Author Virginia Phiri’s review of The Day the Music Died.
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.
Virginia Phiri is a noted Zimbabwean author who is little known on this side of the Atlantic. She writes often about the problems faced by marginalized people in her native Zimbabwe. In Desperate, she takes on the issue of prostitution, and how and why women end up selling their bodies to strangers.
In a series of fictional narratives, Phiri paints evocative, and dark pictures of women such as Chido and Nhamo, who share one condition – desperation – that drives them to the fateful decision.
Phiri tells us in her preface to the book that while operating as a freedom fighter during Zimbabwe’s struggle for independence, her life was saved by a group of prostitutes who she never had the chance to thank. Desperate is her tribute to them and a plea to the world to think about how it treats women and how this treatment can push them down this desperate path.
This is one of Phiri’s first ventures in to e-Book publishing, so there are some formatting issues with the Kindle version. This does not, though, take anything away from her strong writing, as she gives voice to the voiceless. While Desperate does not quite rise to the level of her premier work, Highway Queen, it is nonetheless a book worth reading if you want to have a better understanding of life in a culture that is as alien as the dark side of the moon and to be introduced to an author who I predict will make as much impact in America as she already does in Zimbabwe.
Formatting issues aside, I give this book a solid four stars.