Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo has won major African literary award the Caine prize for her short story about a starving gang of children from a shanty town.
Bulawayo’s Hitting Budapest tells the story of six children in Zimbabwe, one of them pregnant with her grandfather’s baby, and the journey they make to steal guavas in a rich area. Chair of the Caine prize’s judges, the Libyan novelist Hisham Matar, said the story’s language “crackles”.
“Right now I’d die for guavas, or anything for that matter. My stomach feels like somebody just took a shovel and dug everything out,” writes Bulawayo. “Getting out of Paradise is not so hard since the mothers are busy with hair and talk. They just glance at us when we file past and then look away. We don’t have to worry about the men under the jacaranda either since their eyes never lift from the draughts. Only the little kids see us and want to follow, but Bastard just wallops the naked one at the front with a fist on his big head and they all turn back.”
Matar said the gang in the story – Darling, Bastard, Chipo, Godknows, Stina and Sbho – was “reminiscent of Clockwork Orange. But these are children, poor and violated and hungry”. He praised Bulawayo’s “moral power and weight”, and her “artistry to refrain from moral commentary”, saying that she “is a writer who takes delight in language”.
Born and raised in Zimbabwe, Bulawayo has just completed her MFA at Cornell University in America, where she now teaches. “The story came from this need to engage with the world,” she said this morning. “I’m interested in what happens when two different worlds meet in a problematic way, I’m interested in honesty and in violence. These are real issues and real things.”
Although her character Darling longs to live in America, and Bulawayo has lived in the US since 1999, the country “does not feel like home”, the author said. “I miss home. I want to go and write from home. It’s a place which inspires me. I don’t feel inspired by America at all,” she said.
The Zimbabwean writer was “excited” to win the Caine prize, which is worth £10,000 and known as the African Booker, counting Wole Soyinka, Nadine Gordimer and JM Coetzee among its patrons. “It’s one of Africa’s biggest literary prizes,” she said. Bulawayo has just completed a novel, tentatively entitled We Need New Names, which “explores some of the same themes as the story”, and is working on a memoir, but has yet to find either a literary agent or a publisher. “I hope somebody finds the manuscript worthwhile,” she said. Previous winners of the Caine prize include Zimbabwean Brian Chikwava, Sudan’s Leila Aboulela and Nigerian writer Helon Habila, all of whom now have book deals.