Nyears ago NoViolet Bulawayo released her debut novel, we need new names. Grown out of the Caine Prize-winning short story Hitting Budapest, this adult tale depicts 10-year-old Darling and his friends fighting for survival in a slum in Zimbabwe. They do this with extreme flexibility and humor; a thread that runs vigorously through his second novel, Glory.
We Need New Names was widely recognized as a powerful story of displacement, in distinctive and poetic prose, and made Bulawayo the first Black African woman to enter the Booker Prize. The language of Glory is just as charming, with added stylistic dexterity.
Inspired by George Orwell’s Animal Farm, it takes place in the fauna of Glory Jidada. After 40 years of rule, he is ousted in a “Old Horse” coup, along with his very despised wife, a donkey named Marvelous. At first, there is great joy and hope for change under a new reigning horse, Tuvius Delight Shasha (a former rival of Old Horse). Hope, however, fades quickly, and a period of despair after the coup enters a young goat named Destiny who returns from exile to witness a country rampant with greed, corruption, and false prophets. Some elements of the story will sound familiar. In a note to the reader, Bulawayo explains that he tried to write in the literature about the November 2017 coup in Zimbabwe and the fall of Robert Mugabe, but found a better form in his political satire.
As we need New Names, Bulawayo tends to exaggerate and irony to tell hard truths. Glory is full of comedy and farce, mocking an autocratic regime while illustrating the absurdity and surreal nature of police states. Here, for example, is an extravagant, ironic list of ministers in the Jidada government that reflects the extent and depth of corruption: Minister of Disinformation, Minister of Robbery ‘. While in the Series, the human attitude of animals waiting to buy scarce goods brings a double comedy: “Standing on hind legs, leaning against the back wall, wrapping their tails or pulling between the legs. Sitting on the sidewalk. Squat. Clinging to the walls. Sleeping lines. Sleep squeezed like hot bread in a row. Sleep with your eyes open in a row.
Much of everything is familiar from Zimbabwe’s post-coup history, from popular slogans that mean the opposite – “Open to Business” and “New Provision” – to actors and events. The amazing donkey, “Dr Sweet Mother,” with “Gucci Heels,” represents Zimbabwe’s former first lady, Grace Ntombizodwa Mugabe, who earned her PhD degree in just three months – or as the novel writes, “before she could,” let’s diss , for the dissertation ”. The scapegoat training of the first lady is also familiar, which is the reason for the loss of the Old Horse’s bullets.
But you don’t have to know Zimbabwe to enjoy this novel. As with all good satires, the concrete is for the universal; and many of these peculiarities are immediately recognizable — a video that captures the painful cries of “I can’t breathe”; a sham commitment to “free, fair and credible elections”; calls to “make Jidada great again”. Similarly, the heartbreaking descriptions of genocide, corrupt rulers and their comrades, and a fearful, traumatized nation will be heard all over the world. Glory is in good company with Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka’s 2021 biting critique of Nigerian society, Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth. Perhaps we are seeing the beginning of a new wave of political satire for African writers.
Glory is also a fresh and modern conception of our relationship to the virtual world and the novel form itself. There are two countries in Jadada: “the country of the country was the real physical space in which the Jadadans walked and lived, lined up, suffered, and suffered pain, and there was the other country where the Jadadans logged in, roared, raged, and ventilated”. This other country is immortalized not only by hilarious hashtags and tweets, but also by animal bites that reflect on current events. This narrative saturated with social media, interwoven with idiomatic speech and verbal storytelling techniques of call and answer, makes Bulawayo a pioneer. Even the stylistic use of the chorusTholukuthi”I.e.‘ just discovering ’(such as“ You thought you were getting a good novel like We Need New Names, the second part of tholukuthi Bulawayo is even more dazzling ”) nods to a social media moment. During the Zimbabwe coup, Tholukuthi Hey! was released, and after it spread, the chorus became a meme. “Tholukuthi” also serves as a spell and punctuation in a novel that will speak for generations.
Bulawayo does not restrain himself from telling the truth to the authorities. He writes urgently and boldly, keeping a mirror of both Zimbabwe today and the world. The intrepid and innovative chronicle of politically repressive times also evokes other great storytellers such as Herta Müller, Elif Shafak and her Zimbabwean compatriot Yvonne Vera. The glory, with hope shining in the end, is an allegory, a satire and a fairy tale in a huge blow.