Registered under the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe

18 July 2010


Bryony Rheam’s This September Sun (ISBN: 978-0-7974-3744-9) published by ’amaBooks, Bulawayo, in 2009 has really opened a platform for literary conversation through reviews published in different outlets. Below are two more reviews, which we hope you will enjoy and trigger further interest in reading the book. Mungana’s review appeared in The Standard and the second review done by Phillip Chidavaenzi appeared in The Zimbabwean. Next to the reviews is a poem We Falter No More by Courage Muganji, which appeals to the winning instinct inherent in all of us who dream, see visions, the way we do, and form them into words on paper for others to see, feel, taste, hear, touch the truth and meaning of this world.


I must begin this review by confessing that prior to my reading Rheam’s This September Sun I had very little knowledge of the fictional works of white Rhodesian and Zimbabwean authors. As a university undergraduate majoring in English in the late 1980’s I was formally introduced to Doris Lessing’s The Grass is Singing, Arthur Shearly Cripps’ poetry and T.O. McLoughlin’s Karima and that was all. On my own I later read Lessing’s Collected African Stories, The Four Gated City and African Laughter, and I also delved into Ian Douglas Smith’s autobiography Bitter Harvest. This September Sun impressed me as a new refreshing breeze that offers an incisive insight into the Rhodesian and, later, Zimbabwean psyche.
The book is divided into three parts, though there is a chronological sequence in its progression. One is skilfully ushered, often through letters and diary entries, into a rich but complex tapestry of both Zimbabwean history and a family’s history and secrets. It is an intriguing and riveting story of the protagonist Ellie McIntyre and her grandmother Evelyn Saunders. The novel reminds me of Chenjerai Hove’s apt observation that one can best learn the history of a country by reading its fictional works, rather than visiting its history textbooks. This book, which reads as if it is autobiographical, is a great tale of the bond between Ellie and Gran Evelyn, a bond which goes beyond the latter’s death.
Part One opens with Zimbabwe celebrating its independence on 18 April 1980, which date coincides with the protagonist’s sixth birthday. This transition from the old world (Rhodesia) to a new one (Zimbabwe) mirrors the change in Evelyn Saunders who leaves her husband and embraces her own independence. In a peculiar way, the separation also signals an independence of sorts for Ellie who can now pay frequent visits to her beloved Gran who now lives alone. Henceforth we witness the growth and blooming of this very strong relationship. Part One closes with Gran’s gruesome murder, which also reflects the end of a chapter in the protagonist’s life. Parts Two and Three of the novel make use of Gran’s diary entries stretching from January 1946 to October 2004, shortly before her death at age 77. These diary entries gradually provide the missing blocks of the jigsaw puzzle of Gran’s eventful life as well as those of the others in Ellie’s family.
Through the diary entries, Ellie embarks on a journey to unearth the great mystery that her family is. She confesses that ‘all my life my grandmother had been a mystery to me. I was perhaps the dearest person to her, yet I knew the least about her.’(p 233) We witness Ellie moving from naivety and gullibility in the process of ‘dismantling the woman I thought I knew’ and her confrontation and interrogation of a ‘childhood of lies’. In the process, she resurrects a life littered with ‘the ghosts of yesterday’. It then dawns on Ellie that ‘the greatest journey we go on is inward towards our selves, rather than outwards and away.’(p 127) How true this statement is for both Ellie and Gran’s lives! Much as Gran detests being ‘surrounded by the ghosts of yesterday’ (p 265), she cannot exorcise these ghosts and the past haunts her relentlessly. It is a past mired in cuckolding her husband Leonard through her relationship with her lover with whom she has an affair reminiscent of Heathcliffe and Catherine’s in Charlotte Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. There is also the ghost of her son Jeremy, the facts of whose death come to light in the novel through Ellie’s reading of her grandmother’s diaries.
One cannot miss the political undertones that colour the pages of the novel. These political undercurrents, which constitute a subplot, offer an incisive insight into Rhodesia of the late 1940s right up to 18 April 1980. We are allowed glimpses of the racist mentality of the hardcore Rhodies who then refuse to come to terms with the reality of a new Zimbabwe. These are shown to have inflated egos and insist on sustaining a life constructed around fantasy and an irretrievable past. Rheam sums up these whites as those who ‘could’ve won the war if only Smith had not given into Nationalist aggression, those who had always been on the brink of victory when Smith had surrendered.’(p 24) There are those like Granddad who feel betrayed by the ‘bloody British… sold us down the river. Fought for King and country. For what? Where is their Empire now?’(p 86) There is also an indictment of the government of Zimbabwe by way of counterbalance. Its shortcomings are portrayed through the culture of fear and instability it inculcates, through the government’s handling of the dark period of dissident disturbances in Matabeleland and in correcting land imbalances. There is however hope in the book that the two races will coexist happily.
The way the book is structured adds to the richness of the narrative. The novel, just like the lives of the characters, does not have a clear beginning and a clear ending. There are constant shifts involving the present, the past and the future. One is reminded of the narrative style of literary greats such as Virginia Wolf, James Joyce and Dambudzo Marechera. When asked by another character about her life, Ellie retorts that ‘the beginning keeps changing.’(p 268) There is a frustrating search by Ellie for a beginning, for rejuvenation. It is from this that the novel gets its title: ‘There is a poetry to September, a song, a promise. It speaks of a new beginning, yet it heralds an end.’(p 115) Such is life, Ellie learns.
Minus the extensive use of extracts reproduced in the book that give it an air of being contrived and unnecessarily add to its volume, This September Sun is a rich addition to the canon of Zimbabwean and world literature. Bryony Rheam’s powerful voice must be accorded a niche in college and university syllabi.

About The Reviewer Francis Mungana is a lecturer in the Department of English and Communication at Midlands State University


BRYONY Rheam may sound an unfamiliar name to some readers, but those who follow the trends in contemporary Zimbabwean literature will appreciate that she is no newcomer in the local literary circles. Some of her stories have appeared in the ‘Short Writings from Bulawayo’ series. The Zambian–based Zimbabwean teacher-cum-writer had just had her debut novel – ‘This September Sun’ – published by ’amaBooks.
The book tells the story of Ellie, intertwined with the tales of her loved ones, and how fate often interferes with people’s well-laid plans.
Over the past 10 years, many Zimbabweans have fled socio-economic hardships precipitated by an unstable political environment, in pursuit of the proverbial greener pastures and, as an icing to the cake, a better life.
But Rheam successfully punctures the romantic illusions that many locals have about the European Diaspora –especially in the UK – showing that London is, after all, not the paradise of our dreams, as those fleeing a collapsing nation would quickly admit. When the protagonist, Ellie, gets a chance to go to the UK, she’s overjoyed, but her stay there gives her a rare opportunity of introspection.
What I found striking was the fact that despite her joy at leaving Zimbabwe, when she gets to the UK, she felt “a dislocation” from her “surroundings” and learns that life “was unreal there” (pp125). The general assumption is that white Zimbabweans who go to the UK are better off and can fit in better than their black counterparts, but Rheam successfully enables the readers to disabuse themselves of this notion.
It would appear that dislocation from a familiar environment forces people to hold on to anything that keeps them firmly attached to their roots and this comes out strongly as Ellie begins to think so much about her home. She confesses: “I found myself reading African novels more and more: Nadine Gordimer, André Brink, Doris Lessing…” (pp135).
Rheam also poignantly captures what I would call the terror of the abortive land “reform” in Zimbabwe. Ellie’s return from the UK coincides with the people’s attempts at an artificial escape of the horror on the ground through turning to foreign news and locking themselves up in their homes.
The book is littered with deeply felt, moving scenes such as Ellie’s last encounter with Miles, when she receives the sad news of her grandmother’s murder and when she discusses the family history with her mother as well as the time she spends with Wally dying in a British hospital.
For the greater part, Rheam uses the epistolary style to narrate the story, with letters written by Ellie’s late grandmother revealing a lot of details about the family history and secrets as well as the grandmother’s past love affairs.
It is clear that death unveils a lot of information and secrets as you rummage through a deceased person’s belongings.
Although ‘This September Sun’ starts rather slowly, it’s an engaging novel that’s worth reading.


The initiative to win, granted
The seeds of inspiration can sprout

The little guns can now spit
The blue ink to victory
Liberate literary thoughts and watch them soar

We falter no more but walk to triumph
Achieve sleight of our minds
This potential is my panacea
Forever and ever

Courage Muganji, Braeside, Harare

1 comment:

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