Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo


Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo
NoViolet Bulawayo
  • Category:Post-Colonial Fiction, Satirical Fiction
  • Date Read:11 October 2022
  • Year Published:2022
  • Pages:400
  • 5 stars

NoViolet Bulawayo is the first African woman to be nominated for the Booker Prize twice. She was shortlisted in 2013 for her debut novel We Need New Names, and as I write it is only days before the Booker Committee announces the 2022 winner. Born Elizabeth Zandile Tshele, Bulawayo adopted her nom de plume to honour her mother and the city she grew up in, Bulawayo, in Zimbabwe.

Bulawayo emigrated to America when she was 18 years old, but she returned to Zimbabwe after Robert Mugabe, the country’s ruler for almost forty years, was deposed in a coup and replaced by his vice-president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, in November 2017. Mugabe’s career, both as both Prime Minister and later President of Zimbabwe, oversaw a long economic decline as he struggled to balance the interests of black Zimbabweans against a white minority that owned disproportionate land wealth vested from the country’s colonial past. His dispossession of white farmers gained international attention and their flight, often to South Africa, only added to the country’s economic woes. Mugabe’s rule was characterised by violent repression of dissent and increasingly corrupt elections to maintain the monopoly of power his party, The Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF), had long enjoyed. While his people suffered privation – a story common in other places and times – Mugabe and those close to him enriched themselves.

Upon reading Glory it is evident that Bulawayo was creatively inspired by her return to Zimbabwe, as well as by ongoing events as she wrote her novel. She explains that her intention had been to write a non-fiction account of Zimbabwe, but that changed as she again experienced the financial hardships Zimbabweans endured, the scarcity of goods and the long Soviet-like lines to access them. Instead of a factual account, Glory becomes a fable, set in the fictional country of Jidada. Inspired by George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Bulawayo also ‘peoples’ her country with anthropomorphised animals. The novel is primarily a fictionalised version of Zimbabwe’s revolution, its long-time president, the Old Horse who represents Mugabe, and his vice-president and successor, Tuvius Delight Shasha, better known as Tuvy. Through this fable, Zimbabwe’s story is universalised as a parable of political repression, of naked desire for power, or ‘glory’, as it is often termed, and the stalwart resistance and spirit of the repressed, who also seek glory in the righteousness of their cause. Written during a period when Zimbabwe’s troubles are not over, Glory is essentially a hopeful novel which imagines that a moral cause and just struggle will win out.

Glory is essentially a political satire, so it shares something not only with Animal Farm but also other more contemporary novels like The Captain and the Glory by Dave Eggers or Pussy by Howard Jacobson, both lampooning the Trump presidency and reviewed on this website. The names of the Jidadan ministers are sufficiently Orwellian to make the point about Jidada’s regime: Minister of Corruption; Minister of Things; Minister of Nothing; Minister of Looting. A key aspect of the Orwellian State is its twisting of logic and bastardisation of language. Hence “Ignorance is Strength” and “Freedom is Slavery”. Bulawayo employs the same kind of ironic use of language, like the ‘Liberators’, an appellation applied to the State’s security force, so-called for their putative role in the revolution, but who are now more likely to arrest, beat or murder perceived political dissidents. Bulawayo also utilises images from Zimbabwe’s political and natural world to make her point. The ‘magic’ scarf worn superstitiously by President Tuvy to protect against all manner of attack is an obvious allusion to the scarf Emmerson Mnangagwa began to wear after succeeding Mugabe, bearing the national colours, as a signal of a new direction for his government and the country. Sometimes, it is the kind of animals that are important. In Animal Farm it’s the pigs who are in charge and end up manipulating the other animals. In Glory we find that all Tuvy’s security forces are dogs, and behave like a vicious pack when they sense a target. Furthermore, a crocodile roams about Jidada asking to be trusted – “I really, really love Jidada with every inch of my being, and by that I mean from the tips of my teeth to the tip of my tail” – but turns out to not “be vegetarian, to be friendly and even as soft as wool”, but “the Crocodile devouring their future”. Children chant songs and perform a crocodile dance to thwart the terror the crocodile inspires. The crocodile is, of course, a thinly veiled allusion to Tuvy’s mendacious and rapacious government, and by extension, Mnangagwa’s. There are also the red butterflies that appear throughout the novel in one guise or another, sometimes as a menacing presence that recall blood, and sometimes as a representation of all those who have disappeared as a result of the government’s repressive practices.

Yet, while the novel is written as a fable, it comes across as extraordinarily contemporary. This is largely helped by Bulawayo’s incorporation of multiple perspectives, not only through the narrative voice, which intrudes at points to address characters and speaks in the rhythms and tones of the people, but also through Twitter posts and a kind of vox populi that mashes opinioned responses together in several chapters, allowing for a nuanced perspective through its polyphonic narrative, rounded with the inclusion of dissenting voices. So we see in the Jidadan population the voice of hope: “The Saviour [Tuvy] is the change we’ve been waiting for”, we see complaisance: “One can live well and in peace here as long as they stay in their lane”, and despair: “how long, really, does a God need to watch shit burn before he intervenes?” Bulawayo’s use of this trope throughout the novel gives the reader a greater sense of changes in the prevailing feelings of the population.

Her use of Twitter posts allows something similar, but also extends the satire beyond the scope of the political situation of Zimbabwe, as part of the novel’s intent to hold to account all repressive and authoritarian regimes. The results are sometimes hilarious, like this pitch-perfect response attributed to her Trump figure whom she calls a “Tweeting Baboon”:

US election observers will be on site for the Jidada upcoming election because they have a tremendous record of STEALING elections and DISRESPECTING the WILL of voters over there. And that’s SAD! And very BAD! And NOT democracy! It’s DICTATORSHIP!

Another character responds:

It’s spelled Dictatorship bruh. DICTATORSHIP. I mean, you should know the spelling seeing it’s on your forehead.

Glory does not slavishly apply the logic of its anthropomorphic cast to the same extent as Orwell does. Orwell’s animals are more like animals and the point of the pigs walking on their hind legs is that they are acting like humans, their former oppressors. Bulawayo’s animals, on the other hand, regularly choose to walk on their hind legs, but they also fly in jets (Tuvy’s whole motivation for power seems to have been to own one) and use phones (Tuvy has a peculiar sexual interest in the voice of Siri) and they manipulate other devices that might realistically be difficult for them to use. But fidelity to the animal conceit is not the point. Glory compares favourably to Orwell, and it is particularly striking because it avoids a potential weakness of satire, the purview of intellectual pillorying, but also often failing to engage the reader on an emotional and moral level. This is because Bulawayo brings so much of her own experience to the story through Destiny, a goat whose experience parallels aspects of Bulawayo’s own relationship with her country. Destiny disappeared without warning from Jidada for almost ten years and returns when she hears of the overthrow of the Old Horse. She wishes to see what will happen to Jidada now, and hopes to find her mother, Simiso, who has suffered a long breakdown after her unsuccessful search for her daughter. But Destiny’s return forces her to come to terms with what has happened to her mother since her leaving, and with a family Destiny is unaware existed. In turn, she must explain the reasons she left Jidada in the first place; Destiny has been the victim of political violence and torture during the election of 2008. Her awakened understanding of her mother and family will lead her to embrace the importance and power of telling stories, to remember the dead and hold the corrupt to account.

Like Destiny’s own story of torture and beating, Simiso’s story reveals horrific events around the Gukurahundi – “So named for the early rain that washes away the chaff before the spring rains!” Bulawayo’s narrative tells us – a massacre of horrific proportions beginning in 1983, to quell political dissent. Simiso’s account imbues the novel with a sincerely horrific account of the repressive nature of the regimes of the Old Horse and Tuvy. The story of Gukurahundi is a central movement in Bulawayo’s narrative and a fitting memorial to the dead of those massacres, pivoting on a searingly tense moment that is reminiscent of the choice of Solomon, or Styon’s Sophie’s Choice. For this reason, Glory is more than a satire, but a genuinely moving novel which centres its humanity on the story of Destiny, a goat who must come to terms with her new understanding of her family and country, and decide between principle and personal safety.

The writing, itself, helps achieve a tone that represents this human level in Bulawayo’s satire. She writes idiomatically, reflecting the measure of speech and the voice of her characters. Sometimes, small things are distinctive. For instance, ‘Tholukuthi’, a term often used in the narrative, is a Zimbabwean word that approximates in meaning to ‘you find that’ or ‘only to discover’. It punctuates the writing throughout. And there are certain turns of phrase which are constantly reprised which capture the common sense wisdom of the Jidadan poor: “even the sticks and stones knew”; “there is no night ever so long it does not end with dawn”. Repetition is a feature of the writing. Some phrases act as a refrain, much in the style of oral tradition, sometimes as an intensifier which negates the need for hyperbolic rhetoric to achieve emotional and political weight. Some repetitions emphasise a point through the cumulative detail of lists: others suggests the momentous nature of an event that cannot be expressed, except to say the thing over and over; other repetitions effectively express the rapacious nature of the repressive Jidadan government:

They looted with the brazen audacity of intoxicated baboons, without any shame whatsoever. As far as they were concerned, they in fact owned Jidada with a –da and another –da, yes, tholukuthi her immeasurable riches theirs to take. And take they did, just take-take-take-take-take-take-take-take-take-take-take-take-take-take-take-take . . .

It repeats like that for another page, making the point impossible to miss: that all-consuming unrestricted and corrupt power is an inhumane weight that cannot be borne. Nowhere is the point more graphically made than when the animals see news stories of American police shooting black men in the back, or the infamous murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police:

When language finally finds us, it is the words of the murdered that pour out of our throats and fill the Lozikeyi night, yes, tholukuthi those last three words we’ve heard said over and over by Black American brothers begging killers for their lives by the simplest, most desperate of prayers – I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I can’t breathe . . .

The repetition in this passage continues for another half a page and the impact is gut wrenching. Another word used in the novel that transcends the intellectual appeal of satire is ‘intestines’. Animals express the impact of events in this book by saying that they feel it in their intestines. Glory is not only has an intellectual, but a visceral impact.

The experience of reading this book is that the story feels familiar and realistic. The Old Horse may be hated, but when he is deposed it’s his wife, Marvellous, known as Dr Sweet Mother (a direct allusion to Mugabe’s wife, Grace, who ‘earned’ her doctorate in three months) who is to blame for her meddling in politics, and when Tuvy’s regime turns out to be worse, the Old Horse is remembered nostalgically by many. The vagaries of human nature are apparent in the writing, as Glory records the whole gamut of humanity’s virtue and vice in its animal avatars. But for me, the novel most succeeds because it is emotionally powerful. The story of events told to Destiny around the Gukurahundi and the climactic story of Destiny’s attempts to honour the dead of that massacre are intense and exceed the clever play and point scoring one might expect from a satire. I thought the novel was genuinely moving. It’s subject matter demanded that it honour the human cost of repression as well as make us laugh at the shortcomings of corrupt leaders, and it does both admirably.

This video, less than three and a half minutes, charts the rise of Mugabe after the bush war against white minority rule in Rhodesia, the transfer of power from Ian Smith's government, and outlines Mugabe's rule and the eventual decline in Zimbabwe that spurred calls for his removal.
NoViolet Bulawayo
NoViolet Bulawayo
NoViolet Bulawayo, born Elizabeth Zandile Tshele, grew up in Tsholotsho is a district in Matabeleland North province in Zimbabwe, but emigrated to America when she was eighteen. She returned to Zimbabwe after Robert Mugabe was removed from power, and her experiences in Zimbabwe inspired her to write Glory.
Popular Protests
Mugabe was placed under house arrest after he sacked his vice-president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, leaving his wife, Grace, in line to succeed him. Mugabe had no intention of relinqishing power. As is said of the Old Horse in Glory, he intended “to rule and rule and rule.”
Robert and Grace Mugabe
Robert and Grace Mugabe
Mugabe was in his nineties and his wife, Grace, was about forty years younger when he was forced out of office in 2017. Like Dr Sweet Mother in Glory, Grace Mugabe had ambitions to rule Zimbabwe and her husband created that political possibility after he sacked his vice-president. The outfits they wear in this photo bear Mugabe's image and were designed by Grace Mugabe, herself.
Emmerson Mnangagwa
Emmerson Mnangagwa
Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe's vice-president and successor, is represented in Glory by Tuvy. Tuvy is highly superstitious and consults a sorcerer, Jolilo Perfect Maposa, who offers Tuvy all manner of remedies to protect him, including a ‘magic’ scarf he wears everywhere. Tuvy's scarf references the nationalistic scarf Emmerson Mnangagwa began wearing everywhere after he succeeded Mugabe as president.

“The famous scarf, in the striped colours of the flag of Jidada – and thus its moniker of Scarf of the Nation – had since its debut a few weeks ago, taken Jidada by storm. The whole of the country, it seemed, had nothing else to talk about, either on the ground or on the internets. What exactly did the scarf mean? Why, in the first place, was the Saviour wearing it, and why now and not any other time? What statement was he trying to make? How come he didn’t take the thing off, even in hot weather? Tholukuthi little did they know.

‘This scarf, Chief, provides you with the kind of protection you can safely wear at all times and without calling attention to yourself, being that a talisman that is out in the open is more powerful. And beyond protection, the scarf is a sensor, it feels things. If there’s bad energy, it’ll pick it up. If there’s danger, it’ll know. If things are well, it’ll accordingly tell you. Just lidten to if, Chief, you’ll know, and you’ll get better at deciphering its signals with each day, and of course that’s only just the small things it can do,’ Jolilo had said on presenting the Saviour with the scarf.”

Glory, page 117
Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, is a land-locked country in southern Africa
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