THE narrator and protagonist in Lloyd K. Matowe’s The Sting of an Era, Boy, the main character, takes the reader through an exploration of what it is to be an ambitious Zimbabwean born in the wee years of independent black rule and catapulted into the diaspora in post-independent Zimbabwe.
Between the Lines Mabasa Alen Zimunya
Boy forces the reader to analyse the trials and tribulations that one on a rags-to-riches journey from Rhodesia into Zimbabwe had to go through. The kaleidoscope of hardships Boy goes through takes the reader on a pothole-riddled ride through pain that the era of Zimbabwean history he focuses on has dragged many surviving victims through.
Boy does this by tracing his own life from birth in a far-flung rural area in Rhodesia to the attainment of a doctorate degree in Scotland. The space in between is filled with details of Boy’s life, his family, his community and a lot more. This culminates in a fascinating tale of not only Boy’s coming-into-being but a microscopic record of a life thrust upon those of Boy’s ilk and time. From his mother who could not take care of him, through the ever pious Mbuya, his siblings such as the latter day hedonistic Mkoma and Misfortune to the affable Graham and the unfortunate Diane, the brute Butch and the effeminate Elaine, one experiences what an ordinary boy of Boy’s time has had as rites of passage. The reader can never miss Deprive’s seductive innocence that soiled the “semi-clean white bed sheets” and the innocent malice of the affable Grevious and the faceless More.
Much as this offering does not seek to pit itself against the diasporic readings of the likes of NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names, one cannot escape the fact that The Sting of the Era claws its way into recognition. There are unmistakable moments of aesthetic brilliance in the writer’s wit in moments of lucid descriptions such as Mkoma’s iconic portrayal of a sexually-transmitted infection, which he considers as a blister one gets from frequently cutting trees using a hand axe. This is a simple but excellent exegesis of the socio-economic vagaries that see characters like Mai Muponesi philosophising that, “sure Aids does kill, but also does hunger” and the narrator’s cynical old acquaintance summing up Zimbabwe’s inflation woes in a toilet paper adage as being “more economical” using “five hundred dollar bills for wiping one’s ass than buy toilet paper.”
The Sting of the Era also offers the reader an intriguing glimpse into some of the cultural elements of some of Zimbabwe’s people through characters such as Royai. It touches on the stinging contemporary diasporic issue of rootlessness and routelessness while offering many a chuckle at the same time.
If there is anything delightfully hateful about The Sting of the Era, it is its ending. The reader is left on tenterhooks figuring out Boy’s fate. Therein lies the strength of this read – it criss-crosses the literary terrain from Shakespeare to Naipaul and Dickens and leaves the reader itching to be part of the tradition.
This is a read that will get one riveted. It is a reading that announces its own unique contribution to the corpus of Zimbabwe’s diasporic literature. It’s worth a place on one’s shelf, no matter how small or big.