Two early novels showing the mesmerizing poeticism of Zimbabwean Vera (Butterfly Burning, 2000), this time in the lives and fortunes of two young women seeking a measure of solace in a war-torn, poverty-ridden, yet naturally beautiful land.
In the more compelling Without a Name (1994), Mazvitza is presented in brief episodic chapters, and the rhythms of the prose—dense, lyric, modestly mythic—lend themselves to the savoring that such short chapters allow. The story is simple: Mazvitza first meets and falls in love with a local village man, Nyenyedzi, but, in search of a vague “freedom,” travels by bus to Harare, the “big city” she has never glimpsed. There, she is taken in by Joel, who offers a sort of safety amid Harare’s flagrant decay, despair, and delight. Joel—intriguing, with a startling quickness about him—soon impregnates, and then discards, Mazvita, who finds herself and her unnamed child alone. In the prizewinning Under the Tongue (1996), Vera offers a more robust plot in the story of how young Zhizha came to find herself in the dreamy residence of her grandmother, her father dead and her mother dying beside her. Zhizha’s father, Muroyiwa, grew up the son of a blind man whose first son went off to fight in the omnipresent “war,” leaving Muroyiwa self-consciously behind. Vera’s prose is delicately engaging as she describes Muroyiwa’s butterfly-hunting trips to the mountains, one of the few bright spots in an otherwise emptying tale of incest and abuse. Zhizha’s mother, Runyararo, a ghostly presence sunk deeply into her illness, is recalled teaching the girl English and celebrating the return of local soldiers from the war. At the close is a surreal recollection of Muroyiwa’s violation of his girl.
Vera is one of the freshest, most evocative prose writers since Ondaatje, her sophisticated lyricism offering a poised tension as it details shattered landscapes, bodies, and dreams.