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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Strife

by
Shimmer Chinodya


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Strife



Title: Strife
Author: Shimmer Chinodya
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006
Length: 223 pages
Availability: Strife - US
Strife - UK
Strife - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : often powerful family saga, but seems to miss some of the marks

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Mail & Guardian . 17/7/2007 Percy Zvomuya


  From the Reviews:
  • "Strife could be encapsulated as a struggle between modernity and the past. The soul of the story is how an upwardly mobile family -- who all go to university -- negotiate an aggrieved past. Their predicament is that they believe traditional modes of atonement are not becoming for people of their station. (...) The novel ends on a preachy note, the narrator, in a way, summing up what he has been telling us over the 200 or so pages. (...) It is a compelling and disturbing read nevertheless, in which the horrors of the past are lived in the moment." - Percy Zvomuya, Mail & Guardian

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Strife is a family saga, the story of the Gwanagaras, shifting between earlier generations' histories and that of the current one. Godfrey, called Godi ("it definitely has no allusions to God or to freedom", he immediately makes clear), narrates much of the book (and shapes, one imagines, the rest of the narrative). It is the story of him and his siblings, and his parents, that dominates -- but the past weighs heavily on the present.
       "Oh, how strife can destroy rationality !" is one of the cries in the novel, and several of the characters suffer from some form of irrationality. It begins with Godi's older brother, Rindai, felled by an epileptic fit on his wedding night, his life burdened by the unpredictability of the affliction hanging over him (and he doesn't help matters by being drawn to alcohol). Their younger brother, Kelvin, will also suffer from mental illness, becoming a full-blown schizophrenic:

     Ping, pong. Ping, pong.
     Kelvin and Rindai alternate illnesses. When Kelvin is ill, Rindai is not; when Rindai is, Kelvin is not. It is as if a roaming affliction has camped within our household.
       Chinodya shifts back and forth from the vividly imagined historic scenes of long ago, presented in language that tends towards the mytho-poetic, to the more traditional narrative of, for example, the father's earlier years, and how he got his job (starting as a shoe-salesman for Mr.Punjab, for whom he works for some four decades, as the business grows into: "one of the biggest wholesalers, departmental and supermarket groups in Gweru") and wooed their mother. The consequences of the brothers' afflictions are one of the dominant threads; as consequential, ultimately, is the mother's death and the father's attempt to carry on. He has ambitious plans ("'Talk him out of it,' our wives and sisters urge with feminine instinct"), but instead of expansion and growth only destruction follows, as yet another son-figure -- Bramson, who helped around the house -- brings self-destructive ruin with him.
       The children -- educated, doing well in their city-jobs -- remain a more complicated presence. Except for the closer looks at Rindai and Kelvin Godi seems wary of telling -- or is it admitting ? -- too much about them. Even when they are together, Godi doesn't get too much into specifics:
Like mother's Bramson's death has afforded us, precocious siblings, starved of spontaneity, the opportunity to vent our souls upon each other. We argue back and forth, fiercely and bitterly, till our souls glow like heath-stones. We argue about everything -- about Kelvin whom we have dubiously sought to reform by banishing to the streets; about father who has been ruined by trust and what we can only perceive as ambition. [...] Rindai entangles himself in vain hypotheses, I am hypocritical, Shuvai introduces a note of laconic naivety, Vimbai parades her saintly airs and domestic martyrdom, and Tendai stings us with a new smugness that has come with recent financial independence. Our wives smirk in the firelight.
       Godi is of Shimmer Chinodya's generation (and it's hard not to see much of Gweru-born (in 1957) Chinodya in his narrator), but one of the striking features of the book is how little is made of (or blamed on) the surrounding political situation. Been there, done that (in Harvest of Thorns, for example) is certainly one of the explanations, but it's still almost stunning to read:
       Now what year is it ?
       1980.
       Zimbabwe is newly independent; the war of liberation is over and a black government is in power; there is celebration in the air but we're already beginning to harvest thorns, blah, blah, blah ....
       Chinodya focusses on the personal, and it's often impressive -- but Godi and most of the other siblings still remain too shadowy, as if he doesn't want to put the spotlight on them (or doesn't want to fully acknowledge what he's made of his life). It's the scenes that involve more of the family -- when the mother is dying, when dealing with the father's situations -- that are the strongest, but in falling back upon the irrationality as embodied in, especially, Kelvin it's almost like he's looking for a way out (or an excuse).
       Chinodya sums up what he's been trying to show fairly creatively in the end, including in this exchange with a woman Godi picks up in his car:
       'Think of the genes that run in your family; the similarities and differences over generations. The repetition of lives. Think.'
       I think of hunters, artists and seers. Of flower-gatherers and plant-breeders. Of pontificators and peacemakers. Of believers and sceptics. Of the outspoken and the candid. Of saints and cuckolds. Of tears and laughter. Of madness unending.
       Good God in the heavens, how clear the tapestry of our lives now seems ! How related it all appears in its disparateness. How the repetitions, nuances and contrasts fall into place.
       But in the novel they don't fall quite so neatly in place (hence, presumably, also the need for Chinodya to hammer home his message in this way). A final stage-piece -- a mini-drama -- isn't quite as obvious, and thus a more interesting turn on events (and again lets Chinodya display his versatility), but in the end it adds to the feeling that the book isn't quite sure of how to convey its message .

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Links:

Strife: Reviews: Other books by Shimmer Chinodya under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books from and relating to Africa

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About the Author:

       Zimbabwean writer Shimmer Chinodya was born in 1957.

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© 2007-2008 the complete review

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