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Without a Name and Under the Tongue Paperback – Feb 13 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
With a poetic flair for transforming the earthly into the surreal, the critically acclaimed Vera sets out in these two chaotic novellas to describe life during Zimbabwe's civil war in the late 1970s. Cadence and enigmatic descriptions are her obsessions; characters and plot are not. As a result, the cracked earth is more palpable than the bristling of Vera's displaced heroines, and her stilted and superfluous ruminations eclipse what are otherwise intriguing themes. In Without a Name, young and fiercely independent Mazvita sets out from her small village for the city of Harare to escape her brutal memories of the war. She cannot find work and soon grows dependent on her quasi love interest, Joel. Pregnancy follows. And when the baby arrives prematurely, Mazvita, hampered by a lingering malaise, neglects to name it. The rest of the story sifts through conflicting emotions of love, scorn, shame and alienation. Winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize, Under the Tongue chronicles adolescent Zhizha's search for identity through a complicated relationship with her family. The tongue-tied girl cryptically reveals her family's secrets why she has come to embrace her grandmother as her mother; why her mother has been jailed; how her father has died. Zhizha is caught between the desire to remember and to forget. Again, the characters are amorphous and often seem merely vehicles for language that would be better suited to a volume of poetry than a work of fiction. These stark tales explore the painful scars left by incest, murder, dislocation and war, but their emphasis on phantasmagoric imagery and failure to make characters more than a reflection of their circumstances leaves their potential power largely untapped.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Vera's most recent novel, Butterfly Burning, was published in the United States last year, and with this first U.S. publication of her two earliest works one of which, Under the Tongue, won a Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1997 U.S. readers now have full access to this prominent African writer. Both novellas are set during Zambia's guerrilla war in 1977. In startling prose, Vera writes of women enduring the horrors of war and poverty as they live on the fringes of the dominant white society. In Without a Name, a young woman escaping war in the countryside falls into a relationship with a man in order to cope in the city and finds herself pregnant. In Under the Tongue, a family of women living in township housing maintain a tenuous grasp on their former culture as the war impinges on their lives. Both works show how violence invades the women's lives in unexpected ways, bringing irrevocable changes. Throughout, Vera braids earlier and later incidents together in alternating chapters to build a narrative whole. Her brief, at times childlike sentences capture the fresh, sharp vision of someone new to modern society revealing, for example, the fascination of seeing a bicycle for the first time. Highly recommended for all libraries and essential for African literary collections. Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Lib., Harrisonburg, VA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
You may not enjoy Vera's style if you tend to prefer a light-hearted read. But if you enjoy a sensitivity for language, it will be pure joy. Your mind glides with the smoothly sustained surface of the writing, undulates with its poetic rhythms, startles with her revelations, lifted to your new eyes like some just-born thing, dangerous or gentle, held in the tender palm of her cupped hands.
The story lines are described well enough in the product description above, but it is a mistake to read Vera's writing with eyes focused on the scaffolding of character and plot. She has imploded that structure, sinking to some deeper level and creating the story from the inside out, with a pure and powerful voice that has the impact of poetry in the space of fiction.
This fiction isn't well-crafted, it is inspired.