CHIRUNDU by Es'kia Mphahlele


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South African novelist Mphahlele (Down Second Avenue, The Wanderers) turns his attention to the coils of power and change--expressed symbolically in the dreaded figure of the nsato (the python) and realistically in that of Chimba Chirundu, the Minister of Transport and Public Works in an independent, Malawi-like southern African country circa 1966. As the book begins, Chirundu is on trial for bigamy, for having married well-educated Monde (a city woman) after he had already married Tirenje, the faithful mother of his children (who lives out in the country). Thus, several themes intersect here: European laws grafted onto (but clashing with) traditional ones; the status of women; the corruption of bureaucratic power. There's also an extra dimension forced up through the impatient younger generation, represented by Chirundu's political nephew Mayo (a strike-leader against his uncle's transport system). And Mphahlele delivers some powerful moments--especially in Tirenje's wailing letters, her semi-articulate pleadings with her husband to give up his sleek new woman (and her modern ways). So, though the presentation is sometimes rough and balky--too much trial transcript, too much shredding of narrative viewpoint--this is a valuable novel: one of our few first-hand glimpses (Bebey, above, is another) into the chaos brought about by the new order in black Africa.

Pub Date: Nov. 16th, 1981
Publisher: Lawrence Hill