My name is Rutendo Chichaya, I live in Harare, Zimbabwe where I completed most of my education. I currently work as a corporate attorney in Harare. When I am not working, I enjoy reading books (both fiction and non-fiction). Sometimes, I write poetry, short stories and I have a novel manuscript gathering dust somewhere, waiting for its time. This year I started a book review blog because it is something that I have always wanted to do. People have always asked me what I think of the books that I read and now they have an opportunity to read my thoughts on rehabandrelapse10.wordpress.com and on the blog’s Instagram page @rehabandrelapse. My vision is to see this baby of mine grow into an active platform for readers and authors to interact. I hope to host interviews with authors and readers, and perhaps even run a bookstore one day. I will definitely be taking it one day at a time and putting in the required work to make this a reality.
A few weeks ago I was reflecting on my 2020 reading list. Every year I come up with a reading list and I try as much as I can to stick to it. In December 2019, I decided that 2020 would be the year to dedicate most of my reading time to stories from home because I realized that I was not reading enough Zimbabwean literature. I wanted to be intentional in my efforts. I find stories from my home to be very important because they comment, probe, depict, and give life to our history and to our present, as well as painting a picture of our desired tomorrow. My plan was to read at least 52 books by Zimbabwean authors which I had not read before. I managed to read 53. Pictured here are 38 books from my reading list. I ended up repeating 3 books (Butterfly Burning by Yvonne Vera, House of Stone by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma and These Bones Will Rise Again by Panashe Chigumadzi) due to the national lockdown which saw bookstores shutting down.
I knew that it was not going to be an easy journey trying to access local literature in Zimbabwe. Reading novels in Zimbabwe is a luxury for the rich, which it should not be. I want to share here some of my successes and struggles during my reading journey last year, in the hope that it will raise awareness of the current literary scene in Zimbabwe, and perhaps inspire us to pave a better way forward:
Older books published in the 80s and 90s are largely out of print and so I had to search far and wide to find copies of those I wanted to read. Buying copies from book vendors helped a lot. They have some of the older books which are hard to find in bookshops and their prices are good. There are a lot of emerging mobile bookstores such as Book Fantastics, whose service is commendable.
Accessing print copies was difficult because most local bookshops no longer stock local literature. If a book is not a “set book” put on school syllabi by the Ministry for primary and secondary education, there is not much of a market for it since most people cannot afford to read for pleasure.
Most books by Zimbabwean authors that are published overseas are not available in local book shops because the cost of getting them into the country is outrageous. This can be attributed to Zimbabwe’s book tax which translates into a selling price that is beyond the reach of most. I could not bring myself to buy cheaper pirated copies.
A considerable number of contemporary authors that are resident in Zimbabwe are selling their work by advertising on social media and delivering copies to clients. This eased the pains of accessing these books and I am grateful to those who have chosen this path as challenging as it is.
During the successive lockdowns last year, libraries were closed, and even if open the pickings are slim nowadays due to a lack of funding.
Late last year I received a Kindle device as a gift and this helped greatly in my reading journey. Thanks to technology, I was able to buy some electronic books on Amazon which come at a relatively cheaper price. But, as all true readers know, nothing can replace the feel of a printed book. I also found some books on the Internet Archive (archive.org) a digital library that is considered legitimate and safe (because most of the work on the site is under common licenses or in the public domain). On this site one is able to borrow books for 14 days and after that the loan expires, allowing you to borrow again.
Book exchanges with other readers are also quite popular in Zimbabwe. However, with the country in lockdown that was not practical or safe.
I am multilingual and I had envisioned a reading list which included books written in Shona, Ndebele and English. Accessing Shona books was easier because I reside in the capital city, Harare, where Shona is spoken by most. Now let’s talk about my struggle with finding Ndebele books! I now know that if you want Ndebele books you have to be in a city/town where Ndebele is the primary indigenous language. Due to travel restrictions brought about by the national lockdown, I didn’t do much traveling in 2020 and thus did not have access to Ndebele literature. When I look at my reading list, which is definitely an achievement, I can’t help but notice its deficiencies. I hope to correct these in the near future as I continue my journey of reading stories from home.
In addition to my personal reading endeavors, I am also part of the Harare Book Club whose aim is to support local writers by buying and reading their work. I encourage others to join such book clubs, as well as to start others of their own.
I found incredible beauty in the books by my Zimbabwean brothers and sisters that I read last year. I could see myself in most of the stories. I learned a lot. Love, pain, war, familial relations, trauma, community of yesterday and today, are dominant themes. A pleasant surprise was finding magical realism in Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu’s work. I appreciated that style of writing. I look forward to more Zimbabwean writers branching out into different genres.
The obstacles faced by the Zimbabwean literary scene are many, but despite this, Zimbabweans write and Zimbabweans read. I am extremely proud of emerging Zimbabwean writers who despite the odds are publishing their work, and the publishing houses doing everything in their power to support Zimbabwean writers.
My 2020 Reading List (in reading order)
Broken Roots - Paul Chidyausiku
Bonds of Love - Hope Dube
Waiting for The Rain - Charles Mungoshi
She No Longer Weeps - Tsitsi Dangarembga
Wounds - Jameson Gadzirai
The Polygamist - Sue Nyathi
Jikinya - Geoffrey Ndhlala
Strife - Shimmer Chinodya
Red Hills of Home by Chenjerai Hove
Ask Me Again - Hope Masike
Songs from the Temple - Emmanuel Ngara
Rainbows in the Dust - Chenjerai Hove
Harvest of Thorns - Shimmer Chinodya
These Bones Will Rise Again - Panashe Chigumadzi
Butterfly Burning - Yvonne Vera
House of Stone - Novuyo Rosa Tshuma
Nehanda - Yvonne Vera
Effortless Tears - Alexander Kanengoni
The Polygamist - Ndabaningi Sithole
Zenzele: A Letter For My Daughter by Nozipo J. Maraire
Vakasiiwa Pachena - Juliet Chikanza
Ndakakutadzirei - Sharai Mukonoweshuro
Imbwa Nyoro - Renny. M. Mumvuma
Rurimi Inyoka - Giles Kuimba
Walking Still - Charles Mungoshi
Black Sunlight - Dambudzo Marechera
Without A Name - Yvonne Vera
Not Another Day -Julius Chingono
Masimba: Nyaya pfupi dzakapetwa naChiedza Musengezi
The Setting Sun & the Rolling World - Charles Mungoshi
Trapped - Valerie Tagwira
Running With Mother - Christopher Mlalazi
Grace and other Stories - Bongani Sibanda
Agringada: Like a Gringa, Like A Foreigner - Tariro Ndoro
Harare North - Brian Chikwava
Acacia - Tendai Machingaidze
Child of War - Ben Chirasha
This September Sun - Bryony Rheam
Intwasa Poetry collection
The Black Insider - Dambudzo Marechera
The Theory of Flight - Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu
No More Plastic Balls: New Voices in the Zimbabwean Short Story - Clement Chihota and Robert Muponde (Editors)
A Family Affair - Sue Nyathi
The Boy Next Door - Irene Sabatini
Birth Place: A Collection of Recollections - Lindiwe Dhlakama
The History of Man - Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu
Behind Enemy Lines - Joe Ruzvidzo
Ndiko Kupindana Kwamazuva - Charles Mungoshi
Chakaipa Hachivandiki - A.C. Kakurira
Escape from Freedom – Benjamin S. Sibanda
The Ties That Bind – Phillip Chidavaenzi
Déjà vu – Rufaro C Mayowe
An Elegy for Easterly – Petina Gappah
To all the writers taking steps to ensure that their books are available at home, in print and in electronic format, I say “thank you” because the struggle is real over here. As the saying goes, ‘local is lekker.’ I cannot agree more with that as I continue on with a new reading list for 2021.