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Book Review
Last Updated: 04/19/2004
Survival in Zimbabwe
Pearl Rumbidzayi Jumo

Yvonne Vera, The Stone Virgins, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003, ISBN 0-374-27008-2

Yvonne Vera’s Stone Virgins is a uniquely haunting tale of the echoes of two lives that are lived through the liberation struggle and post independence days in Zimbabwe. The novel is remarkable in the manner through which the two leading characters voices resonate in a memorable and haunting echo.

The novel is set in Kezi (a rural community in which the life of the community is centered around Thandabantu Store which is the central meeting point), Gulati –the home where the two sisters experience life and death together, and Buluwayo – the city where a new life begins for Nonceba.

This novel has a high degree of imagery and Vera lets images and objects speak in the place of the human voice through the most part. The natural life surrounding the persons in the novel lends it a distinctive life of its own giving the novel a uniqueness that Vera is renowned for in her works. The Marula Tree, rocks and grass, are all resonating in conflicting emotions, signaling life, death, trauma, and lost lives all in one lifetime.

The female characters in the form of Nonceba, Thenjiwe, Sihle and the liberation war fighters are endowed with an independence and strength that are peculiar at the time in which the novel is set. This more so since the period covered by the novel was well before the gender equality movement gathered momentum in Zimbabwe. It should be noted however that the women draw their independence not from third factors but from the very essence of their existence and lives.

Vera’s novel cuts conscientiously through two eras in Zimbabwe, and speaks of life on either side of the time. Shortly after independence from the Smith regime, Zimbabwe experienced a period of political uncertainty as it came under the assault of disgruntled dissidents. This is the time when the two sister’s lives are changed forever, thrust from the life they knew before into a path of darkness, that is drenched in blood and madness. The story then climaxes as it traces the remaining sisters tale of survival in the complex city.

To fully appreciate Vera’s work, it is necessary to be able to read through the sometimes confusing myriad of images and thought, to make a clear path in ones mind of the meaning of each sentence. To the novice reader, this novel can be frustrating, but for the experienced reader, an exquisite journey.

Pearl Rumbidzayi Jumo is from Zimbabwe and is a postgraduate law student.