Publisher: Royalty Publishers
Year Published: 2019
Audrey Chirenje’s debut novel Life Will Humble You will strike you with its somewhat epiphanic moments. At the centre of it is Ronda the female protagonist whose fluctuating domestic fortunes are the hallmark of this book.
Ronda is in many ways reminiscent of Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Tambu in Nervous Conditions and Bisi Adjapon’s Lola in Daughter in Exile, in terms of her eventual triumph over adversities. Even the name Ronda is revealing in itself, the nomenclature ‘‘ronda’’ is a Shona word which loosely translated means wound. Ronda is reeling from the after effects of a broken marriage and is therefore experiencing a spiritual and physical malaise:
“I thought I couldn’t conceive. I was married for three years and nothing happened. I went for tests and all they told me was I was fine, but still I could not conceive. So my ex-husband got his girlfriend pregnant…He then threw me out of our matrimonial house…”
And so begins the story with Ronda being chucked out of marriage by her husband Sean as she couldn’t conceive and yet bizarrely, she finds out soon after she’s four months pregnant!
On the face of it, Chirenje deploys an easy and laid back conversational style of writing. And yet this highlights pertinent subjects. A plethora of themes abound in the book, ranging from the excesses of religion, culture clash, evolving family dynamics tinged with inherent power struggles in relationships. The latter is brought out well through the vindictiveness of ex partners highlighted by Nitrah, Riko’s ex-wife who still harbours memories of ‘‘a good old tumble in the hay,’’ even though Riko makes it clear, he’s now off limits and intends to devote his attention to his new relationship with his wife: Ronda.
Through the love story arcs, Chirenje vividly shows us that at times we have no control over what life throws at us. If anything, we’re cogs in the rolling juggernaut that life is. The narrative strand of Ronda’s ex husband Sean shows this very well as he lurches from one crisis to another in the fluctuating vicissitudes of his chequered relationships with women, though it could be argued he’s become a hoist of his own petard. Yet for other characters in the book, there is truth to the adage; there are times when we find ourselves in situations entirely not of our own making and this is a broader statement which the book embraces and interrogates throughout. Poignantly, Ronda’s posh boy Riko, philosophically remarks: ‘‘Don’t blame other people for decisions that you make,’’ itself a revolving motif in the lives of the key characters in the book.
We have to live with the choices we make appears to be another central trope of the book. Sean’s inglorious experience with his young, nubile wife eventually enables the scales to fall from his eyes as he rues his rash decision in chasing away his first wife Ronda. Deep rooted disillusionment is underscored by Sean remarking:
“I had been in love with the idea of being in love with a bombshell of a woman, but inside she was so empty and dark. I had sacrificed my marriage for a lie, a neatly set up web of lies?”
This book is a welcome addition to the literature of Zimbabwe
Hindsight is such a wonderful thing as some would remark, and it appears Sean’s day of reckoning has come too soon as he takes stock of his blunders and poor choices which have cost him his happiness, as soon he’s left in the lurch with a baby Lihle as his new wife skips to Botswana after dropping a devastating bombshell to him via a handwritten note. So, it appears, even the mighty Sean is eventually humbled by life.
The paternity of Ronda’s ex-husband Sean in relation to his daughter is later found to be hazy and questionable when his girlfriend now wife: Nomhle confesses to have slept with Sean’s brother at about the same time she was intimate with Sean. Smoke and mirrors stuff! Perhaps Chirenje is showing the complexities and how convoluted conception issues are in a patriarchal society which is quick to point accusing fingers to the wife in cases where there are conception issues.
This book is a welcome addition to the literature of Zimbabwe. Its high entertainment value is a blessing to a canon that has many books that tend to be hard, contemplative and impregnable. In one interview the author herself has this to say: “What motivated me to write (such stories) is I have always been inquisitive, and I question things. My characters are people with issues – the one thing society acts like doesn’t exist. It wants perfection. I am questioning norms… I obviously am a hopeless romantic, so I knit all this in my fictional contemporary stories.”
Chirenje also acknowledges how writing the book was a cathartic and therapeutic experience for her as bits of it draws on her personal experience.
Andrew Chatora is a novelist, essayist and short story writer of Zimbabwean origin based in Bicester, England. He has published three novels and is currently working on a collection of short stories: Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories. Chatora’s latest book Harare Voices and Beyond has been favourably received globally and is currently a Wayfarer’s Intralingo book club nomination. Harare Voices and Beyond, is a nuanced and earthy reconstruction of Zimbabwe’s land reform programme.