ZENZELE by J. Nozipo Maraire


A Letter for My Daughter
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 A mother's letters to her daughter, a student at Harvard, are a poignant plea that she not forget her roots, family, or native country: a first novel from the Zimbabwean-born Maraire, now a neurosurgeon based in Connecticut. The epistolary structure here is more a vehicle for the vignettes, opinions, and recollections of narrator Shiri than a scheme for a long chronological story. With the exception of the last two letters, in which, hinting at impending outcomes, Shiri writes from her childhood home--where, ailing, she's gone to ``seek peace''--the letters seem to be more of a single time than widely spread out. Now middle-aged, Shiri shares with her daughter, Zenzele, what she's learned in her ``awkward journey through womanhood.'' She relates how she grew up in the countryside, trained as a nurse, married a lawyer prominent in the liberation struggle, and how she now, in an independent Zimbabwe, lives a life of upper-class ease not dissimilar from that of her colonial predecessors. She has servants and a large house, she travels abroad, and her children go to private schools, but she still doesn't want Zenzele to forget or slight the seemingly backward ways of the countryside. Shiri movingly describes the comforting rhythms of a childhood in which traditional behavior was honored--a time when she enjoyed such simple pleasures as driving with her father to a distant store to buy candy. She relates, as well, anecdotes of young women who became too Western; of a villager who went to study abroad and felt ashamed of his African roots; of her doomed first love; her meeting with Zenzele's father; and her sister Linda's role in the war for independence. Meanwhile, accounts of her experiences with racism both at home and abroad are supplemented with motherly advice and some awkward political commentary. Not homilies exactly (though the prose gets rather earnest at times) but, certainly, concerned prescriptions for the child of a changed Africa who's being exposed to all the deceptive lures of a wider new world. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-517-70242-8
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1995


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