JUST like music classics, which refuse to fade, good literature is also timeless and will always remain relevant despite generational transformations within the environment we live in.
I recently revisited Charles Mungoshi’s “Coming of the Dry Season”, which is a collection of short stories. Despite the book having been published in the early ‘70s, I could relate to the stories, most of which have strong reflections of local culture and conflicting ideologies.
There has always been a conflict between local cultural values and taboos against academic and scientific ideologies — Mungoshi managed to create situations where these were addressed. The author’s creativity knows no bounds and the varying story-lines that are set in different environments keep the reader looking forward to the next story.
In the story “The Crow”, the cultural depiction of how people fear elements that are associated with witchcraft is highlighted. Two boys set out to kill a crow, which has recently completed constructing a nest by the riverside and their adventure is captured in a manner that keeps the reader glued to the pages with each turn of events fuelling anticipation.
The narrator expresses how he fears killing a bird that is black in colour, how he feels about darkness as well as the bad things that are believed to happen at night. His description of the atmosphere and silence in the bush they were wondering in is on point.
After the bird has been hit by a catapult the author expertly describes its desperate attempts to flee from the hunters. Even after being hit several times and thrown in the river the two brothers believe that it is still alive, further fuelling their speculation that it is bad omen to kill such a creature.
In “The Mountain”, two friends are travelling to a bus station which is miles away early in the morning while it is still dark.
The shortest way for them to get to their destination is to cross a mountain, which is believed to be occupied by spirits. The narrator, an educated someone, disputes the existence of such things while his uneducated friend is a strong believer of such.
During their walk, the two are at loggerheads with the other telling of ancient stories of what used to happen on the mountain while the educated friend is of the idea that these were just lies that were created by individuals to make their lives interesting.
Within the story there is a point at which the presence of the supernatural is felt by both parties and the one who has been refusing to admit that such places exist later on mentions that they had indeed passed through the unnatural.
The writer’s description of the scenario is meant to give the reader the chills that were felt by the two characters. “Suddenly through the dark trees a warm wind hit us in the face as if someone had breathed on us. My belly tightened but I did not stop. I heard Chemai hold his breath and grasp, ‘We have just passed a witch’. I wanted to scream at him to stop but I had not the voice.”
The stories in this book are intriguing and explore various aspects of life from the rural setting to the urban scene. These events might have been created in days gone by but the stories still have the same enlightening effect.
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