My seventh read of the 2022 Booker Prize longlist was NoViolet Bulawayo’s Glory (Viking 2022). Coming in at 400 pages, it’s considerably longer than the last Booker book I read and at my sweet spot for size. Bulawayo is also not new to the Booker Prize, her debut was shortlisted in 2013.
Postcolonial literature is one of my favorite genres in part because of what Rushdie dubbed so many decades ago as “the empire writes back,” and Glory delivers with that vengeance Rushdie was talking about; it’s George Orwell’s Animal Farm but in Zimbabwe. Centered around the 2017 forced resignation of Robert Mugabe, Glory uses a beast fable as a political allegory to tell a story that otherwise history might chew up and spit out differently.
The novel is set in the fictional postcolonial Jidada. Old Horse has been ruling for decades and is said to control the sun. His reign is marked with violence and corruption. As he becomes a bit senile, his wife, Dr. Sweet Mother (a donkey), seeks her own glory and to rule. The Comrades, his soldiers (and always dogs), hatch a plot with his VP, Tuvy to put Tuvy in the seat of power and force Old Horse to resign. They are successful and a charade of an election ensues.
Destiny and her mother, Simiso, are bookends to two violent attacks – one in 1983 and one in 2008. Destiny disappeared in 2008 without a peep. But she returned when Old Horse was removed from power because she thought, hoped, prayed it would mark a positive change. The prodigal daughter returned; she will become the voice of a revolution.
“Isn’t it something, Destiny, how sometimes stories will raise the dead, as if they are not dead at all but alive in our mouths, only waiting to be animated by our tongues?”
I lost count of the number of times “glory” was referenced and in so many different contexts. Some parts of the novel are slightly repetitive, giving the cadence of an oral story-telling tradition. Other phrases or words are repeated over and over, creating a chant that floods the reader’s ears. It’s a powerful storytelling format.
I loved this novel, but it’s a hard read. But tholukuthi it’s worth it.
Read this book.
Booker count: 7 of 13