This book review is by Chibairo D Nhengu. Chibairo is a self-defined feminist, mother, writer, community builder, market activist and development worker based in Harare.
The sound, which was deep as a bus, seemed somehow different, as if it was straining. … We quickly got off the road and onto the grass. The bus raced towards us, and the dust cloud chasing behind it seemed like the upraised tail of an angry cat. The bus was yellow and it had a red stripe down the middle, so we knew it belonged to Siyahamba Bus Service, the company Uncle Ndoro drives for. Strangely, its roof carrier was empty. It’s usually piled high with goods when it’s coming from the city, especially at month end. Then suddenly, the bus seemed to veer from side to side, as if blown by a strong wind, although there was no wind, just the hot sun shining. We watched mesmerised. Then the bus turned and skidded towards us, broadside on, like a person’s feet sliding in sand. Then it leapt into the air. I was aghast. Everything was happening too fast.
This is the voice of Rudo, trying to understand the sudden drama that grips her village, Saphela, during a time of unique changes and challenges in Zimbabwe. She is the fourteen-year-old child and first-person narrator of Chris Mlalzi’s novel, Running with Mother, and so the plot is creatively woven from her view.
Rudo, the protagonist in the story, is set against a problem, a violent conflict in her village – which leads to an escape for her and her mother and aunt. The danger the protagonist faces is emphasised by stages as the tension slowly builds up to a dramatic climax.
In this novel, Mlalazi’s literary merit is demonstrated mostly in his ability to combine the first person narrative style with the child’s perspective. As a result the storyteller narrator develops as a lively, perceptive character.
With the innocence of a child, the narrator directly conveys her otherwise unspoken thoughts as she experiences the strange and terrible events that take place in her village without making judgments or being aware of an audience. This veil of ingenousness allows Mlalazi to observe situations through a child’s mind, effectively creating an authentic portrayal of a world about which we know something but not everything, and without the constraints of any adult agenda: pre-conceived interpretation, bias and judgement.
Through a narrator whose awareness is heightened by fear and astonishment, and by our acute understanding of her vulnerability, Mlalazi builds up the suspense and tension, keeping the reader glued to the narrative in anticipation of another shock. The additional chord of patience, resilience, courage and of hope for a better tomorrow – and for family security – is maintained throughout the novel, effectively providing a counterweight for the tragic events that the story conveys.
Running with Mother has an action-packed plot, rich in mystery, adventure and even the bizarrely comic. It features resourceful heroes and a clever, ruthless, intriguing antagonist. Like a traditional action film, the plot interweaves action – including physical acts, chases and fights – and reflection combined with vivid detail, a combination that contributes to the overall sense of danger that the protagonist is facing. Chris Mlalazi has shown courage in the creation of a spirited, brave and honest narrator. Running with Mother resembles a thriller and will stimulate the interest of both adults and teenagers alike.
Running with Mother is available from all good bookshops and from Weaver Press.