Book Review : The Judas Files By Robert Mukondiwa

I love new literature. What I mean is literature outside that which is popular. Robert Mukondiwa’s The Judas Files is such kind of literature. It’s from Zimbabwe and provides a rather honest, sometimes heavy, sometimes humorous view of the people in that country from Southern Africa. One can after reading this, call Mukondiwa a satirist who was nominated  Best Fiction in the Zimbabwean National Arts Merit Awards (NAMA).

The fifteen short stories in this anthology all have an element of betrayal placed somewhere in them. However, inasmuch as betrayal is an old theme, Mukondiwa’s presentations are worth a hearty heave after each story is done.

For example, in The Assistant you are presented with great tragedy yet Mukondiwa produces it in such a form as to elicit the common Luganda phrase – “Ebyembi bisekerwa”, meaning sometimes tragedy cannot but beget laughter. See here

“Beatrice got up, hugged her husband and whispered, “Oh, my love, how does an Olympic swimming champion suddenly drown my darling? How?” Tears welled in Wilbert‟s stone cold eyes. “In much the same way, my darling, that a man with a vasectomy suddenly gets his wife pregnant.”

Mukondiwa presents candidly the issues affecting his country. In all honesty, they are sad stories but he presents them as funny stories. Funny but to the effect that they make you feel bad about the country.

In The Homecoming Cosmas is a diligent civil servant whose mother is ill. He has to travel to see her but his car is too small to fit in his whole family and they cannot use the easier route because of the tolls which he cannot afford, so he does something drastic to make it in time but fails miserably despite meeting people who understand his misfortune. When someone arrives late for a patient and just in time for a funeral because of the government, sometimes it is not fate, rather the government. It is a real claim in this short story.

When he undertakes his tales with a character simply called “Grand-dad” you might remember your school years fondly and perhaps of the writers who made them alive. For me it took me back to Kimenye’s Moses series. He is a rather outlandish “grand-dad” whose stories of youth make one laugh and cackle.He’s writing to his grand-son Edwin but you wonder whether the things he says are the things a grand-son should be hearing. Nonetheless his two letters are a good dose of comedy – Rangashu the Great and The Accidental Thief.

Like I said before, Mukondiwa manages successfully to use satire in his stories. One of the most guffaw-moments has to be in Winner Takes All where the writer ridicules the insufficiency of the Zimbabwean currency.

“Kuzeni sat in the back of the open truck. He had paid half a trillion dollars for the journey from Harare and a place in the cold back of the truck is all his money could buy him. At the start of the day it would have been enough to get him through the entire journey to Muzarabani Growth point. But as inflation by the minute ate into his savings, by dusk it could only take him halfway through the journey to Mvurwi where he would sleep and start the rest of the journey on the morrow to Muzarabani.”

Kuzeni’s life much as many of the other characters Mukondiwa draws, seems to be of a Zimbabwean people who have learned to live on wit in incredibly strenuous conditions. It reminds us that sometimes life goes beyond surviving and just having a laugh to live.

He has some brilliantly written lines – the one that hit me most being “IF prostitution were a religion, Rejoice Chinharaunda would be the Pope.” He writes of diplomats of Zimbabwe merely surviving on wit in countries like the United States of America; of women who survive on sugar daddies and sometimes fail because sugar daddies are sometimes sex maniacs, of former slaves turned slave drivers – a lesson that men forget so quickly who they were when power knocks. The range of stories is unbelievably and interestingly wide.

It was an enjoyable read.

You can buy Robert’s book on Amazon.


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