HARARE, ZIMBABWE: Weaver Press has launched a new short story anthology entitled Writing Mystery and Mayhem. This is a genre collection which features mystery stories by twelve writers, one of whom is late poet Freedom Nyamubaya’s son, Naishe Hassim.
Speaking on the sidelines of the launch of Writing Mystery and Mayhem held at the Zimbabwe-German Society in Harare on November 10, Naishe said, “I owe it to my mother. She always encouraged me to write. I got it from her.”
His short story Tsikamutanda also won third prize from an organisation called Konrad –Adenauer- Stiftung Foundation which supported the publication of the anthology. Authors Goddess Bvukutwa and Donna Kirstein shared the first prize for their stories A Late Arrival and They Only Come Out At Night respectively. Automatically, there was no second prize.
The anthology editor Irene Staunton said that the three winning short stories were only based on the Foundation’s judgment. The Foundation’s Projects Coordinator Winnie Tshuma who presented the prizes at the launch, told about 50 delegates that a special edition of Writing Mystery and Mayhem has also been made with its own different cover for distribution in Germany by the Foundation.
Four of the twelve authors featured in the anthology were part of a panel chaired by Weaver Press’s Murray McCartney, who asked each of them to select and read a favourite story (not their own) and explain why they chose the story. The panel discussion helped to introduce the audience to the mystery, horror and suspenseful drama that is in the anthology.
Again, fond memories of the late Freedom Nyamubaya were re-ignited when Naishe’s short story “Tsikamutanda” turned out to be Isabella Matambanadzo’s favourite piece. A feminist activist, Matambanadzo said she liked “Tsikamutanda” because “it was written by someone who is actually our son, Naishe Hassan Nyamubaya”.
“I chose Naishe’s short story because I met him when he was still very young. He liked dancing and traveling. I was also impressed by the writing voice he has inherited from his mother,” said Matambanadzo. She also said she believes that the late Freedom T.V Nyamubaya’s legacy as an activist, liberation struggle veteran and writer is in the gifted hands of her son.
She added that the story “Tsikamutanda” very well reflects “the metaphysical moment Zimbabwe is going through where everything is now about witchcraft, goblins, spirits and religious extremism, things we feel but cannot see”. Isabella Matambanadzo’s own short story in the anthology is titled Message in a Bottle.
Harare-based writer, Farai Mudzingwa, whose short story in the anthology is titled “Sizwe Burning”, said that one of the key elements of a mystery is the actual mystery itself, the unknown. He chose to read Valerie Tagwira’s short story “The Way of Revenge”, and to support his understanding of a mystery, he described Tagwira as having achieved the skill of generating reader anticipation without being overbearing. Mudzingwa also said he liked “The Way of Revenge” because of its authentic setting, singling out as an example the author’s description of a sanitary lane which in Shona unofficial lingo is popularly known as “sendiraini”.
“I grew up in the 80’s in Chegutu and a sanitary lane is a quintessential feature of a township,” said Mudzingwa. “The Way of Revenge” is set in Mbare, a busy high-density suburb hugging the fringes of the Harare CBD.
Twenty-eight-old Goddess Bvukutwa’s favourite short story from the collection is “Heaven’s Embassy” written by Chris Wilson. Bvukutwa’s brief analysis of “Heaven’s Embassy” somehow corresponded with Isabella Matambanadzo’s take on “Tsikamutanda” (by Naishe Nyamubaya). Both stories seem to be hinged on religious or spiritual zealotry.
She cleverly observed the connections between the current ‘waiting’ situation in her country Zimbabwe, a situation born of timidity, and the story’s theme of religious fanaticism.
“It’s similar to the Zim situation where we are waiting for something to happen. Characters like Mai Jane allow us to look at ourselves as Zimbabweans – we are timid, pushed in a corner, unable to confront the rich and powerful because they make us tremble more than we already are,” said Bvukutwa.
Mrs. Chipunza, the main character in “Heaven’s Embassy”, is a leader of a church of the same name. Bvukutwa said what the name implies that no one will get to Heaven unless they pass through Mrs. Chipunza’s church. This, she observed, relates very well to the land grab era in Zimbabwe in which one could not get land unless they belonged to a certain party.
The bone of contention in the short story is based on the money ‘seeded’ by Mai Jane in the church. As a poor, quiet person, Mai Jane waits for her blessings to come but after a long period of waiting, nothing happens until the pressure is built for her to confront Mrs. Chipunza with other church women. And yet, the women tremble before Mrs. Chipunza, making their ‘coup’ a failure, said Bvukutwa.
“We are the Mai Jane’s, unable to confront the powerful,” she said.
Jonathan Brakarsh, whose short story in the anthology is titled “The General’s Gun”, picked out as his favourite Donna Kirstein’s story “They Only Come Out At Night”. If there are any more horror stories in the anthology, they may not be as intensely horrific as Kirstein’s story which deals about the abduction and murder of Albino children.
Brakarsh said as a child psychologist by training, he was drawn to the short story by its unusual gothic style.
“It’s an unusual horror story. In most horror stories, you are flying over the narrative landscape and it’s a pleasant ride and often an unforgettable story. With “They Only Come Out at Night”, the plain slowly veers off course and by the time you land and disembark, you realize you are in a hostile territory; a territory hostile to what you believed is right about the world. The ones you once had sympathy for, you no longer have sympathy for and you start questioning the nature of evil. One other thing I liked about this story is the hyper-realism of the detail and malevolence,” said Brakarsh.
Indeed, after reading “They Only Come Out At Night”, you may want to take a brief break from reading just to think over how it could be that a little child, full with innocence and trust, loses life in the hands of her teacher who is part of a secret network that is being paid lots of money for murdering albinos. Vicki, a small student, is murdered by her teacher Geoffrey, who as the story begins, seems to be a gentle and kind person.
The launch, attended by various notable personalities from the book industry, proved a successful teaser owing to the way it was programmed. One budding writer named Sabina Isha said it was an interesting evening for her. “A wonderful evening, intelligent writing and I learnt about African writing. I liked the tale about goblins and witchcraft – it made me shake with fear!” she said.