Arts, Culture and Sport
David Chasumba’s new book is a kaleidoscope of Zimbabwe’s struggles from Black nationalist activism to the present
A brand new fourteen short stories collection by David Chasumba called The Mad Man on First Street and Other Short Stories packs a soulful punch. Chasumba’s new book is a kaleidoscope of Zimbabwe’s struggles from Black nationalist activism to the present
Title: The Mad Man on First Street and Other Short Stories
Publisher: Carnelian Heart Publishing, 2022
Author: David Chasumba
A brand new 14 short stories collection by David Chasumba called The Mad Man on First Street and Other Short Stories packs a soulful punch. With the use of simply and deftly written short stories that crawl like a snail, delineating Zimbabwe’s fractious journey from Black nationalist activism during the Rhodesian bush war, the euphoria of independence soon tinged with disillusionment, up to the contemporary era, this book takes you home.
Zimbabwe is known for a good number of its easy going but subtle short story writers ever since Charles Mungoshi’s iconic Coming of the Dry Season through Stanley Nyamfukudza’s Aftermaths, Alexander Kanengoni’s Effortless Tears through to Wonder Guchu’s Sketches of High Density Life.
The Madman in First Street itself is an outstanding short story, with the devil, now mad and ready to be cast out, being forced to come face to face with his former victim. Not only has the victim recovered but he is ambling away in the arms of a deserved beautiful woman.
Some of Chasumba’s stories like An Elegy for Aunt Betty and A Mum Indeed are set in England, the characters having left Zimbabwe, with the writer providing a nuanced take on how individuals navigate their dual existence in both the centre and the periphery. Through these short stories you trace the feisty journey the Southern African nation has taken in its turbulent history.
For instance, land has been an enduring trope in Zimbabwean literature from time immemorial. Notable luminaries stand out, Charles Mungoshi’s seminal book Waiting for the Rain, Yvonne Vera’s Nehanda, Stanley Nyamfukudza The Non-Believer’s Journey, Dambudzo Marechera’s House of Hunger and Musaemura Bonas Zimunya’s poetry collection, Thought Tracks.
Interestingly, Chasumba’s story, The Promised Land also speaks to Andrew Chatora’s recent Harare Voices and Beyond as it begins on the cusp of Zimbabwe’s land reform program in which farmer John Smith is being violently evicted from his Homewood farm. Similarly, The Promised Land speaks with Sue Nyathi’s An Angel’s Demise which equally dabbles into the complexities and contradictions of the land reform. It is testament to Chasumba’s prowess as a writer that his work can be positioned alongside great voices in Zimbabwean Literature reinforcing recurrent leit motifs in this great cultural tradition.
Chasumba invokes the notion of citizenship and nationhood in The Promised Land. In response to Comrade Tichatonga’s demands:
‘’This land belongs to the indigenous black people of this country, the landless peasants whose rights your ancestors took away…Now we want our land back.’’
Bass John remarks:
‘’I may be white, but I am an African, born and bred on this farm. How can you say I no longer own this farm? Be warned, you gentleman are trespassing on private property.”
Through his characters’ spoken discourse, Chasumba is showing the complexity of Zimbabwe’s land question as being closely tied with historical nuances and factors. There are not so clear-cut answers in seeking to right wrongs from yesteryear, a fact innocently brought out by Bass John’s ten-year-old son Robert when he naively remarks at the dinner table:
‘’Who owned the land before that?’’
Perhaps, ‘‘the truth’’ is hard for John to answer his inquisitive son’s remark and he can only look away. Chasumba is once again showing his sublime craft as a master story teller as he skillfully leaves it to readers to draw their own inferences and conclusions from such convoluted issues as land reform-citizenship-nationhood and identity. Chasumba does this very well again, in the short story A Mum Indeed where the femme fatale Isabel ensnares her peers Moses and David into a mess, through willfully sending out her nudes on her phone yet she revels in being the consummate victim.
Through his characters’ spoken discourse, Chasumba expertly shows the complexity of Zimbabwe’s land question as being closely tied with historical nuances and factors
After being informed her son will now be permanently excluded from school following the so-called voyeurism and cyberbullying of Isabel, David’s mum Rumbidzai aptly asks the white headteacher Mr Jones:
‘’Permanently excluded? In other words, you are expelling them.
“What about the girl? Are you also going to permanently exclude her from school? Didn’t she start these shenanigans in the first place?’’
To which, the headteacher remarks:
‘’The school is yet to make a decision on her.’’
‘’I am sorry that the poor girl felt humiliated and violated when the image started circulating. But the fact remains, she started it. She should also be accountable for her actions. I do not condone voyeurism and cyber bullying against girls and women…’’ Rumbidzai quips.
Ideal to acknowledge here that, Chasumba leaves it to the readers to work out that actually, things in life are never that simplistic as in apportioning blame willy-nilly. We all have to carry our own cross.
Bass John’s remarks earlier on in an exchange with the marauding war veterans, as he invokes his African descent and citizenship status are reminiscent of Chatora’s Julian character in Harare Voices and Beyond, in a reflective mode having lost their Mazowe farm at the hands of pseudo child war veterans:
“‘Go home white man!’ I hear that everywhere. Of course I am white. Of course you are black…. But can’t we see that we are trapped together by a sad history. Can’t it be negotiated amicably now that we agree that we fought each other for too long? Can’t a dignified way be found?”
Chasumba appears to chime with works of contemporary writers, Benjamin Sibanda, Lawrence Hoba, Andrew Chatora and others in highlighting that much as land reform was to do with addressing racial and historical imbalance on land ownership, still it’s a far more complex, convoluted subject which throws up a host of other issues into the fray. It will remain a touchy subject for generations to come depending on who is speaking and framing the argument. Thus, it remains unproductive to apportion blame and accuse the writer or artist of ‘’selling out’’ whenever they frame the narrative from an alternative lens/or perspective. As writers, we find resonance in American singer, songwriter, civil rights activist Nina Simone’s wise counsel: “It’s an artist responsibility to reflect the times we are in.”
There is also the prevalent moralistic and didactic tone which runs throughout Chasumba’s stories
There is also the prevalent moralistic and didactic tone which runs throughout Chasumba’s stories, Majongwe the village thief sticks out like a sore thumb from the story, The Man Who Had the Hands of a Baboon, so does the odious tight-fisted Jambwa from the story, The Miser and the Golden Leaf. Jambwa’s persona is reminiscent of Ngugi wa Thiongo’s the Wabenzi tribe. Majongwe also reminds one of Achebe’s indolent father Unoka in Things Fall Apart.
In One-Way Ticket Out of Hell, Chasumba paints a vivid, graphic image of the devastating effects of war on both blacks and whites in the then Rhodesia. The ravages of war are indiscriminate in terms of how they impact the psyche and human relationships. Sometimes the suffering we all go through is subtle and poignant. When war takes its toll on the human soul, ultimately there are no winners to talk of. One can’t square the circle. There is the seeming callousness of Jenny who deserts her boyfriend Chris in his greatest hour of need, but Chasumba leaves it up to the reader to draw their own estimation on his myriad characters and their foibles.
Perhaps what is even more remarkable is, Chasumba’s stories are so cleverly crafted, I kept remarking, it can’t be a debut, but it is! The book is certainly a worthy winner of the 2022 NAMA award. I look forward to reading more work from the erudite pen of this writer.
The Mad Man on First Street and Other Short Stories is published by UK Carnelian Heart Publishing and is available from Amazon and other leading online booksellers. As has been stated by others before, this book confirms that Zimbabwe is indeed a short story country!
Andrew Chatora Biography
Andrew Chatora is a novelist, essayist and short story writer of Zimbabwean origin based in Bicester, England. Andrew has published three novels and is currently working on a collection of short stories: Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories. Chatora’s work is critically acclaimed for its depiction of migrants and the many challenges they face. His work is heavily influenced by his own experience as a black English teacher in the United Kingdom and the hardships he experienced during the transition. Chatora’s latest book Harare Voices and Beyond has been favourably received globally and is currently a Wayfarer’s Intralingo book club nomination.