Highway Queen is Zimbabwean author Virginia Phiri’s third novel, and although it’s fiction, it reads as if it was ripped from the headlines during Ziombabwe’s torturous era of hyperinflation and political madness – it has the resounding ring of truth that will reverberate in your mind long after you stop reading.
Phiri plunges the reader into the life of Sophie Mumba after her husband Steven is retrenched (a euphemism for all the workers who were permanently laid off when the country’s economy went into an uncontrolled free fall), succumbs to depression, and takes to drink. Sophie, like millions of African women before and since, is left to support her two children and ailing mother-in-law.
In unadorned prose, replete with richly textured descriptions of the people and environment during a time of madness, it chronicles Sophie’s own fall from grace, as she finds herself forced into prostitution in her desperate attempt to keep her family together. She faces violence, indifference, and the specter of HIV/AIDS with a sense of futility leavened by an innate sense of dignity and responsibility not shared by many of the men in her life.
Highway Queen is a continuation of her previous works, Desperate and Destiny, and is dedicated to ‘the women who have sacrificed their lives, health and happiness in order to fend for their families and at times communities.’
To most Westerners, and not a few Africans, the scenes in this book will be disturbing. They paint a picture of the continent that is often overlooked. But, for those who want a better understanding of the travails of a continent that has more than its share of the world’s problems, and a look at how some cope with those travails, this is recommended reading.