Review of Not Another Day- Mirror

Not Another Day
Julius Chingono
2006: 136 x 206; 124pp
ISBN 10 1-77922-048-0
ISBN 13 978-1-77922-0486

Reviewer: Phillip Chidavaenzi


Chingono’s stories reveal empathy for the underdog

When I first heard of Julius Chingono, help I didn’t think much about him and what he did, illness as I’d never come across his literary works. So, what was the big deal? If he was worth a second look, I reasoned, then I would have heard of him before.

After reading Writing Still: New Stories from Zimbabwe (Weaver Press, 2003) soon after it’s publication, Chingono’s story, Maria’s Interview, was not one of those I revisited for a second read. It was just one of those stories.

Then I bumped into some of his poetry published on the Poetry International website, www.poetryinternational.org. Although I was amazed to realise that he was that good, maybe the fact that he had only published one novel, Chipo Changu (1978) and the award-winning play, Ruvimbo (1980), made me overlook his fine artistic touch.

Internationally acclaimed author, Charles Mungoshi, who graced the launch of Chingono’s short story and poetry anthology, Not Another Day, had noted in a paper published on www.poetryinternational.org, that Chingono “will one day achieve the recognition that he deserves in Zimbabwe”.

Then the sequel to Writing Still was published in 2005, titled Writing Now: More Stories from Zimbabwe, and Chingono was featured again with his short story, Kachasu.

Reviewing the anthology, writer, lecturer and literary critic, Memory Chirere, noted that “in a country where only (Shimmer) Chinodya seems able to publish annually, the old griots like Chingono have a chance for a brief second coming” (Southern Times, October 30, 2005: ppC5). 

With the publication of Not Another Day, it appears Mungoshi’s earlier prediction might as well come true.

The launch of the book had to be delayed by about 30 minutes as Chingono was yet to turn up, owing – as those in attendance were made to understand – to transport problems.

During the launch, the writer said: “In the anthology, I tried as much as I could to give a picture of the day-to-day lives of the poor people in Zimbabwe, honestly and objectively.”

The off-hand manner in which he seems to make ‘passing remarks’ like a distant observer makes one more keenly aware of his artistic prowess. All the stories in this anthology are somewhat understated, yet – as subsequent reading would reveal – powerful.

Zimbabwe’s story, with all the political, economic and social problems, would make for a grim reading. But the beauty about this collection is that Chingono consummately sidesteps choking us with a heavy dosage of tragedy. He however opts to give us a chance to laugh at ourselves despite all our problems, and some of the absurdities –– dressed as culture –– in our lives. His large sense of humour is enormous and makes for a pleasurable read.

This anthology, published by Weaver Press in the twilight of Chingono’s life, can as well be a multifaceted portrait of contemporary Zimbabwe. Chingono is 60. While any other writer worth his salt could find a fertile ground for a piece of literary work in Zimbabwe today, here is a writer whose maturity can prove to be the ace up his sleeve for, as they say, nothing beats experience.

Chingono will tell you of the dire circumstances of child abuse, the scourge of political violence and Aids and the tug-of-war between sisters-in-law, with the witty incisiveness and restraint of the mature. This anthology is very revealing in this regard.

Politics assumes a dominant role in Are We Together, An Early Supper and The Employment Agent which – when put together with the stories on culture like Sister-in-Law, Sahwira’ Condoms and The Funeral – betray a deep understanding of Zimbabwe’s political, economics and cultures.
While a significant number of these stories would have left any reader shaking their heads as they read more like tragedies, the humour that Chingono infuses here and there tends to lighten the collection.

Sahwira’s Condoms is a case in point. Imagine yourself at a funeral and the deceased’s sahwira turns up to disparage his late friend of having died of an HIV-related illness saying: “Your children do not heed wise words. This thin sheath (condom) is the solution to their sexual appetite” (pp.61).

The sahwira then starts distributing condoms at the funeral and “the young women accepted the condoms for safe sex. Some put them in their pockets, others into their brassieres and others into their handbags and purses” (pp.65).     

Then there is The Funeral, which seems to disparage some funeral rites, with business coming to a standstill as relatives argue on whether or not to break down the door so that the coffin of the deceased could fit. The coffin later falls apart during the procession to the funeral and the pall bearers scatter in all directions.

The sahwira – trying to diffuse the grim atmosphere – starts singing: “Zhin’ Zhan’ box Gurundoro! Zhin’ Zhan’! Zhin’ Zhan’!” (pp.82) and everybody else joins in.

In the Commuters, the author captures the nightmares of trying to find transport to go to work when a country in is the grip of fuel shortages while at the same time, bringing to life the lung-bursting comedies that one often encounters during a combi ride.

Chingono’s perceptions on a variety of situations and circumstances place him as an insider and the beauty about his stories is that they are polysemic in nature, lending themselves to various interpretations.

Here is an author who is pre-occupied with painting the picture of a fragmented society battling to come to terms with the realities of social hardships spawned by political and economic upheavals.

Chingono’s sympathy for the poor, far removed from the centres of power, is unmistakable and could as well be his major strength.

In Maria’s Interview, published elsewhere, Chingono seems to identify with the domestic maid Maria’s problem as she faces abuse, ranging from non-payment by her employer to being viewed with suspicion. Perhaps the greatest irony is that the abuse happens at the hands of fellow black employers.

Writing on the manuscript of Chingono’s first book, Chipo Changu, Mungoshi – who was among the assessors – reflected: “So, as assessors, we were divided over (the) book. The reason was that his novel seemed too simple: he used commonplace words and he had an understated plot. However, someone persuaded us that though the story was not thrilling, it contained a poignancy, a rare sincerity and concern for human beings.”

This is so evident in this short story and poetry anthology, which is certainly likely to jump-start Chingono writing career at the other side of 60.  

© The author/publisher