Review of Tale of Tamari - The Sunday Mail Entertainment

Tale captures effect of Aids
By Laura Chiweshe
Source: The Sunday Mail Entertainment, 22 August 2004, page E.2

SHE is just getting into her teens but she is already making adult decisions. Instead of
playing raka-raka and pada with other children she has to crack her head on what the
family will have for supper – not breakfast or lunch, for these are luxuries given the
Both her parents have succumbed to Aids. Her late father’s younger brother, who is
supposed to be taking care of this orphan and her brother, is not concerned about them
but his beer.
This is the Tale of Tamari, neatly interwoven by Shimmer Chinodya of the Harvest of
Thorns fame. Sadly, the Tale of Tamari is the tale of thousands of other children in
Zimbabwe. It is a tale of death, bleakness, greed, selfishness, struggle for survival and, at
the end of it all, hope, comfort and warmth.
The Tale of Tamari is a novel written in very simple English. It has a very simple plot
and thematic concerns are relatively easy to conceptualise. The issue of HIV and Aids is
a very sensitive one in a society ravaged by the disease. As such, Chinodya is very
careful to treat the issue with the sensitivity it deserves.
Departing from the norm of moralising and preaching about Aids, Chinodya does not
dwell much on the infected than he does on the affected. His novel is not a lecture on
how people should behave so as to avoid being infected. No. This time, attention is given
to those who may not necessarily be infected but single-handedly bear all the pain, agony
and effects of this pandemic. This group of the affected is mainly made up of children –
the orphans.
The novel questions how much these children should bear the violent and destructive
effects of Aids and at what cost. It also questions the role that relatives should play in the
lives of these Aids-orphaned children? What distance should the community keep out of
the lives of these children?
With no proper care from anyone else, Aids-orphaned children seem to fall victim to the
vultures of this world. The girls, especially, are easy prey to the greedy and misdirected
older men. Chinodya seems to be asking whether it should not be our responsibility as
elders to protect these vulnerable children. Should we be seen at the forefront abusing our
own children instead of protecting them? Do we hold our heads up with pride when we
attempt to rape our sisters? Do we feel satisfied and victorious when we victimise our
helpless brothers?
Like the film Everyone’s child, directed by Tsitsi Dangarembga, Chinodya feels that
these Aids-orphaned children are everyone’s responsibility. Society should not keep a
distance and sympathise from afar but should make it its responsibility to fend for and
defend these children.
One striking thing about Chinodya’s novel is the hopeful and optimistic tone that he sets.
Unlike most modern novels that paint a very bleak picture of the future, the Tale of
ends on a positive and hopeful note. Not positive in the sense that the cure of
Aids will be found. No, that may be a bit overzealous. But positive in that people should
realise that Aids is everyone’s responsibility and everyone should be an active player in
easing the pain caused by this disease.
Everyone should throw their full weight in mending the social relationships that the
disease has threatened to permanently break. We should all realise that it has since ceased
to be the tale of Tamari alone but everyone’s tale.
Chinodya believes that though we may not be able to do away with Aids in the near
future, how we relate and conduct ourselves in its wake goes a long way in fighting
against the disease.
Many of us are infected. If not, then we are certainly affected in one way or the other.
Whichever way we find ourselves involved, the difference should start with us, Chinodya
seems to be saying.

Review of Tale of Tamari - Memory Chirere

Book Review

Shimmer Chinodya, Tale of Tamari, Harare, Weaver Press, 2004, 68 pages
ISBN: 177922 026X

(by Memory Chirere, English Department, University of Zimbabwe)

Reading Shimmer Chinodya’s latest publication, a teenage novel called Tale of Tamari, you hear vigorous descriptive echoes from his earlier works especially Farai’s Girls and Harvest of Thorns.  I have always wanted to claim that Chinodya and a good number of other prominent Southern African writers have gradually perfected the art of describing childhood.  I have in mind Ezekiel Mphahlele’s Down second Avenue, Luis Honwana’s We Killed Mangy Dog, Dr Charles Mungoshi’s Coming of the Dry Season and many others.

The Southern African historical situation of brutal colonial conquest traditions, the very bloody struggles for independence and the subsequent sharp economic imbalances calls for stories that go for the deep and the raw.  Childhood writing offers such an opportunity.  Children tend to be the most sensitive and least stoic side of communities.  The many writers from the region have mined for the soul of community via the child.

Besides the  unfortunate technique of deliberately keeping away characters from larger social struggles around them, Chinodya’s Farai’s Girls possesses true sweet-pains of teenage-hood.  The high school sections in Harvest of Thorns, especially in the J.C. chapter are immediate, poetic and can be read and re-read for their sheer evocation of nostalgia for people, time and places we used to know.  

In Tale of Tamari, there is one such vivid passage where Tamari’s life skips from the page:
She liked Maths and Art. Best of all she liked Art.  She loved to draw faces, pictures of birds, flowers and animals. She liked to paint houses with little chimneys and bright roofs and lots of fruit trees at the back-trees sagging with bananas, oranges, mangoes and guavas … was a bit too shy to dance, but played bass in the school marimba band … loved netball too, but oh-now she was supposed to be concentrating on the mental maths test!

Taken seriously, Tamari’s is not a tale at all.  It is a story of our time happening today in every village or suburb.  The back-cover blurb gets to the heart of the matter:
Tamari is fourteen years old.  Her mother and father have died and she lives with her brother, Kuda, in their home where most of the rooms have been let to three lodgers.  Her uncle Banda supposedly keeps an eye on them, but is more concerned about how much money he can make from the rent he gets from their tenants …  Tamari grows up and has to outface the school bullies, the onset of puberty, the struggle to extricate exam fees from her rapacious uncle, the cooking and cleaning …

This is, arguably, the first creative HIV/Aids story from Zimbabwe that does not harp endlessly on how to die or not to die of AIDS.  The novella goes for Tamari and Kuda’s refusal to pity themselves.  Besides being Aids orphans, they insist on a near-normal teenage life-style notwithstanding the dwindling resources and the endless misfortunes.

Beyond and above Tamari and her sibling, this story oozes with people. They bend double under the weight of urban squalor, fuel shortage etc. They however  have style and cannot wait to score some little but quick victories.  They seem to be holding on and are certain that the challenges that their country is facing are not only unfortunate but also a passing phase.

Take this - Mkoma Mandla the bachelor-lodger almost always walk into the house with “the usual khaki packet (of meat) under his arm,”  M’dhara Zuze drinks every night and comes home at three in the morning.  Sisi Maphosa travels to neighbouring countries selling clothes.  Nobody waits. 

Even the cunning and predictable Uncle Banda sees his imprisonment only as a temporary set-back or just one little painful lesson of life.  Sitting in prison he:
Carefully ate the chicken.  He chewed and swallowed everything, even the crumbs and bones.  He licked his fingers… “There might be a way out of this”, Uncle Banda said, peeling a fat orange.  He wished with all his heart that he hadn’t squandered all the money Matope had paid him. Suddenly his face lit up…

Bearing in mind that this is only a teenage novel, one could readily tolerate its very thin plot and especially the way everything here is only felt and collapsed around the single character of Tamari.  However, Chinodya could have explored Kuda’s character in greater depth.  The same  goes for Mkoma Mandla and Clever. One wanted to understand their intentions in relation to Tamari, and could have afforded an opportunity to raise issues of teenage love. Uncle Banda needed more backgrounding so that he exists beyond being a born villain. Something about him calls for salvation but Chinodya does not show us forces that create little brutes like Banda.  However this is one book I would want my daughter to take to bed with her.