There have been many great books written about the country of Zimbabwe. It is a country full of rich history and culture and also full of struggle, specifically with defining the past and the present. With its recent election after almost 50 years of being under the rule of known tyrant Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe has been left with Emmerson Mnangagwa, a politician who spent more than 30 years of his political career under Mugabe’s rule, which brings about questions of his leadership.
Given the many novels written about Zimbabwe, we’ve picked five of what we think are the best and most important books to read, especially if you’d like to know more about the country.
Butterfly Burning by Yvonne Vera (1998)
Yvonne Vera writes a book about a doomed love affair in Bulawayo, Makokoba, set in the 1940s. Fumbatha, a construction worker, and Phephelaphi, a person who dreams to be a nurse, experiences the hardships and horrors that is brought about by a tragic event that happens in their lives. This tragedy tests their relationship and soon brings about trouble for the couple. It has garnered critically acclaimed reviews since its publication, making it one of the most iconic fictional books in the country.
House of Stone by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma (2018)
Tshuma’s epic satire is all about modern Zimbabwe’s rise from the colonial Rhodesia. It revolves around 24-year-old Zamani, who aspires to make everyone in his life – his father, his mother, and even his landlady – to love him more than they love his missing brother, Bukhosi. The story follows the exhumation of the country’s history, from the arrival of Cecil Rhodes, a British businessman who founded Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe and Zambia), to the death of the Ndebele royals, and finally, to the war of independence and beyond.
Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga (1988)
This haunting novel is a story about the struggles Tambu, a Zimbabwean woman, faces to attain her basic right to education, believing that it will help her out of rural poverty. It is her brother Nhamo’s death that spurs her on and opens up the opportunities she needs to succeed. Deemed a highly controversial book in traditional and conservative Zimbabwe, it was first rejected for its radical, feminist movement. Eventually, it was published in the Women’s Press in London, earning high praise for showing readers what it truly means to be a young woman in the patriarchal cultures of Zimbabwe.
Becoming Zimbabwe: A History from the Pre-colonial Period to 2008 by Brian Raftopoulos and Alois Mlambo (2009)
Considered as the first comprehensive account on the history of Zimbabwe, Becoming Zimbabwe talks about the origins of the nation from the years 850 to 2008. It discusses about the idea of national belonging and citizenship, the true meaning of state rule, the constantly changing political economy, and the dimensions of the country’s history. The book also tackles about the period of peace that Zimbabwe enjoyed after its independence on 1980. It transitions from peace to crisis in a short period of time, however, and one that still continues on today.
Dinner with Mugabe: The Untold Story of A Freedom Fighter Who Became A Tyrant by Heidi Holland (2008)
Perhaps one of the most famous books that caused great controversy in Zimbabwe, the late Heidi Holland writes a different perspective on Zimbabwe’s most famous tyrant, Robert Mugabe. It was inspired by an encounter she had with Mugabe back in 1975, wherein a friend of hers informed her that he was bringing a friend along to dinner, though he couldn’t say who it was. As they arrived, it was a surprise to Heidi that said guest would be Robert Mugabe, who just got out of jail after 11 years of imprisonment and was about to escape the border into Mozambique and take control of the war against white rule. After dinner, Heidi dropped him off at the train station, worried about her infant son being left alone in the house. The next day, Mugabe called her to give his thanks and asked about her child.
This spurred on countless of interviews with key people in Mugabe’s life, from his younger brother to his first wife to the Catholic priest that took his confession. After a year of doing so, Mugabe himself invited her for a 2 and a half hour interview, giving Holland more insight and a different perspective on the tyrant. Though she was not swayed by her interview with him, as she still labeled him as a tyrant, her book provided a different layer to Mugabe, showing that he was more complex than what he was painted out to be.
Zimbabwe, with its rich culture and history, has many stories to tell. These books have given the country its voice during a time that it needs it the most.