).

Rory Kilalea's hilarious but subtle diatribe, African Laughter, pokes fun at the double standards of racial supremacists who regard everything African with indignity and scorn. Three stories that scooped the three top prizes in the Mukuru short story competition last year – Petina Gappah's Mupandawana Dancing Champion, Minister Without Portfolio by Julius Chingono and John Eppel's intriguing Ashes, are also featured in the anthology.

The rest of the contributors are Lawrence Hoba, Edward Chinhanhu, Albeit Gumbo, Daniel Mandishona, Diana Charsley, Alexandra Fuller, Brian Jones and Bryony Rheam. A worthwhile read for those who crave for humour.

© The author/publisher