||Brief Reviews - Fiction
by Hazelle Palmer
READING YVONNE VERA'S second novel, Nehanda (TSAR, 128 pages, $12.95 paper), is like savouring a sweet delicacy. Every page possesses its own special flavour; every morsel, a sinful delight. This novel tastes good; its words stay in your mouth for a long time. Its tale evokes memories of a time long past, the powers of ancestors, tribal dances, and the determination of the strong-willed.
Set in Zimbabwe in the late 19th century, Nehanda relates the story of a small village haunted by the slow, deliberate arrival of strangers. Panic-stricken, the villagers call to their ancestors for guidance, praying these spirits will show them how to protect themselves from the strangers' ways. The spirits give them Nehanda.
She is a young woman when the spirits possess her, but seems to age quickly as her special mission becomes clearer. As the white strangers gain a stranglehold on the land, they pursue their own noble cause: to colonize the Africans. When the strangers' numbers multiply and their presence and guns force the villagers into the hills, Nehanda finally has the wisdom of the ancestral spirits to lead her people's revolt. "She speaks with the guidance of the departed ... words grow like grass from her tongue."
This is a beautifully written novel. Vera's poetic, mystical style carries you from the Africans' passionate fight to the strangers' mannered ambivalence. This novel is based on true events, so readers won't have to guess who will win this fight. But somehow, caught up in the bravery of Vera's characters, you so want the outcome to be different.