Book Review: By Noviolet Bulawayo

Hitting BudapestA group on children in a slummy neighborhood called Paradise move around foraging for guavas in a previously affluent neighborhood of Budapest that is almost fully deserted for abroad.

Hitting Budapest

A group on children in a slummy neighborhood called Paradise move around foraging for guavas in a previously affluent neighborhood of Budapest that is almost fully deserted for abroad.

The characters are young ordinary kids who make life almost comically realistic.

The names of the characters are not easy to forget – Bastard, GodKnows, Fraction, Dudu the Bird and Mother of Bones.

The sense of playful social morphing among children is infectious. They do not carry their poverty on their sleeves, but the cheeky braveness of conducting a house to house operation stealing guavas demonstrates their approach to life and how in future they will move on to steals bigger things.  

Chipo, a young girl who was impregnated by her grandfather joins the guava operation not with shame although she spends more time rubbing her stomach than anything and knowing that the child is ‘supposed’ to be a boy, a tacit acceptance of what her society has bequeathed her – an child form an incestuous relationship and an expectation for first born male, even though the ‘thinks it is a girl,’ because it is not kicking.

Bulawayo’s style is compelling. She avoids flowery language but is a queen of showing, not telling, using a healthy dose of innuendo effectively to emphasize a point.

“My stomach just feels like someone just took a shovel and dug everything out of it.”

Her ability to portray the things most mundane into a very laughable joke, using negative conditions to inject humor in the plot, is outstanding.

“When it comes to defecating, we get in so much pain, like trying to give birth to a country.”

Noviolet’s dialogue is unforced and well scripted and adds to the richness of the narration. She uses the naming of streets …. Hope, AU, SADC, IMF Street, to depict irony amidst the desolateness, the names stand out sorely as symbols of those who have power but cannot come to the aid of a rundown Zimbabwe, some sort of barking dogs that cannot bite.

The slight weakness in the story is the last suicide scene which as much as is used to prove a point serves to break the tone of the story where she managed to portray suffering and inadequacy without turning to tragedy arising from hopelessness that is usually associated with African writing appealing to western audiences.

Noviolet Bulawayo’s narrative does not give away which African country it is set early enough, though her name suggests.

Hitting Budapest is the kind of story you begin to read because you have to do a review and midway, you forget about the job and just glide into the lines.

The discovery of a suicide at the end of the story shows the imaginative attitude of the bunch of kids. First they run away in fear, then one of them convinces them to go back and take the expensive shoes all with a simple promise of much sought for bread – a poignant reminder that the story is after all set in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

Hitting Budapest, originally published by the Boston Review has been nominated for the 2011 Caine Prize for African writing.

kelviod@yahoo.com

ADVERTISEMENT