This book is a work of art. I don’t actually know how to begin to describe it, and to describe the turmoil of emotions that have been swirling through my body ever since I began to read it a week ago. It’s lyrical, historical, funny, heartbreaking, evil, and so sad, so sad. And I still don’t know whether I want to hug the main character, or scream when I think of him.
Zamani is a lodger in Abednago and Mama Agnes’ home, renting the little room in the back yard, and has become close to the family. When their son Bukhosi, who Zamani has taken under his wing, disappears, Zamani makes it his mission to become an integral part of what he calls his surrogate family. He aims to gain their trust and love by helping them talk about their pasts, their “hi-stories”, and using them to create a new “hi-story” for himself.
What Abednago, Mama Agnes, and Bukhosi don’t know is that their home was once Zamani’s home, where he grew up with his uncle. His ultimate goal is to wipe out his own family history, especially the dark secret that his uncle uttered to him in his dying breaths, and replace it with a new one, and a new family. At a glance that sounds really creepy, but as you read the story you understand that the decision is based on the trauma and horror that Zamani’s family went through, and the need to erase it all in order to be able to live life with a clean, untainted slate. Obviously things take twists and turns, and all is not what it seems, as Abednago and Mama Agnes’ hi-stories are both heavy with blood, trauma, and sadness too.
House of Stone by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma is written in such a way that through Zamani’s thoughts, sometimes stream of consciousness, sometimes retelling of an event, journal-style, we learn about Zimbabwe. Such a brilliant way to learn all about the birth of the country, and the acts of horror that brutalized and scarred half of the population. The book tells the story of the Gukurahundi, from the perspective of the survivor and the next generation.
I think it’s impossible not to be somewhat aware of the history of Zimbabwe, and of Robert Mugabe and his legacy, but reading House of Stone gave me a much deeper and in-depth view of the country and its recent history (or “hi-story” as Zamani likes to say), that I now feel compelled to learn more, and to read more literature from the country. From revolution to revolution to being ruled by a steel hand for years, a genocide denied and swept under the carpet, and the refusal to even let an entire population bury their dead and heal their scars, Zimbabwe seen through House of Stone is a country of paradoxes.
This book made me feel really, really sad. Growing up without a parent who died in a violent manner is one thing that I can relate to, but growing up without parents and carrying the trauma of a generation on your shoulders is another. I also felt somewhat bad for taking a liking to Zamani, because he is not a likeable character on paper, but you are drawn to him nonetheless. Hence the sadness I think. All of the characters are stuck with a past they want to forget but cannot, because they are never given the chance to.
Anyway, I personally thought House of Stone was brilliant. It took me a few chapters to get stuck in, but once I got used to Zamani’s thought process and storytelling I couldn’t put the book down and found myself thinking about it when I wasn’t reading. It is vividly graphic at times, stomach-turningly so, but it is also written in such beautiful lyrical prose, and the contrast between now and then, them and us widens and narrows as we read, creating a work of art in prose form about the birth and existence of a country that we don’t talk about enough.
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance copy, and to Novuyo Rosa Tshuma for writing this wonderful story!