Recently I was asked to help out with reviewing books looking towards a longlist for the Edward Stanford Travel Awards which has a category which focuses on fiction which has a sense of place. My job was to read three books, of which this is the third to be reviewed on here. (Reviews for both “The Water Thief” and “Smoke And Ashes” can be found by clicking the links. All three were books I was unlikely to have encountered otherwise and I think I have saved the best until last.
When teenager Bukhosi vanishes following a rally of the Mthwakazi Secessionist Movement his friend Zamani strives to infiltrate his way into his family aiming to replace him in his parents’ affections by finding out all he can about their “hi-story”. This spans back half a century into the history of Zimbabwe, from the latter days of colonial Rhodesia and Civil War through genocide and atrocities carried out in the name of the new regime. Zimani is a unreliable narrator, planning and manipulating for his own ends hidden in his own hi-story which is linked with his friend’s family. He gleefully exploits weaknesses in his quest to find some form of revenge whilst being inextricably pulled into what he sees as this new family grouping.
This is an extraordinary debut novel from an author who grew up in Zimbabwe. I had a very sketchy knowledge of her homeland before reading this and the complexities which lay behind this African country but her handling of the location has certainly enriched my understanding. And this has been achieved totally through story as the author weaves the events in the lives of Bukhosi’s parents with Zimani’s in a narrative steeped in the development of this nation both before and after independence. Along the way there are some brilliantly memorable characters and writing often outstanding in its vibrancy and power. The horrors are not at all shied away from but there are also moments of great humour and to put at the centre the dark machinations of the narrator is a stroke of genius. It’s a prime example of how a location can be seamlessly embedded into a plot and used to inform and enrich.
True, sometimes I lacked the cultural understanding to pick up on all of the references and there was the odd part where I wasn’t totally sure what was going on but Tshuma was soon able to pull me back in through her use of language. There’s also a liberal smattering of African terms which most will be unfamiliar with but once again I do not feel that this matters. For me this is the sign of the intelligence of the author not wanting to dumb down any of what would seem alien to much of her readership but demonstrating the ability to keep them totally on board. Because of this I think this is not only a book which reads well but also has the potential to impress more on re-reading. I am certainly keeping hold of my copy.
The House Of Stone was published in hardback by Atlantic in June 2018. Many thanks to Nudge and for the publisher for the review copy. An edited version of this review can be found on the Nudge Website. The Shortlist for the 2019 Edward Stanford Travel Awards will be announced in January 2019.