Review of Chioniso and Other Stories

'Wasafiri' Issue 2015

Chioniso and Other Stories
Shimmer Chinodya

Running with Mother
Christopher Mlalazi

Reviewed by Ranka Primorac

In these two engaging books by male Zimbabwean authors (one well established, the other coming up fast). The hackneyed notion of 'the Zimbabwean crisis' gives way to thoughtful probing of the continuities of love, suffering and change.

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Review: Chioniso and Other Stories - The Herald

Chinodya on religion and scepticism

The Herald January 13, 2014 Opinion & Analysis

Review by Stanely Mushava

Chioniso & Other Stories








Book: Chioniso and Other Stories

Author: Shimmer Chinodya

Publisher: Weaver Press (2012)

If literature is to discharge its normative function as a miniature of society, then this preoccupation with religion will be indulged as an inevitable feature on the writer’s task-pane. Mankind’s progress through history is informed by a quest for meaning in which religion plays a central role.

Although the greater part of civil institutions have been secularised, the politics of survival still draw heavily on religion. Despite being tagged the opium of the people and ostracised as out of touch with trending dynamics by intellectuals, artists and media practitioners, religion simply cannot be wished away.

Terrence Ranger once said society can ignore religion at its own peril. Whether one considers the dismantling of Soviet satellites or the Arab Spring, the influence of religion, positive or negative, still commands geopolitical and social terrains.

Literature worldwide has meticulously captured the varying attitudes of faith and scepticism. These thought schools have trails in the writings of modern exponents, notably Christianity and conservatism in TS Eliot, agnosticism in DH Lawrence, occultism in WB Yeats and atheism in Ernest Hemingway.

Keynote African writers, by and large, assail Christianity as a residue of imperialism. Leopold Senghor, David Diop, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Okot p’Bitek, Taban Lo Liyong and Wole Soyinka oscillate around indigenous syncretism and atheism as Afro-centric counter-attitudes against what they perceive to be a colonially imposed religion.

Zimbabwean patriarchs such as Stanelake Samkange, Patrick Chakaipa and Ndabaningi Sithole juggle nationalism, social justice and Christian-oriented didacticism, continuing from isolated Rhodesian political evangelists like Arthur Shearley Cripps.

The second generation, featuring Dambudzo Marechera, Chenjerai Hove and Charles Mungoshi chart a departure-point, concurring with the mainstream African tradition in dragging Christianity into the dock.

The most prolific local novelist, Shimmer Chinodya, has recurrently dabbled with the faith question, drawing on sceptical characters and sketches of modern life in ‘Strife,’ the coming-of-age narrative Harvest of Thorns and other pieces.

Not surprisingly, Chinodya who once told a local weekly that he is ‘beautifully confused by religion’ devotes considerable space to this ultimate existential question in his latest short story collection, Chioniso and Other Stories.

During the brief exchange I had with him as I was collecting a copy of his book, Chinodya hinted on the role of a writer as a prophet of his own society. Considering how religion has permeated virtually every aspect of Zimbabwean life, the novelist’s preoccupation with religion is a warranted imperative.

The most elaborate piece in the anthology, succinctly entitled ‘Infidel’ deals extensively with religion as embodied in popular charismatic denominations. Regardless of where one is coming from with respect to spiritual persuasion, one is compelled to agree with Chinodya’s astute portrayal of the hypocrisy, which obtains in modern Christianity.

The story demonstrates that some people’s aversion to religion is caused by the examples of its adherents. Characters who publicly display Christian fervour, privately lead morally bankrupt lives.

We are introduced to Chinodya’s doppelganger, Godfrey, as a young student and budding writer, progressing through faith on the coat-tails of an articulate senior.

The double standards and godless exploits of the older student, Billet, repel Godfrey rather than the former’s words endear him to the church. From converting Scripture Union goods to personal use to having an illicit sexual affair as a second-year undergraduate, Billet dissembles Godfrey’s faith.

When Billet impregnates his girlfriend and fast-tracks a hasty wedding to legitimise the relationship, Godfrey asks himself: ‘Had they not transgressed the rules of the Bible by having sex before marriage?’

He is quietly smitten by conscience on his brother leader’s behalf before further indiscretions end up disentangling him from the fold.

Despite the apparent hostility to Christianity readily suggested title, ‘Infidel’ takes a needful muck-racking sweep on the modern church which has lapsed into Laodicean luke warmth and Sodomite decadence.

We are shown the widening gap between the Christ-like humility and charity which obtained in the early church and the materialism and immorality which have supplanted the former virtues in the modern church.

Godfrey faults the new churches: ‘Unlike the traditional churches, very, few built schools, hospitals or clinics. Most preached that if you were rich you were blessed, and if you were poor you were, inevitably, a sinner.’

These are issues contemporary Christendom need to process. My dissenting point is when Chinodya’s protagonist incriminates Christianity as a whole, a fallacy known as ‘throwing away the baby with the bath water.’ Godfrey yearns to tell his daughter in ‘Chioniso,’ the title piece: ‘Once upon a time I too was a Scripture Union fan, Chioniso. The Bible will disappoint you later my daughter, or some sweet-tongued boy will ruin it for you.’

Considering that Godfrey’s inventory of religious indiscretions owe their currency to the contrasts between the modern church and biblical fundamentals, it would be fair to confine indictment to the former, unless the latter is plausibly demonstrated to deserve the same.

‘Chioniso’ also takes on the institution of marriage with its modern complexities: ‘What makes some professional women so unhappy?’

Why are men cruel to their wives? Why do married women do things behind their husbands’ backs? Why do spouses need to compete and frustrate each other?’

Godfrey’s own dysfunctional family comes across as a looking glass for these problems.

‘The Car,’ further appraises the clash between modernity and tradition in the family institution. The car, a motif of modernity, is presented by the diasporan Roderick as a Christmas gift to his in-laws. The father-in-law spurns the gift as a ploy to evade the outstanding bride-price, including the mother’s heifer and the father’s six beasts.

Things get heated when mother-in-law embraces the car as her launch-pad to class and allows it to be a middle wall between the old couple. The comic story speaks volumes on the affront material culture poses to marriage.

One recalls Old Mandisa’s revulsion against sugar in ‘Waiting for the Rain’ and Muchemwa’s caution about cars in ‘The Mourned One.’ ‘Prisons on the Road’ indulges the idea of a formidable, new Africa emerging to the geopolitical summit from the rabble of the post-American world. ‘Africa used to run the world once and might do so again in the not so distant future,’ Ezeulu muses.

‘After all, it was the cradle of humanity. Remember one of the earliest civilisations in the world began in Egypt. If you think of Africa’s vast human and strategic material resources today, you will see that the continent is poised for a great renaissance,’ he says.

The traditional narrative which exclusively ascribes the stagnation of the continent to slavery and colonialism is, however, questioned and post-colonial corruption and mismanagement are implicated as co-demobilisers.

Western progress is incriminated for flourishing on pollution, climate change, recession, nuclear arms, world wars and holocausts.

Chioniso & Other Stories Daily News Review

Shimmer ChinodyaTHE STANDARD APRIL 8 TO 14, 2012
Arts News Life & style
Chionisi and Other Stories:
A demo of good writing

Title: Chioniso and Other Stories, Author: Shimmer Chinodya
Publisher: Weaver Press
Publication date: 2012, 182 pages,
Isbn: 978-1-77922-170-4

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Book Review: Chioniso & Other Stories

Book Review

Chioniso & Other Stories by Shimmer Chinodya

Published by Weaver Press

Review by Jerá
Published in The Zimbabwean: 11 October, 2012

Too often, the phrase ‘man who needs no introduction’ has been bandied about.  He wrote his first book – Dew In The Morning – at the age of 18, his mantelpiece sags with the weight of several literary awards, most notably the regional Commonwealth Writers Prize. His work has been studied for two decades now and two of his books, Harvest of Thorns and Strife, have been translated and published in Germany. Shimmer Chinodya truly is a man who needs no introduction.

Chioniso & Other Stories is an anthology of largely self-referential short stories by Zimbabwe’s most prolific author, Shimmer Chinodya.  Drawing from his personal experiences, the country’s national literary treasure composes his tenth book in a long and prosperous career in his usual style, comprising humor and the vivid descriptive language for which he is famed.

‘Martha’s Hero’ is a cut-out from the yellowed pages of the country’s civil war.  Hovering on the fringes of magical realism, it is a haunting piece, inspired by events from 1975, when the war was at its zenith. This story is likely to trigger nostalgia among Shimmer loyalists for its theme, similar to that of his earlier work, Harvest of Thorns, which was also centred around the liberation war.

Why Not is set in Swaziland in the late 1980s.  A familiar character, making the long journey from the pages of Dew In the Morning, Godfrey, Shimmer Chinodya’s alter ego, reappears as a writer visiting Swaziland.  Chinodya is in his element as witty dialogue assails the readers’ eyes from preamble to conclusion.  An expert at drawing the reader into the story, Chinodya cleverly dispenses with dialogue tags, a technique which not only heightens the pace of the discourse but also makes for a smooth and exhilarating read.  I loved the banter between the characters and the manner in which Mercy, a Zimbabwean feminist, held her own against a barrage of chauvinistic remarks.  I also liked the often playful, recurring references to the story title.  Why Not is an expertly crafted and memorable story, notwithstanding Chinodya’s slight slip up – proving that he is human after all – of permitting a few ‘now’ phrases (such as ‘Zimbo’, ‘download’ and ‘crash’ (of computer) – which predate the period in which the story is set, to leak into the narrative.

Once again assuming the Godfrey persona, Chinodya narrates the story of his adventures in Germany, in Prisons on the Road, set in the early 1990s.  Godfrey has to keep his wits about him as he is torn between his loyalty towards Simon, his German host, and succumbing to the demands of Vera, the forthright hostess who won’t take ‘No’ for an answer.  As he did in Why Not, Godfrey is tactful in dealing with the strange and sometimes tricky questions that one faces when visiting far away lands.

In both Why Not and Prisons On The Road, similar in that they are both based on Godfrey’s travels, I had the sense of an awed nephew, seated at the campfire, listening to the wild anecdotes of a once naughty uncle.

I was torn between laughter and sadness upon reading The Car, a story about, what else, a car, which comes between husband and wife.  As I struggled to pick one word, between comical and tragic, it occurred to me that this is also a commentary on modern day marriage, where man finds himself somewhat emasculated by his wife’s advancement.

Chioniso, the story from which this anthology derives its title, is lifted from the journal of a man battling to deal with a rebellious teenaged daughter, a task not made easier by an equally headstrong wife.  Chioniso takes on the tone of a personal diary written in an informal approach, where Chinodya speaks directly to the reader and takes on the moniker of Chirasha, in whose name he published Child of War, in 1986.  Chioniso is the typical tale of the war between old and new generations, which will leave a childless reader either thankful for not being in the narrator’s predicament or frightened at the prospect of parenthood.  Good literature moves the reader.  Often, when I shut a good book at the end, I find myself wishing to meet the writer, implore him to sign the inside cover of my book, find out what inspired him to write it, the usual questions asked by an awestruck fan.  However, at the end of the story, Chioniso, I found myself wishing to put a consoling around the troubled shoulder of Mr Chirasha, the protagonist of the tale.

Indigenous is a reflection of the frightening reality of our society – greed and corruption.  It is also allegorical, to a point, laced with the didactic message; it is better to live happily on the fringes of poverty than to dabble in corrupt get-rich-quick schemes, which often end in misery.

Infidel deals with the abandonment of traditional beliefs, exposes the hypocrisy that is rife among some churches and speaks of how the country’s economic woes have given rise to numerous religious entities, as people seek something to hold onto, in these troubled times.  Through the voice of Godfrey, Chinodya pulls no punches as he reveals the dark side of new-fangled churches that are rife in Zimbabwe and, throughout, the scent of Godfrey’s disdain for all things religious rises of each page.

The one notable gripe I have with this book – daring to throw rocks at the throne – is that in Last Laugh, a story set in the Murambatsvina era, Chinodya over-translates, as he attempts to articulate jokes that would, no doubt, elicit laughs in vernacular but, when written in English, are lost in translation.

Chioniso;  noun, a mirror.  Often, readers and book critics speculate on the title of a book, its meaning and hidden message.  Apart from the humorous anecdotes of an accomplished writer, this anthology is, by and large, a social commentary – the demolition of houses under Murambatsvina, the snaking queues of desperate motorists waiting for fuel, corruption, domestic disputes, the rise of Pentecostal churches, the decline of the agricultural sector.  Through his book, the author holds up a mirror, chioniso, in the face of society and, perhaps, it can also be said, it is a reflection of the life of the man behind the book.

On reading Chinodya’s very first book, Dew in the Morning, written when he was only 18, I felt a young man with incredible talent.  On reading his latest work, Chioniso & Other Stories – effortless, uncontrived – I sensed a writer who has achieved greatness and has little left to prove.

What I cherished most about this book, as with all other Chinodya writings, is the imagery and inventive use of words.  At the end of the book, I felt pleased to have been granted a peek at the life and psyche of a man who has achieved so much as a writer, scholar and educator. My copy of Chioniso & Other Stories, with its pages heavily tattooed with the marginalia of a man impressed – exclamation marks, highlights and underscores – rests among my most treasured books.