CELEBRATED award-winning Zimbabwean author and playwright, Christopher Mlalazi, has penned his fourth novel tittled They Are Coming. It captures the texture of everyday life of residents in Bulawayo’s suburbs.
The book tells the story of a small family, the Ngwenya family, whose life is turned upside-down when Senzeni, Ngwenya’s only daughter decides to join the dreaded youth militia.
They Are Coming is another take from Mlalazi’s short story anthology, Dancing With Life: Tales From The Township. An excerpt of the story was published as a short story in the ama’Books Publishers short story anthology Where To Now, which has since been translated into Ndebele.
In an interview from his base in Germany where he is currently the guest writer of the city of Hanover, Mlalazi said his latest novel projects the life of people in Zimbabwe, capturing their everyday struggles in a country with a struggling economy.
“Without giving out much about the contents of the book so as to pique the curiosity of readers They Are Coming, attempts to tell the story of a township family who are economically hard pressed, and how, despite their unfortunate circumstance which they take head on, are able to show that they can laugh and dream about a better future,” Mlalazi said.
“This is all told against the pre-election campaigning of political parties of 2004 and the tension that gripped our lives then.”
Explaining the overarching message in the book, Mlalazi said his task was simply to observe people as they went about with their lives and capture it in art form.
“The message in the book is that you do it and we produce it as a work of art,” he said.
“The novel took Mlalazi nine years to complete, with about five publishers rejecting the manuscript before it was accepted by Weaver Press Zimbabwe,” he said.
“The book was begun in 2005 and so it makes it nine years to date; nine very long years of drafting and re-drafting, and rejections by about five publishers.
“I think the story was not yet ready then and I was rushing it, but finally in 2013 the story was shortlisted for the Kwani Manusrcipt award for unpolished novel manuscripts, and that is when I knew that it was now ready for a publisher.
“I then submitted it to Weaver Press and then a few weeks later I got a happy e-mail saying the manuscript had been accepted, and the rest is history.
“A good lesson I learnt from writing this book is patience and perseverance. Every journey, even if sometimes it might have a stuttering start, has a finishing line waiting for it on the other side of the horizon.”
The book is now available and can be purchased from Weaver Press and selected bookshops. It will be available online in the next two weeks.
Zimbabwean writers have been hogging the limelight of late, with NoViolet Bulawayo winning the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for her novel We Need New Names .
Another writer, Tendai Huchu, has been shortlisted for the 2014 Caine Prize. For Mlalazi, these achievements by fellow writers, inspire him to keep writing.
“Any celebration for a good work of art or writing by way of recognition of its good qualities through an award or a mention in an award even if one does not win, or by verbal acknowledgement in informal reading or writing circles, is good enough motivation for both the winner, other writers, especially those who are still starting, and for readers in general.
“If it’s a continental or international award, the country benefits too as well as being a confirmation on a world stage of the creative ability of its artists. NoViolet has done very well, and I too am inspired by her,” he said.
Mlalazi’s other novels include Many Rivers (2009), Running With Mother (2012) and the short story collection Dancing With Life: Tales From the Township (2008), which won the best first book award at the National Arts Merit Awards.
His eight plays, including the 2008 Oxfam/Novib PEN Freedom of Expression Award winner The Crocodile of Zambezi, have all been staged. Poems and stories are online and in print, including in the Caine Prize’s anthology The Obituary Tango (2006) and in The Literary Review.