Zenzele: A Letter for My Daughter, by J. Nozipo Maraire

Here's another one that came from the donation table.  It's Maraire's only novel, published in 1996 (a 25th anniversary edition has just come out).  Although it's short for a novel, it's very long for a letter, which is the form that it takes.

This letter is addressed to Zenzele, a driven young woman who is about to leave for the United States and an education at Harvard.   Shiri, her mother, wants to share her thoughts with her daughter, and gives them to her in this form.  Shiri claims to be a traditional woman who has always focused on her home and family, and has watched Zenzele grow up to be a politically-involved, ambitious young woman who takes after her father in many ways -- but this turns out not to be quite true.  As the letter unfolds, Shiri is revealed to be part of an impressive family.  Her sister and cousin fought in the war for colonial Rhodesia to become independent Zimbabwe; her husband is a prominent lawyer.  For her entire adult life, Shiri has moved in rarefied society and participated in her society's efforts to improve life for everyone.

And so Shiri has a lot to say on what it means to be an African woman -- or an African citizen; on the aftermath of colonialism and the question of how much to absorb Western culture versus clinging to their own cultural roots.  She tells stories about her childhood and the women she loves most.  She tells the story of her first love and of how she met and married Zenzele's father.

It's a lovely letter; not only a fictional letter to an adult daughter entering the wider world, but a love letter to Zimbabwe and African independence.  I did feel that it was perhaps a little too idealized or aspirational -- Shiri and the people she knows seem more perfect than anyone could be.  I don't know if that's a feature of the story, or if it's a flaw, or maybe just a difference in preference.

Zenzele is a beautiful novel, and an ideal choice for the reader new to African literature.  I'd say it's essential reading for anyone wishing to read 'the essentials' of African literature, too.   

Update: My goodness, I've been slacking on my reading and blogging.  I've been doing a lot of stitching, though, and that's been enjoyable!  I'm on the upward swing from this slump, I think.  I also had some very sad news over the weekend.  My friend (and one of my many college roommates) was diagnosed with ALS about four years ago, and a few days ago she departed this world.  She was such a lovely person, and so many are devastated by her loss.  I'm so very grateful that I was able to see her back in 2019, before none of us could go anywhere any more.


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