Vous êtes ici : Accueil / Littérature / Littérature postcoloniale / Rebellious voices in NoViolet Bulawayo’s « Glory » (2022)

Rebellious voices in NoViolet Bulawayo’s « Glory » (2022)

Par Charline Dossat : Étudiante en Master 2 - ENS de Lyon
Publié par Marion Coste le 22/05/2024

Activer le mode zen

[Fiche] In ((Glory)), Zimbabwean writer NoViolet Bulawayo gives voice to a multitude of unheard animal citizens who resist political oppression in the fictional kingdom of Jidada. She offers an original fable about her country, paying tribute to victims of the regime while glorifying collective strength.

Introduction

In 2011, NoViolet Bulawayo was awarded the Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story “Hitting Budapest”, on which she based her debut novel We Need New Names, published two years later. This coming-of-age novel— shortlisted for the 2013 Booker Prize— tells the story of a ten-year-old girl named Darling, who lives with her friends in a Zimbabwean shantytown called Paradise. She manages to escape the political violence of her country and travels to the United States as an illegal immigrant, where she tries to find a new home. The author herself, who is a “Born Free” (i.e. a citizen born after 1980, the year of Zimbabwe’s independence from British colonial rule), grew up in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and moved to the US when she was a teenager. Her pen name is composed of the Ndebele ((The Ndebele people are an ethnic group from Southern Africa who, in Zimbabwe, now live primarily around the city of Bulawayo.)) word for “with” (“No”), the name of her mother (Violet) and that of her hometown (Bulawayo). She lived in California and taught at Cornell and Stanford Universities, but returned to Zimbabwe after the fall of Robert Mugabe in November 2017, and thought of writing a non-fiction piece about this event, though she eventually turned to fiction.

Her second novel Glory was published on 8 March 2022 and shortlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize, making the author the first Black African woman to appear on the Booker list twice. In this novel, Bulawayo continues to write about the social realities of her homeland, drawing from George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945), a hypotext which was abundantly referred to on social media at the time of publication, and following the African folklore and tradition of animal stories. Glory is a satirical fable staging anthropomorphised animals at the time of Zimbabwe’s political coup in 2017, when Mugabe was ousted after holding on to power for almost forty years. The novel opens with the deposition of the Old Horse, the president of the animal kingdom Jidada, who has ruled for 40 years after the War of Liberation. The former vice-president Tuvius Delight Shasha, who is also a horse, becomes leader of the country but hope for change quickly shifts into despair. Destiny Lozikeyi Khumalo, a goat who returns to Jidada after a decade of exile, becomes a major figure of rebellion, writing about the country’s painful history and even immortalis[ing] national history” (Mavengano, 2023, 21) in her book entitled The Red Butterfly. The novel explores issues of political violence, but also of memory and collective action. Despite the context of national and historical trauma, Glory is also sometimes a comedy, as well as a demonstration of how sharp humour and playful language can be means of political resistance. The transformation of Zimbabwean and international politics into a farce will first be analysed, before we focus on the female characters of the book, who play a key role in resistance. Eventually, we will examine the celebration of the power of oral storytelling.

1. A topical masquarade

Glory depicts reality in Zimbabwe and includes many references to the country’s history, from major events like Mugabe’s fall or the 1983 Gukurahundi genocide ((During the Gukurahundi, from 1983 to 1987, the Zimbabwean army’s Fifth Brigade committed genocide against the Ndebele ethnic group in Matabele (https://www.genocidewatch.com/fr/single-post/zimbabwe-genocide-watch-2023).)) to comical details like the fact that Marvellous the donkey, the Old Horse’s wife, got a PhD “before you could say diss, for dissertation” (41), an allusion to Grace Ntombizodwa Mugabe, the former first lady of the country, who was awarded her PhD after three months. As for Tuvius Delight Shasha, he represents Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was installed in Mugabe’s place after the coup, and is nicknamed “The Crocodile”. Tuvy is described as having the stillness, patience and passion of this animal, and his destiny is clearly linked to that of the crocodile character who terrifies children in the village of Lozikeyi. The nickname could also be a reference to the South African prime minister PW Botha and supporter of the Apartheid, known as the Groot Krokodil.

Therefore, it seems that the detour through animal characters is not meant to create a distance from real life in Zimbabwe, but rather to emphasise the extent of corruption in that country and the absurdity of the political situation. Indeed, Glory depicts politics as a masquerade, and shows how surreal the circumstances are, for example in this ironic list of Jidada’s ministers: “the Minister of the Revolution, the Minister of Corruption, the Minister of Order, the Minister of Things, the Minister of Nothing, the Minister of Propaganda, the Minister of Homophobic Affairs, the Minister of Disinformation and the Minister of Looting” (9), bringing to mind the Ministries of Truth, Love, Peace, and Plenty in Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.

In addition, Bulawayo does not confine her narrative to state affairs but tackles international issues, as can be seen when the murder of George Floyd is referred to on a stifling page covered with the sentence “I can’t breathe” (206). The author also raises the question of the responsibility of the writer, as she said in an interview: “This is a point in my work where I have to pause and consider how I position myself in relation to the world, and what is happening; to push my art to do more, to be engaged, and to continue to be in solidarity with struggles for all kinds of freedom everywhere” (Clark, 2022).

Because Glory is a reaction to a post-independence political regime, it could be argued that it is aligned with other African disenchantment novels like La Vie et demie (1979) by Congolese writer Sony Labou Tansi, or Les Soleils des indépendances (1968) by Ivorian author Ahmadou Kourouma, which both depict imaginary lands and the gap between what was hoped for after the movement of decolonisation and what the corrupt elites actually offered to the people. It is made clear that politics become a farce in which men abuse their authority, which is why Bulawayo places her hopes in the rebellion of female characters.

2. Exploring the personal and the political: the specificities of the female experience

In Glory, the female characters, called “femals”, seem to be holding the story together. One of the first characters the reader encounters is Marvellous the donkey, nicknamed Dr Sweet Mother. Even though she is undoubtedly despised and as tyrannical as her husband, she holds a subversive power as she spreads anti-imperialist ideas and dreams of being an enemy to Jidada’s patriarchal organisation from the beginning of the book. Her verbal ability makes her a social and political dissident as she intimidates the powerful ‘mal’ politicians in the Party of Power (Mavengano, 2023, 6). Thereby, she seems to be twisting the symbolic meaning of the donkey in traditional tales, which often embodies stupidity and humility, as opposed to the horse that is presented as a noble animal. In the novel on the contrary, the donkey’s husband is the one who misspeaks during his speech, while she literally shines thanks to her oratorial skills. In addition, by saying in the opening sequence that “This is not an animal farm but Jidada with a -da and another -da!” (30), she reminds the reader that Glory is not only inspired by the Western literary tradition but is strongly attached to a local African framework. Besides, Marvellous is said to be “at her crushingest […] when she expresses herself in her mother tongue” (33), which suggests that it is not the English language.

Destiny and her mother Simiso are also key characters in the novel as they carry the weight of History but also bring hope in Jidada. Their bodies bear witness to the state-organised violence and torture they were the victims of and as such constitute “an important archive of the Seat of Power’s cruelty” (243). Their strong mother-daughter relationship reveals that trauma is intergenerational, and yet that it can be healed. The novel shows how History repeats itself, not only because it recounts real events such as the succession of authoritarian regimes, but also because iterative sentences are used throughout the book, for instance phrases like “Jidada with a -da and another -da” or the ironic expression “New Dispensation” while the system has remained the same. The title of the chapter “Past, Present, Future, Past” is meaningful as it reflects the inaction of the political powers as well as the difficulty for citizens to imagine a brighter future, but Destiny is a symbol of hope as the reading of a passage from her book is a source of change: she becomes a leading figure of resistance and triggers the rebellion of Jidadans resulting in the Second Independence.

The Sisters of the Disappeared, political dissidents that are brutally repressed in the first pages of the book, are another example of the power of female characters. What is striking is that when they prevent the Defenders—dogs protecting the regime— from imprisoning Simiso, they are described as a calm mob, a quiet hurricane, while they are ripping the Defenders to shreds. This description not only reveals the power of the collective and especially of sorority, but also creates a counter-power, in the sense that the Sisters do not seem to be using the language of violence, which is that of the male soldiers and political leaders.

The stories of all these characters illustrate the specificities of the female experience, and bring to mind the concept of double colonisation ((“A term coined in the mid-1980s, and usually identified with Holst-Petersen and Rutherford’s A Double Colonization: Colonial and Post-Colonial Women’s Writing published in 1985. The term refers to the observation that women are subjected to both the colonial domination of empire and the male domination of patriarchy. In this respect empire and patriarchy act as analogous to each other and both exert control over female colonial subjects, who are, thus, doubly colonized by imperial/patriarchal power” (Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin, 2013, 66). )), coined by Kirsten Holst Petersen and Anna Rutherford in 1986 to refer to the status of women in the postcolonial world: women are oppressed both by male dominance and by the imperial power, and are thus subjected to two kinds of colonisation—due to their race and their gender. Bulawayo therefore offers an anti-patriarchal and decolonial counter-narrative, and gives space to the voiceless.

3. Unifying voices: the importance of polyphony

The narrative and stylistic techniques as well as the structure of the novel offer a multitude of perspectives: the chorus of voices and the vignettes reflect the collective ambition at the heart of Bulawayo’s project. It is interesting that the book should bear witness to the important role that social media play today, with tweets enclosed in two different chapters and numerous mentions of WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook, which once again broadens the range of narratives. Because polyphony is favoured over univocality, the writer becomes the carrier of unheard voices, bringing to mind the words of Jamaican author Olive Senior: “voice is the one means by which people lacking power in other ways can acquire and exert control” (2005, 39). Indeed, storytelling and empowerment are intimately intertwined: it is precisely through storytelling that Destiny, whose historical book offers a counter-narrative to the exclusive official story narrated by the state and its agents, and whose voice is “full of the dead” (358), gives life to the memory of the Disappeared.

More than written storytelling, orality is of paramount importance, as can be seen in the numerous mentions of music and songs, in the rhythm of the sentences and the repetitions which give a sense of incantation. Emphasising the importance of an oral culture heritage as a source of meaning and resource for writing is a way to resist imperialism and neo-colonialism and their violence in a post-colonial society. Glory subverts the imposed language of imperialism as the text is fraught with untranslated words and clauses in Ndebele, one of the most striking examples being the use of “tholukuthi” ((“Around the time of the Zimbabwe coup, the song Tholukuthi Hey! was released, and once it went viral, the refrain became a meme” (Ladipo Manyika, 2022).)) as a refrain. Space is also given to indigenous religions, reminding us of the cultural erasure that colonialism imposed, and enticing citizens to speak, to take up space and to recover their agency. For example, Destiny’s public reading of her book is later followed by a significant collective realisation: “[telling stories] made us understand the importance not only of narrating our own stories, our own truths, but of writing them down as well so they were not taken from us, never altered, tholukuthi never erased, never forgotten” (373). Therefore, Bulawayo’s writing participates in the decolonisation of language through its oralisation and underlines the importance of storytelling in order to protect native languages and beliefs as well as memories.

The novel warns readers against the dangers of inaction and hints at the political responsibility of the people, while celebrating the power of the collective: it is first and foremost dedicated to “all Jidadans, everywhere”, and the use of the pronoun “we”—which conjures up the title of Bulawayo’s first novel We Need New Names—aims at emphasising the strength emerging from the unity of citizens. Another piece of evidence of this collective strength is the transformation of the Disappeared into red butterflies, which attack the House of Power at the end of the story, thereby materialising the country’s hopeful Second Independence. It is also made clear that individual glory leads to abuses of power and excess, while the glory of the community is “the kind of glory that burns eternal and glows with living light” (400).

In Glory, Bulawayo thus shows how storytelling is a means to deal with the past and historical trauma, and orality seems to have a healing function: it can have an individual impact regarding one’s self-discovery, but also a collective influence as it offers a space for the reconstruction of the national identity.

Commented excerpt

This section entitled “PORTRAIT OF SILENCE” is placed towards the end of the novel, right after Destiny read an extract from her book The Red Butterflies of Jidada and was shot by Commander Jambaja. It depicts the silence at Destiny’s wake:

When these who were there told those who weren’t there that Destiny’s wake was held in utmost silence, tholukuthi what they meant was that Destiny’s wake was held in utmost silence. That no word was ever uttered for anything or any reason by anybody. That not even a prayer, not a funeral song was heard. There were no sad sighs, no sniffles. If tears were shed, they were silent tears. If things needed to be said, animals looked into each other’s eyes without blinking until whatever needed to be communicated was expressed and understood beyond a shadow of a doubt. That even the breathing was done in silence. That bodies moved with the quiet of shadows. That even when Gloria and her young friends laced together their old tennis shoes and zipped them towards electric wires, they didn’t utter a single word, and that the tennis shoes flew in silent silence and the wires caught them in silence also. That next door, inside Eden, when the Duchess fell into a trance and Nkunzemnyama arrived blinded by the reddest rage, his terrible fury was perfectly mute, and the drums that welcomed him were soundless drums. And the flies too were silent and also the cockroaches were silent and the mosquitoes were silent and the mice were silent and the birds were silent and the cicadas were silent and the crickets were silent and everything was silent, it was just silent, tholukuthi silent-silent-silent.

Bulawayo, NoViolet. 2022. Glory. New York: Viking, pp.359-360.

This portrayal of silence is introduced by the expression “When these who were there told those who weren’t there”, which is repeated many times throughout the novel and here encompasses silence in the process of collective storytelling. It appears perfectly normal that the animals should grieve Destiny in silence before her funeral, and yet the silence that is described seems to be exceptional. First of all, the novel sometimes resembles a cacophony and voice is often exuberant and excessive, as is the case after the elections for example: “They mooed, they meowed, they bleated, they bellowed, they quacked, they brayed, they neighed, they grunted, they clucked, they shrieked, they cackled” (136). Moreover, silence is here described as if it had different degrees, which is not self-evident: for instance, the adjectives “utmost” and even “silent” qualify silence in the passage. What is striking is that silence is not conveyed through euphemisms or ellipses; on the contrary it is emphasised through very explicit descriptions.

Silence could of course be a deliberate strategy to distance oneself from pain, and a way to pay a tribute to Destiny, but a sense of the uncanny is here conveyed. Indeed, “not even a prayer, not a funeral song was heard”, suggests that silence should not have completely erased the presence of sounds (for example that of sighs or sniffles) and voices. Something is abnormal, as can be seen with the mention of reactions that should have been loud or at least perceptible, such as rage and tears, or the drums, which are soundless. This choice of words is significant because the adjective “silent” could have been once again repeated, but the adjective “soundless” presupposes the existence of sound before immediately negating it with the suffix “less”.

This excerpt is particularly meaningful as it underlines the importance of Destiny’s death in the narrative. Silence blocks sight (“Nkunzemnyama arrived blinded by the reddest rage”) but also prevents the animals from hearing and therefore from speaking, as can be seen with the use of the adjective “mute”, which obviously means silent but which hints at the inability to speak. While silence appears constraining and reflects uneasiness and pain, it becomes part and parcel of the polyphonic narrative: the characters are able to communicate through their eyes. It could even be argued that silence, which was already personified in the title of the section, becomes a character in hollow, embodying Destiny’s absence. The animals are all gathered around in silence (perhaps even around the silence itself), and understand each other without using sounds, music or voices, which may foreshadow the end of the story: they all hear the new national anthem but in their hearts rather than through their ears, meaning that it remains silent in a way.

Paradoxically this extract seems to encourage political action: a sense of urgency can be felt in the last sentence and especially in the last words: “everything was silent, it was just silent, tholukuthi silent-silent-silent”, which suggests that after this wake, Destiny’s absence will need to be filled in and that the people must carry on with the revolution.

Notes

Bibliography

ASHCROFT, Bill, GRIFFITHS, Gareth, and TIFFIN, Helen. 2013. Postcolonial Studies: The Key Concepts. London: Routledge.

BULAWAYO, NoViolet. “Hitting Budapest”, Boston Review, 1 November 2010, https://www.bostonreview.net/articles/bulawayo-hitting-budapest/.

BULAWAYO, NoViolet. 2013. We Need New Names. New York: Reagan Arthur Books, Little, Brown and Company.

BULAWAYO, NoViolet. 2022. Glory. New York: Viking.

CLARK, Alex. “NoViolet Bulawayo: ‘I’m encouraged by this new generation that wants better’”, The Guardian, 19 March 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2022/mar/19/noviolet-bulawayo-animal-farm-style-allegory-important-hope-zimbabwe-orwell-glory#:~:text=%E2%80%9CThis%20is%20a%20point%20in,all%20kinds%20of%20freedom%20everywhere.%E2%80%9D. Accessed 22 November, 2023.

KOUROUMA, Ahmadou. 1970. Les Soleils des indépendances. Paris: Éditions du Seuil.

LABOU TANSI, Sony. 1979. La Vie et demie. Paris: Éditions du Seuil.

LADIPO MANYIKA, Sarah. “Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo review – a Zimbabwean Animal Farm”, The Guardian, 23 March 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2022/mar/23/glory-by-noviolet-bulawayo-review-a-zimbabwean-animal-farm. Accessed 22 November, 2023.

MARAVESA, Tobias, JAKAZA, Ernest, and MAVENGANO, Esther. 2023. Multidisciplinary Knowledge Production and Research Methods in Sub-Saharan Africa: Language, Literature and Religion. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

MAVENGANO, Esther. 2023. “The Phallocentric Paradox and Semantics of Eves Myth in Zimbabwes Contemporary National Politics: An Ecofeminist Reading of Bulawayos Novel, Glory”, Hervormde teologiese studies, volume 79, n°3, pp.1-9.

SENIOR, Olive. 2005. “The Poem as Gardening, the Story as Su-Su: Finding a Literary Voice”, Journal of West Indian Literature, volume 14, n°1/2, pp.35-50.

 

Cette fiche a été rédigée dans le cadre d'un Master 2 à l'ENS de Lyon.

 

Pour citer cette ressource :

Charline Dossat, "Rebellious voices in NoViolet Bulawayo’s « Glory » (2022)", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), mai 2024. Consulté le 25/06/2024. URL: https://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/litterature/litterature-postcoloniale/rebellious-voices-in-noviolet-bulawayos-glory-2022