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Glory: A Novel

Glory is a book at once comical and horrifying. Cynical and unforgiving, yet somehow hopeful in its last breaths, NoViolet Bulawayo’s second Booker Prize shortlisted novel is keen political commentary and formal innovation in one. Set in the fictional Jidada, an African country peopled by farm animals, the story’s fable-like qualities provide a satirical veneer for a narrative that isn’t really even pretending not to be about the author’s home country of Zimbabwe. Specifically, it chronicles the downfall of the Old Horse – aka the Father of the Nation– his ouster after years upon years of ruling over a corrupt government, and the rise of his successor – the Saviour of the Nation – promising change but delivering much of the same, if not worse.

The novel is about the pursuit of ‘glory’ and the atrocities committed in the name of that pursuit. It’s about the colonial history of Zimbabwe, and also, crucially, about what happened after independence. The story’s most painful passages tell of the Gukurahundi, a genocide committed between roughly 1982 to 1987, in various acts of state-organized violence that sought to quash opposition to the ruling party and occurred, to a great extent, along ethnic lines.

Bulawayo’s prose is rhythmic and has a texture of oral storytelling, using idiomatic expressions that will likely seem unfamiliar to Global North readers and a great deal of repetition, to powerful effect. Added to what read like strands of traditional storytelling is the polyvocality of various Twitter hot takes on political occurrences, and a narrative that explores the interiority of an enormous array of its characters: the so-called Children of the Nation, the people of Jidada; specific individuals whose stories are told in their individual agony; as well as passages from the perspectives of the Old Horse, the Saviour of the Nation, and the Defenders (the dogs that make up the country’s military police).

Again and again, Bulawayo captures a set of circumstances that are so devastating as to be almost funny, except that they’re not. For me, the portrait of a people whose modest hopes for real change have been repeatedly crushed was so brutal as to make the upbeat ending difficult to take at face value. Whether you read it as ultimately hopeful, as crushing critique, or both – it’s a powerful book written by a very talented writer.

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