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#AkumbuReviews: ‘Hope is Our Only Wing’, by Rutendo Tavengerwei

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By Akumbu Uche

I don’t come across contemporary African YA novels that often. I can’t speak on whether it’s the supply or the demand that’s in deficit, but I’m sure that African literature would be all the richer if we had more of them. Fortunately, we have Zimbabwe’s Rutendo Tavengerwei representing both the genre and the continent, and while this is a book clearly targeted at teenagers, it is suitable for adult readers too.

At first glance, Tavengerwei’s debut novel, ‘Hope is Our Only Wing’ (Soho Press, 2018), is a fish-out-of-water story. Shamiso Muloy is a fifteen-year-old teenager who has just moved from Slough to Harare. At Oakwood High, her new boarding school, her British accent marks her out as an outsider, and her frequent faux pas stemming from social awkwardness are frequently misinterpreted as disrespect and rudeness. Zimbabwe may be her homeland but in Shamiso’s words, it is “a crime scene” that she struggles to love. Her father, an investigative journalist, has recently died in mysterious circumstances while in pursuit of a story exposing political corruption in the country. Unknown to her schoolmates, the new girl is in the throes of grief. Her classmate, Tanyaradzwa, is one of the few people who show her kindness but just as a reluctant friendship begins to blossom between both girls, Tanyaradzwa, a recovering cancer survivor relapses. The prospect of another loss and more pain proves too much for Shamiso and she retreats into emotional reticence.

The novel appears to get its title from the phrase, “hope is our only wing in a stormy gale,” a quote attributed to Shamiso’s father, but lovers of poetry will be reminded of Emily Dickinson’s Poem 314, better known by its first line: ‘“Hope” is the thing with feathers,’ which likens the emotion to a bird capable of enduring weather extremities. The stormy gale here is not just Shamiso’s depression and Tanyaradzwa’s life-threatening illness, but the aftermath of Hondo Yeminda in which 804 farms belonging to white and indigenous Zimbabwean farmers were seized and reallocated. Set in 2008, the novel captures the collapse of the country’s agricultural and economic sectors; consequences of Robert Mugabe’s controversial Land Reform Programme eight years prior. The middle and upper-middle class students at Oakwood High may be privileged, but even they are not immune to the hyperinflation of the local currency, food shortages, and incessant strikes.

Political Turmoil. Grief. Illness. Death. These are all heavy topics that threaten to weigh down a good story. Fortunately, Tavengerwei is adept at handling tough subjects without being melodramatic. One of the ways she does this is through the injection of humour. Her description of Shamiso’s confusion at being expected to board a bus with no sitting room and the inclusion of a scene where a student is caught stealing a live chicken added some much needed levity. A natural weaver of words, she is also proficient at providing historical and background details without overwhelming the reader with facts.

The healing power of music is referenced and as evidenced by a phrase like “Shamiso’s heart broke into a shudder of beats,” for example, that musical sensibility seeps into the language too. However, I shook my head over the novel’s description of an mbira as an African guitar. The mbira may be a plucked instrument, but it is an idiophone, or more accurately, a lamellophone not a chordophone which guitars are. Also, its colloquial and more layman friendly name is a ‘thumb piano.’ Tavengerwei is successful in moving the plot along such that there are no lagging moments, but I wish she could have spent more time exploring the friendship between Shamiso and Tanyaradzwa. As it is, the majority of their interactions happen off the page and the reader is robbed of the chance to mull over the intense ebbs and flows of teenage friendships and understand these protagonists better.

Africans are often accused of exclusively relying on hope, instead of actively countering political injustice, but with this tribute to the emotional resilience of Zimbabweans during a difficult period in their history, the author shows that hope can coexist with political action.  

Overall, I found this to be a confident and purposeful debut, and I cannot wait to read more of Tavengerwei’s writing.

Akumbu Uche is a Nigerian writer. Her work has appeared in Bella Naija, Brittle Paper, and Engaging Borders Africa. She lives in Owerri.

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Marvel working on ‘Daredevil’ TV series for Disney+

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After a super-brief crowd-pleasing cameo on ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’, fan-favorite superhero ‘Daredevil’ will be returning in a television series on the Disney+ platform.

By Mariam Abdullahi

While rumours have been raging about the possibility of a Disney+ series about the Man Without Fear being in the works, they have been particularly fuelled by the fact that two of the stars of the Netflix ‘Daredevil’ series, Charlie Cox and Vincent D’Onofrio, have appeared in recent Marvel projects.

Cox played Matt Murdock, the secret identity of Daredevil, in the film ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’, while D’Onofrio reprised the role of Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. Kingpin, in the Disney+ series ‘Hawkeye’.

Per a report on Variety, the project is picking up steam with the hiring of key production people, though Marvel has yet to officially announce anything.

Fans have been demanding for more Daredevil since the successful Netflix series was cancelled in 2018 after three seasons, but the deal with Netflix included a clause that prevented any characters from the Marvel-Netflix shows from appearing in any non-Netflix projects for two years after cancellation.

The move came as Disney looked to bring its Marvel heroes under one umbrella, with multiple Marvel Cinematic Universe shows having since debuted on Disney+. A trailer for the ‘She-Hulk’ series starring Tatiana Maslany dropped earlier this week.

More to come.

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Four of Nnedi Okorafor’s books are finalists for Locus Awards

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As the awards and nominations keep piling up for fan-favorite writer Nnedi Okorafor, four of her books have been announced as finalists for the prestigious Locus Awards’ 2022 edition.

By Abdulkareem Baba Aminu

The Locus Science Fiction Foundation has announced the top ten finalists for this year’s Locus Awards, and the final winners will be announced on June 25, during the virtual Locus Award Weekend. Four books by Nigerian-American writer Nnedi Okorafor are on the list. Her books on the list of finalists are Noor (DAW) for Best Science Fiction Novel, Remote Control (Tordotcom) for Best Novella, The Black Pages (Black Stars) for Best Novelette, and the graphic novel adaptation of After the Rain (Abrams ComicArts/Megascope) by John Jennings, with art by David Brame.

Okorafor is a leading writer of science fiction and fantasy with a breath-taking body of work spanning close to two decades. She is also known for coining the term ‘Africanfuturism’ and defining the subgenre itself.

Okorafor is a leading writer of science fiction and fantasy with a breath-taking body of work spanning close to two decades. She is also known for coining the term ‘Africanfuturism’ and defining the subgenre itself. An unapologetic champion of diversity, inclusion, and originality in SFF, her works are often praised for inventiveness and innovation.  

Over the years, Okorafor has won some of the most prestigious awards, including three Hugo nominations, one for each of the books in her well-received and critically-acclaimed acclaimed Binti trilogy, which the first book won in 2016. She has also won a Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa, three Nebula Awards, as well as an Eisner Award and Hugo win (with artist Tana Ford) for the LaGuardia graphic novel, among several others.

Founded in 1971, the Locus Awards are conferred by the Locus Science Fiction Foundation. The 2020 awards are spread across 16 categories, with winners determined by polling magazine readers.

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Poems about gagged lips and lone voices: A review of Peace Longdet’s ‘Enablers’

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A look at the new poetry collection ‘The Enablers’ reveals a work that is at once layered in a most subtle way, as well as powerfully effective.

Title: The Enablers | Author: Peace Longdet

Genre: Poetry | Pages: 67

Publisher: Sevhage Publishers | Year of Publication: 2022

Reviewer: Bizuum Yadok

Every poet has a responsibility to communicate feelings, experiences, fears, aspirations, values and dissatisfaction on behalf of herself or her society. This form of communication is usually aimed at either creating awareness or igniting a radical solution. Whichever way, while at it, the poet always entertains and extracts emotion from her audience. Many scholars agree that the bulk of African literature, from colonial times (and especially in writing), is essentially a response to wide-spread tragedy, and as such it is usually characterised by protest; protest against colonialism, protest against the megalomaniacal claims of independence, protest against military juntas, protest against mammoth corruption colouring democracy, and protest against terrorism or other forms of man’s inhumanity to man.

Dr. Peace Longdet is ushered into the league of protest poets by her significant debut collection of poems, Enablers. Her poems are not just relevant but timely in a presently deteriorating society like Nigeria where dissenting voices are gagged, if not silenced permanently. It has reached a point whereby any person criticising the lackadaisical attitude of the government, especially with regards to insecurity, nepotism, and corruption, is hastily termed as a saboteur. Freedom of expression has now become a mere rhetoric and quite far from practice. However, poets like Peace Longdet have refused to be hushed. If their voices will not be heard, then their agitation will find expression in print. Her Enablers comes as a worthy example of artists’ weapons that are meant to cure societal ills while confronting social injustice at the same time.

The first poem in the collection, “Thoughts in Print”, aptly welcomes the reader to a potpourri of thematic concerns mostly tilted towards protest against ineptitude of leaders and collaboration of followers marked by complicitous participation, herd silence and ignorance. The 9-lined poem reads:

Treading, yet knowing

The ground is unholy,

Giving, yet knowing

The gift is abominable,

Taking, yet knowing,

The gift is temporal

Dreaming, yet knowing

The morning breaks

At Last!

Nearly all who conspire to create an ailing society are present in the poem above. Ironically, they are in the full knowledge of their contributions whether by treading on unholy grounds, giving abominable gifts (e.g bribes) or taking fleeting gifts. In any of the cases, they are always in the state of “knowing”. It is rather absurd that the same set of people are dreaming – perhaps for a better place – yet still “knowing” that “morning breaks” when their secret acts come to light and the end result is an anarchical society. The poet’s projection of effect, from the cause, using the principle of economy, is nicely captured in the brief poem which lays a good foundation for string of angry poems such as, “Gagged”, “Hallowed Gong”, “Terror”, “Few”, “Killings”, “Blessed Yet . . .” among others.

In some of the poems, the poet doesn’t just expose injustices but also firmly resolves to meet her obligation as a person. For example, the poem, ‘My Pledge’ offers a more radical, even militant, perception of herself in the sense that she uses the ‘Tigress’ as metaphor for her self-concept. She reiterates, “I am a tigress” in lines 1, 12, and 18 to assert her manner of confronting any factor that seeks to subjugate women, using the weapons of her physical, mental and emotional strength represented by claws, teeth and speed of the tigress. Consider the first six lines of the poem:

I am a tigress

Armed to breathe with my claws

My claws the pen

To speak with my pen

To drum with my claws

The rhythms are coals of fire

Pouncing in the direction of the hunter

A tigress has been proven to be more vicious than the tiger. From Longdet’s description though, we do not see the poet as a wild animal but a mentally armed and ready-to-fight phenomenal woman. Thus, she shifts from the semblance of the prey to become the predator. At this point, it doesn’t matter who the hunter (enemy) is, but that tigress is willing to launch an attack to protect her cubs (hapless women and children) as seen in lines 8 & 11, ‘The cubs depend on my razor-sharp teeth/ . . .For the cubs must know the myth of the hunter.’ She restates her point in lines 18-20 with her emphasis on attack as a form of activism which is quite necessary in a jungle-like nation:

I am a tigress

My passion is my weapon

To speak up in the land of the dumb.

A similar conviction like that of the above can gleaned in lines 17-21 of the poem, “Wandering Loner”, where she says:

This fire must burn!

It is a quest like an enchanted Diva,

Prowling with the words of fire

To wake them from sleep

To give them a voice

The reoccurrence of the word “fire” in this poem, just like in her other poems, connotes the fury or righteous anger that the poet is filled with and it is employed in the pursuit of justice. She doesn’t just create awareness but lends her voice to the voiceless so that more voices of protest could be heard. In the same vein, the poet makes loud her commitment to positive change in lines 21-30 of the poem, “The Voice”, by saying:

I do not possess the power to stop the carnage but

I will stand high on this space;

To utter

To oppose

To shout

To protect

To heal

To reawaken

All that I am and all that I can

There is an inexhaustible list of the violent killings across Nigeria prior to and especially during the tenure of President Buhari, who had earlier promised to put a stop to all kinds of terrorism orchestrated by Boko Haram, Fulani Militia also known as bandits, and Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). He fails woefully in tackling terror and almost all other arms of government combined are reluctant to point accusatory fingers at him. However, Peace Longdet bravely holds the government by the balls, reminding it of its fake promises in poems like, “Deceit”, “Haribu”, “Sleeping Shepherd”, “Double Standard”, and “Quest”. Her fearless confrontation of the powers that be are not even encrypted in the poetics of modernists, rather it is concise and readily accessible to every reader. In this regard, I concur with the literary critic, Paul Liam, in his statement that, “Longdet is a poet for every reader.”

It would be unfair to state that Longdet’s collection is all about protest as some poems are private and they depict supposedly personal or second-hand experiences. Poems like, “Memories”, “Unleased”, “Son of the Wind”, “You Drank”, “Entagled Wind”, and “The Vow”. This collection of 57 poems offer a variety of societal topics in dire need of an elaborate discourse and sometimes follow-up action. The poet pays little attention to sound devices but the optimal imagery makes up for the spice the sound devices might have rendered. Most of the poems are short and captivating as though the words were calculated before each poem was composed.

Like Lebanon’s Khalil Gibran, Nigeria’s Niyi Osundare, or South Africa’s Oswald Mtshali, posterity will keep making reference to Peace Longdet as a phenomenal poet who supplied her intellectual arsenal to fight against all forms of oppression and injustice. Enablers is a book of poetry that will require very little effort of salesmen because it will sell itself by the quality design, print and content therein.

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