Posted in History, Literature

BOOK REVIEW: THE HOUSE OF HUNGER by Dambudzo Marechera

Dambudzo Marechera is my favourite writer of all time. The House of Hunger epitomises what Marechera was all about and the Guardian Fiction Prize of 1979 was just icing on the cake. I have read the book over ten times over the years but I have never gotten round to reviewing it.

The title of the book arises from the novella with the same title which forms the biggest chunk of the book. In addition to the novella are nine short stories all aptly titled to give the reader a snapshot of the writer’s eccentricities. It is definitely not an easy book to review neither is it easy to read. The writer rapes us into journeying through his tormented mind. The title novella itself is hugely autobiographical as the narrator relates his ordeal in war-torn Rhodesia. The first sentence is epic; I got my things and left.What follows is a schizophrenic repertoire of literary genius as the narrator-cum-writer-trump takes the reader through the dusty streets of a black Rhodesia ghetto all the way via hell to his final escape from the house of hunger.

In characteristic Marechera-style, the narrator’s first sex lesson stands out. It is this particular part of the book that lured me to the man. I vividly remember the day our high school English Literature teacher described the scene in a disdainful but proud voice as he attempted to dissuade us from reading that type of Literature. Naturally that gave me the insatiable impetus to read every single word Marechera ever wrote. The sex lesson came as a rude arousal from slumber under his parents’ bed where the narrator had to sleep every night for lack of space. He hears the squeeking of the bed and the tortured breaths of the two custodians of the loins from whence he came. His first attempt of the same act got him a venereal disease; a disease which earns him the rite of passage into adulthood. The whole book reeks of violence. Gunshots are so commonplace it is difficult to hear the small still voice of the drunk and gifted poet. Flora Veit-Wild, Marechera’s biographer and lover, repeatedly clamoured that the author was more of a poet than a prose-writer. I agree. The same could be said of James Joyce whom Marechera emulated and revered.

Had Dambudzo Marechera not tragically died so young in 1987 (at the tender age of 32) I am quite certain every student of English Literature would have hated the man. His work is a nightmare to study. It is convoluted, sprinkled and true. He was a voracious and prodigious reader who wrote exactly what he read after first testing it out on his own life of coarse. The House of Hunger is a brilliant work of art and the best Zimbabwe has ever produced. It is a difficult book to read but very much worth the effort. I dare you to read it.

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy

BOOK REVIEW: ENIGMA by Robert Harris

Between the covers of this book are pages of raw talent. With ENIGMA, Robert Harris has driven me into a rut where every other book I am going to have the misfortune of reading will only pale in comparison to the sheer quality of just this one book.

The plot is deceptively predictable – a genius, young but eccentric mathematician gets a crack at decoding the legendary Nazi naval code Enigma while falling for a sweet but wayward dame who may or may not be a spy. It is the typical plot for this particular genre; a genre built around the complex and by nature illicit art of mathematically decoding codes (cryptanalysis). The young Tom Jericho gets invited back to Bletchley Park (the British spy headquarters for code-breakers) from a sojourn he was forced to take in quiet Cambridge following a nervous meltdown at work. On his unceremonious arrival – as the prodigal weakling – he is shocked to find the the girl he lost his virginity and marbles to, Claire, had literally gone AWOL. He acquires the uncanny assistance of Claire’s roommate Hester in searching for the disappeared lass.

What sets ENIGMA apart from the numerous other books in this genre is the depth of understanding of the science itself exquisitely blended with powerful prose and hints of poetry to create a beautiful work of art. It is lines like, ‘She wore her long, dark hair like a headache….'{describing Hester on page 301) that remind the reader that what they have in their hands is not just a novel but a literary work of art. As I was reading the book I could not help but silently compare it with what I thought was up to that point the best book in the genre, Dan Brown’s DIGITAL FORTRESS. After I read Dan Brown’s book I always felt like the book was well researched and interesting but there was one thing it was missing. I never knew what that thing was till I read Robert Harris’ book. What DIGITAL FORTRESS was missing was Robert Harris.

I highly recommend him.

Posted in History, Literature, Neuroscience, Philosophy

BOOK REVIEW: NEMESIS by Isaac Asimov

This is by far the most intense scientific work of fiction I have ever read. The genius and prolific Professor of Biochemistry Isaac Asimov outdid himself in this book. It exudes a nostalgic aura of missing one’s future even before one has lived out his present.

The book is set in the third century of this millennium, in a world where technology is only limited by the depths of astrological exploration. Man has set up colonies in space. The ultimate drive of humanity is a way out of Earth or rather OFF it. Our planet has become a cesspit of disease, poverty and anarchy. Only the colonies offer some modicum of peace and order. Societies are once again divided along racial lines with the best of them setting up base in their own ‘world’. Among these many colonies strewn all over the galaxy is Rotor a community of mostly scientists ruled by an astute political visionary by the name of Commissioner Julius Pitt. He sets the ball rolling when his chief Physicist Dr Insigna discovers a planet that can possibly sustain life. He launches a campaign to convince the citizens of Rotor to pack up and go to the dwarf star Nemesis. They agree and they move. The book is essentially about the effects of that move.

The way this simple story is interwoven and well-thought out is outright astounding. It left me asking myself, “Did all this come from just one brain?”. To make things even more interesting if one were to read a good number of Isaac Asimov’s books an obvious trend of dabbling in the prophetic. This book proves just that. It was ahead of its time. In fact I can say, with a heavy helping of imagination, that Isaac Asimov deserves a place right next to George Orwell in the Literature Hall of Fame.

Posted in History, Medical, Philosophy

PERILS OF AN INTERN DOCTOR: Part One

He cannot escape from the fear. The fear of making a fatal mistake; the fear of exposing his own ignorance; the fear of being personally held accountable for the smallest of mistakes and ultimately the fear of turning out to be a bad doctor. The life of a medical intern is hell on earth with glimpses of heavenly beauty: the beauty of delivering a newborn baby in distress, the beauty of repairing God’s anatomy back to functionality and the beauty of life itself.

Almost all medical schools on the entire planet set aside a protracted period of trial after one acquires a medical degree. The ultimate outcome of that process is the validation, mostly by certification, that one is SAFE to be a caretaker of human life. Note the main requirement is SAFETY not COMPETENCE. Competence can essentially be easily faked (for example by cramming textbook paragraphs) but safety is much more measurable and consequently difficult to imitate. Safety is expected to exude from a doctor, it is supposed to be a lifestyle rather than a choice. Ever since the days of Hippocrates (and probably earlier) the doctrine of primum non nocere – first of all do no harm – has been placed as the cardinal requirement for one to be called a medical doctor.

When one graduates from medical school he/she is either timid or over-confident. Those who fall within the interim spectrum can tentatively be termed the ‘born doctors’. These are the young doctors who seem to have everything under control. Nothing seems to faze them; they feel and act well-equipped right from the beginning of their internship. Academic success in medical school is not in itself a guarantee for entry into this esteemed group. If anything good grades in medical school put one at risk of falling into the over-confident group just as much as poor grades demote the other outliers to the fringes of the ‘timid’ category.

There is however a unique set of medical interns that deserves special mention. These are the over-confident, narcissistic but ignorant young doctors who think going to medical school in itself sets them apart from and above their “lesser intelligent” counterparts in all other fields (they do not even recognise the prowess of physicists, mathematicians and the lot). They hold their heads up high, look down upon nurses and other ancillary hospital staff and absolutely loathe counsel or correction from the whole gamut of the “lesser intelligent”. They stubbornly carry this attitude throughout their internship and come out as half-baked but seemingly ‘safe’ doctors.

When the novice doctor sets foot inside a hospital for the first time after the gruelling years as a medical student he/she cannot help but try to identify themselves. The question in their heads is “what kind of doctor am I going to be?”.

Posted in History, Philosophy, politics, Theology

Zimbabwe Must Wake Up: SENTIMENTALITY has failed. It’s time for PRAGMATISM.

This country has always been governed by emotions rather than practicality. Both civil wars (the First and Second Chimurenga) were triggered by sensationalism over the land issue. The reality was that those who fought for the land did not know how to exploit it. The dilapidation of once productive farms we have seen since the land invasion validates this point.

It is rather unfortunate that greedy, selfish and ambitious politicians have time and time again vandalized this emotive vulnerability. They promise to give land to the masses but they loot all the best land and plunder it right in front of the electorate. It baffles the mind that Zimbabwean voters have continued to be this gullible to the extent of regressing to pre-colonial politico-religious beliefs of a sacred land run by the wise and old till their death. This is a dangerous precedence.

What Zimbabweans seem to forget is that religion has always been and will continue to be the most powerful political force in this country. The First Chimurenga was started and led by spirit mediums. Similarly the Second Chimurenga was largely propelled by a baseline belief in supernatural backing in the form of Nehanda Nyakasikana, one of the spiritual mediums who led the Shona people south of the continent from the kingdom of Ethiopia. Most people do not even have a modicum of comprehension of the later fact.

Religious influence in Zimbabwean politics somewhat died out with the exit of the first President of Zimbabwe, the Reverend Canaan Sodindo Banana. From then on Mugabe shifted to the stirring of people’s emotions with his oratory on “certain enemies who need to be kicked out.” The enemy has continued to change since independence from the British capitalists. First it was the ‘Ndebele dissidents’, then it was the Commonwealth, the West, the ‘traitors’ MDC and so on. Mugabe and his ZANU-PF cabal have now come to a point where they have run out of ‘enemies’. I am almost certain there is an adage out there which goes, ‘When hyenas run out of carcasses to eat they kill each other till only one remains.’ ZANU-PF cannot survive without fighting; it is in their DNA.

Since they have now seemingly run of prey to kill they have turned against each other. The hunter has become the hunted. The hunted however has made a fatal error: they thought they had totally destroyed opposition politics and quickly returned to their own squabbles without bothering to check whether the enemy was truly dead and buried. Their blow was powerful but only maimed the prey not kill them. Over the past four years the opposition has silently re-grouped and re-strategized and is now reasonably prepared for an all out war.

Only one presidential candidate was needed and they now have him. The most powerful arm of the electorate, the war veterans, have seen the light and are ready to talk business. The largest group of the electorate, the youth, are all riled up thanks to Pastor Evan Mawarire who played to the tune of the well-tested fallacy of sentimentality to effect political change. It appears almost all conditions are now conducive for true democratic change. All the fuss about voter registration and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) is just an issue of technicality. It represents a welcome shift in Zimbabwe politics. A transformation from putting emotions first to relying on good old facts as the dictum of governance.

The sheer number of opposition political parties which are converging to put practical matters over and above matters of self-interest and sensationalism gives credence to the preparedness of Zimbabwe for authentic democracy. Communism is on its way out.

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy

BOOK REVIEW: UP AT THE VILLA – W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM

It is no secret that I am a huge fan of W. Somerset Maugham. Perhaps it is because he tried to pursue a career in Medicine and fell in love with letters along the way. I can relate with that. His work Up At The Villa  however left me worried about this icon. I found the book heavily disturbing. I was as shocked with the book as the New York editor who commissioned the book. It left me wondering, ‘what on earth was Somerset thinking?”.

The book is about the immoral fling a beautiful and young widow has with a broke refugee who turns out to be mortally mentally unwell. The young man is so distraught with the inevitable after-the-one-night-stand rejection that he takes his own life right in front of his ephemeral lover, using her own gun. What is sad about the whole fiasco is that this was the widow’s first one-one stand in her entire life. It is as if the gods were telling the young lass ‘this is not your thing.’ To make matters more complicated she seeks the aid of a common playboy to cover up her mess. As if this was not enough she is tentatively bethroned to a highly successful but much older English diplomat who has a paedophile-type crush on her. Her chance at financial reprieve is brutally crushed after her confession to the the older suitor. In the end she settles for the roughshod Casanova.

Considering that the book was written in early 20th Century England it is entirely plausible that the novella was met with utter disdain upon its publication. It is highly probable that the book’s reception was somewhat similar to the initial reviews Fifty Shades of Grey received upon its release. Both works are an affront to the timeless values of morality that continue to simmer in the psyche of alert readers who open a book for its intrinsic value and nothing more.

My reading of Up At The Villa left me with a feeling of despair for the future of romance in the 21st Century. If such abhorrent ideas could be conceived and well-received in the ‘innocent’ decades of the 20th Century what hope remains for 21st Century literature? As I endured to the end of the book I kept asking myself, ‘is chivalry really dead?’

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, politics

ZIMBABWE Millennials have been betrayed by Rhodesian black youth

If one were to start from the assumption that the current state of affairs in Zimbabwe is as dire as the environment in Second Chimurenga Rhodesia it becomes easier to compare and comprehend the virtues and strengths of the hugely disadvantaged black Rhodesians in the 70’s as compared to the equally disadvantaged youths living in modern Zimbabwe. The youth of the former have become the fathers and mothers of the youth of the latter. It is natural for parents to compare their own youth with that of their children and at some point the children will also compare their young selves with their parents’ younger selves.

A convincing argument can be made that the odds the modern day parents had to fight against in their younger selves (70’s teens and young adults) are far much fewer than the hurdles of the present day teen and young adult. In the 1970’s there was a clearer political objective; defeat the whites. In the 2010’s the political objectives are more confusing and outright psychotic; the enemy has no direction. The pre-independence economy was far much more stable and comfortable than the 21st Century Zimbabwe economy. They were even more jobs per capita in Rhodesia than they are in black Zimbabwe. In hindsight, considering all the above, it seems the 70’s youths (who are now the millennials’ parents) were spoiled as compared to their children. They had the chance to succeed if only they worked hard enough. Today’s youths do not have that pleasure. Even if they work hard they will not succeed. There is no hope for their future because the older generations have stolen their past.

A plea from the 70’s youth can be tabled to the effect that they had to fight very hard to gain their independence and today’s youth should do the same if they are also to attain their own independence. Of course this is a credible argument but it is insufficient to offer a solution to a problem without working out the formula. In fact the formula to be employed in solving the myriad perils bedevilling the contemporary youths can never be the same as that invoked in the form of a civil war. A civil war in modern Zimbabwe is not an option. Not even close.

Young Zimbabweans crawling in the dusty streets of the ghettos do not have any other choice but to run away from the fight. Their only source of solace is in the arms of foreign aides since their own kith and kin have taken up arms and tortured democracy into submission. They have been silenced even before they speak. They have been made the enemy by their own parents. No heritage has been set aside for them. Everything has been plundered by those who have unilaterally assumed the throne of  ‘custodians of Zimbabwe’ and protectors of the land. Where then can their drive and hope come from? They were born with nothing and do not even know what they do not have. There is no hope for them because they were and will continue to be betrayed by those to took arms and never let those guns go.