Four years after its first publication, Novuyo Rosa Tshuma’s award-winning debut novel House of Stone has now been published by Interkontinental Verlag in the German translation of Simone Jakob. The weighty subject Tshuma chose for House of Stone is the Gukurahundi, the genocide in Zimbabwe that took place in the 1980s under Prime Minister Robert Mugabe – acts of violence also addressed by NoViolet Bulawayo in her novel Glory. House of Stone can perhaps be seen as a lesson in history, especially in its depiction of the unspeakably violent acts that the characters have to commit in order to survive. At the same time, Tshuma still manages to give the characters something strangely playful – some are truly evil, others simply at the mercy of others, but for all their seriousness they still have a certain comic quality.
The novel begins with 24-year-old Zamani hatching a plan to turn his landlords into his parents. He wants them to love him more than their own son Bukhosi, who has been missing for some time. Zamani ingratiates himself with Abednego and Agnes, tries to gain their trust and elicit their secrets – sometimes with the help of alcohol or other drugs. Readers have to speculate for a long time as to why Zamani behaves this way: Is it because he is an orphan and wants parental love? Is it because he wants revenge for some reason? The novel takes its time, allowing readers to learn more about the history of Zimbabwe through the fates of Abednego, Agnes and Bukhosi.
Zamani manages to tease out Abednego and Agnes’ life stories, which allows Tshuma to outline important historical events. From the arrival of Cecil Rhodes, the story continues through the victory over King Lobengula and Queen Lozikeyi, on into Ian Smith’s years as Prime Minister, the War of Independence, and to independence and beyond. The novel impressively recounts how Bob Marley appeared before the new government on the eve of independence on April 17, 1980 and how the police whipped the masses and attacked them with tear gas. The personal fates of Abednego and Agnes are characterized by incomprehensible violence. Zamani pretends to be empathetic, but it becomes increasingly clear that something is not right. Perhaps he even has something to do with Bukhosis’ disappearance?
I don’t want to give too much away here, but the novel takes some surprising turns. House of Stone does not tell a beautiful or inspiring story and there are no heroes. But pain and shame must be addressed and not suppressed. It is an important book that I definitely recommend – but it also needs an explicit trigger warning.
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