BY ALEXANDER MATTHEWS
Every so often you pick up a book that calmly kicks you in the stomach, and though it hurts (damn, it hurts), you keep turning the pages because you have to.
Shadows is one of those books. Both a novella and short story collection, it is searingly painful at times — but don’t let that put you off. Just 25-years-old, Novuyo Rosa Tshuma is an exciting, urgent and vital new addition to southern African literature with a maturity and wisdom that goes far beyond her age. She holds your hand gently as she shows you this world, this dark, dangerous world of crowded Jozi tenements and bustling Bulawayo streets and endless bank queues, clinic queues, visa queues, border queues. The sights, the torture, harassment, shortages, emptiness, the brutal pragmatism — where, in a casually misogynistic world, a woman’s body can be both her saviour and her curse — are not pleasant. But stay with Tshuma: you’re in good hands.
Her prose is mostly unaffected, its raw content matter-of-factly told, occasionally singing with poetry – Monday is “a bruised morning bleeding streaks of purple”; on another day “whispers of smoke puff into the sky”.
Shadows reminds us of the power and the importance of fiction to sensitise us to both the suffering and the stoicism of others. How easy it is to become blasé about a tragedy that has unfolded for too long; we see the signs but we stop witnessing them. With Tshuma’s stories there is no escape. They yank you beyond the headlines about the Zimbabwean crisis, beyond those mid-Noughties pictures of empty supermarket shelves and show you the human cost, the harsh ordinariness of daily life in an imploded economy, in a country with a boot on its neck. It still breathes, but only just.
We may read to escape or to connect. To read Shadows is to abandon indifference and to, however briefly, ache over the travails of our northern neighbour.
Shadows is published by Kwela, R175.