One thing is clear – Petina Gappah has no concern for the feelings of the government in Zimbabwe. She is particularly scathing of one old man, who she portrays as petulant, arrogant, domineering, bombastic, and descending into probable senility. Nor is she much kinder about his younger self, and this is bound to get her into trouble because the man is, of course, Robert Mugabe.
A damning indictment is presented through thirteen short stories, exploring the way in which people cope with the difficulties of their lives, in a period ranging from the late 1960s to the present.
I have never been to Zimbabwe so I cannot verify the accuracy with which they present the lives of ordinary people. For an indication of that kind of accuracy, you would need to look to someone like Tawona Sithole or Tendai Huchu.
I can only say that these stories have the ring of truth to them. They are about people who are resilient, who can be cynical, especially about government. They are about people who can cope, or rather who can find ways of coping. They are about people bickering, gossiping, arguing, pulling together, surviving. They are stories about the human condition.
But they are also very specifically stories about the human condition in Zimbabwe, and in the Zimbabwean Diaspora. They are stories about the hopes and aspirations of ordinary people during the war of liberation. They are stories about people living in a country where the inflation rate is around 250%. They are stories about a country wracked with HIV and AIDs. They are stories about things going wrong. And they are stories about people dying and surviving.
They are stories about how we live and what we do to each other. And that is what makes them universal in scope.
Petina Gappah is appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in an event titled “Writing to Survive” on Wednesday 26th August 2015.