Book - Glory

Tony Cross is reading his way through the Booker Prize Longlist 2022. Today he is taking on Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo ...

Isn’t it something, Destiny, how sometimes stories will raise the dead, as if they are not dead at all but alive in our mouths, only waiting to be animated by our tongues?

Glory is the second novel by NoViolet Bulawayo – which is a pen name for Elizabeth Zandile Tshele. It is an Animal Farm-esque satire on Zimbabwe. The country, populated by different animals, is called Jidada.

The story begins with when the Father of the Nation is about to celebrate Independence Day. The Father of the Nation is an old horse. His wife, Dr Sweet Mother, is there to support him. But that is just the beginning. We see and hear stories from the past and present.

The Father the Nation is bought down by Tuvey, the Vice-President. But Tuvey turns out to be as bad, if not worse, than The Father of the Nation.

The book also ranges back into the past, into the cruelty of dictatorship and the murderous events of The Gukurahundi. The book doesn’t stint on the horrors of this time. The chapter, called Defending the Revolution, 1983, is a brutal read. Perhaps that is why Bulawayo substituted animals for people. It might have been impossible to read otherwise. Parts of the book are hard to read regardless.

I found myself in tears three times whilst reading it because Bulawayo makes you feel the pain and horror in a way that a story like this wouldn’t necessarily be expected to do. But for all the horror, the corruption and cruelty there are moments of optimism and of joy. It is a parable of what we could achieve if we could unite. This is a book about solidarity and a book about the power of stories.

The writing draws you in. Bulawayo is an effective user of repetition: “And Destiny Lozikeyi Khumalo talks to the dead and talks to the dead and talks to the dead and talks to the dead and talks to the dead…” It happens several times and it is effective every time. She also uses the word "tholukuthi" — pronounced to-lu-ku-ti throughout as a regular connecting word. It seems to have many meanings but once you get used to it then you find yourself picking out the most suitable meaning for the context.

A number of the books I’ve read from this Booker Prize List have memory, ancestors and the power of names at their centre. There’s also issues around colonialism. As Bulawayo says in this book the colonial powers gave their colonies independence but they didn’t give them freedom. The direct colonial rule was replaced by indirect looting of the resources of former colonies through multinational companies who grease the wheels of corruption to their own advantage. In our current political environment, when British history is being turned into mythology by a government that refuses to accept that the British Empire was a crime against humanity this is an important book for former colonialists too.

Bulawayo is also pretty scathing about what I’m going to call religious colonialism. The way Christian preachers use their religion as a wealth generation scheme and who support the regimes of the worst kind of dictators. Christianity as a way of keeping populations sedated with the promise of a better life to come.

I’ve made this book sound dark. And it is. But it is also funny. The satire is biting, sharp and made me laugh out loud. Some of Bulawayo’s comments about politicians, about corruption and about greed are equally applicable to British governments.

This is a powerful book. Read it.

Follow Tony on Twitter @Lokster71

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