The bane of hypocrisy, greed and graft

28 Nov, 2021 - 00:11 0 Views
The bane of hypocrisy, greed and graft

The Sunday Mail

Book Review
Edmore Zvinonzwa

WHEN recording a country’s cultural history, the conflict between the past and the present is always apparent, wherein people usually are nostalgic about the past.

Some of Africa’s early writers like the legendary Chinua Achebe have done that with great success, juxtaposing pre-colonial and colonial Nigeria.

In “Things Fall Apart”, Okonkwo, a conservative in all respects, represents the “mighty tradition which is on the verge of falling”.

Several other authors have explored the same theme, placing the clash between tradition and modernity at the fore.

Perhaps Virginia Phiri (ictured right) does it with utmost dexterity as she knits it with contemporary topics. With Phiri, it ceases to be the ordinary conflict between tradition and modernity, as she tries to fuse several aspects of modern life, including education, into Jojo’s character. In her book “Grey Angels”, she narrates the tussle between tradition and modernity in an extraordinary way.

November is a month during which 16-Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) are observed. Some of the actions we see in the 238-page narrative touch on GBV.

The reading of “Grey Angels” becomes even more fitting as the author therein tussles with the bush school where Linda is forced to go.

The plot hinges on the intertwined conflicts that the reader meets in the narrative.

For instance, Father has already planned to get Linda — a girl of exceptional power and determination — married without her consent.

Father is an embodiment of what is traditional in the narrative, although he does other things that are inconsistent with that.

The love for money and unbridled ambition in Jojo — an academic and staunch believer in patriarchal power — conflict with the very principles of tradition he purports to stand for.

Hypocrisy, greed, deception and corruption are key drivers of Jojo’s character.

Phiri, who is brutally honest in her writing, knits up very intricate pieces into the story of “Grey Angels”. Jojo extends his sabbatical because he has to avoid the Addos from whom he has taken vast amounts of money after promising that he would marry off Linda to the family.

“We had expected Father at the end of January, but he did not turn up. Our assumption was that he had been delayed. Mother was so upset that he had no decency to at least phone or let us know what had happened.” (p151)

One of Jojo’s greatest weaknesses is his greed, as shown by his attempt to marry off his daughter to the Addos. When the arrangement fails, Jojo starts evading the Addos.

He even harasses Billy, with whom Linda has fallen in love, in the hope of fulfilling the deal he had with the Addos.

He also stops at nothing to make money.

“My loyal former students, Adam and David, have been working tirelessly to help me establish my own Tradition, Culture and Research Institute . . . We have the money and the premises have already been purchased.” (p159)

The institute, which had been conducting “unethical experiments”, eventually and inevitably collapses.

“I was embarrassed that my own Father had caused the injuries because of greed and ambition.” (p181)

Jojo miraculously escapes from the fire that destroys the institute. The reunion with his family that follows is a marvel, but it does not last, especially after he chooses to join the Five Stars Church as leader.

While the woman and girl-child remain her protagonists, she employs them in an intriguing way, displaying that unparalleled poignancy in her narratives throughout the novel.

Phiri, who was born in Bulawayo in 1954, is an accountant by profession. She has also co-authored a number of Zimbabwe Women Writers anthologies (both fiction and non-fiction) and has also published “Desperate” (2002), “Destiny” (2006) and “Highway Queen” (2010).

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