Julius Chingono was the son of a farm worker, and spent much of his life as a blaster on the mines in his native Zimbabwe, before a late blooming as a rather fine author. Not Another Day is a collection of his poems and short stories, and is an excellent introduction to his work.
The collection reveals Chingono’s ability to write revealingly, and with a sharply comic eye, about the lives of ordinary working people. Thus, for example, one story is about a funeral that descends into farce when the coffin will not fit through the front door; another is about a religious man’s attempts to ride a crowded bus without ever touching a woman. Even his serious stories are tinged with comedy; here for example, is his deliciously funny description of a woman who has just won an argument: ‘she shook her body vigorously, like a big hen after a sexual encounter.’
While rarely overtly ‘political,’ the work in this collection also reveals a real engagement with Zimbabwe’s recent troubles. Chingono did not come from a wealthy background, and perhaps because of this he has a real feeling for the concerns of the poor, and writes movingly about the difficulties of staying afloat in a collapsing economy. One especially sad little piece, ‘Tomorrow Is Not Another Day,’ is about a little girl who allows herself to be raped by a neighbour in exchange for food.
This collection is in English, and I was greatly impressed by Chingono’s mastery of what was his second language. It was only very occasionally that I found the construction or choice of words a little awkward – as for example in one story where he refers to someone’s ‘place of residence’ rather than their home, house, or room. His remarkable command of the language is best revealed in his poetry, which while apparently simple, is often impressively complex, and very moving. This poem, ‘The African Sun,’ is an excellent example of his manner:
The African Sun
even upon dictators
Sets even upon despots.
Not Another Day is a very funny, and often very moving, collection of poems and short stories, which captures accurately life in contemporary Zimbabwe. Julius Chingono died on January 2, 2011, and the literature of that country is certainly poorer for having lost his sharp eye and kind heart. We are fortunate that a last collection of his work, with John Eppel, TOGETHER, is being launched this month in Zimbabwe.
Sarah Norman is a Zimbabwean who splits her time between Harare and Nairobi. She documents her reading life in the blog White Whale (www.booksof2010.blogspot.com)