Can We Talk and Other Stories by Shimmer Chinodya

shimmerDate Read: November 22nd 2014

Published: 2001 (originally published by Baobab Books in 1998)

Publisher: Heinemann (African Writers Series)

Pages: 154

The Blurb

Opening with the puzzled and innocent view of a boy looking in on the adult world from outside, this collection follows the transition from childhood to adult life. Youthful desires for prosperity, love and a purpose in life are undermined by experiences of humiliation, compromise and a failure to communicate, in a process that reflects a wider disillusionment and decline in post-independence Zimbabwe. In the final story, cynicism turns to anger as the narrator, facing the breakdown of his marriage, challenges his audience to confront the inaction that leads to disappointment and the deep-seated loneliness and alienated at the root of our estrangements.

Review – ★★★★ (4 stars)

This is a refreshing collection of 11 short stories and I’m glad I randomly spotted this at the bookstore! People, Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka are not the only legendary African Literature male novelists. Shimmer Chinodya is surely one of them- in my opinion! He is a wonderful poetic storyteller.

Can We Talk And Other Stories is a collection of stories that take readers through the transitions of boyhood to manhood. Various issues associated with coming-of-age such as confusion, fear, loneliness, depression, insecurity, alcoholism amongst others are tackled in these 11 short stories. It’s best to read these stories from the beginning to the end, as the stories are in chronological order with respect to the age of the main characters.

The novel starts off with a story of a precocious five year old boy, followed by tales of school life- in Zimbabwe and abroad, followed by stories of adult relationships and ends with a story of a forty-something year old man, lamenting his failed marriage called “Can We Talk”. “Can We Talk” was actually nominated for The Caine Prize for African Writing in year 2000- the year Leila Aboulela won the prize for her story “Museum”.

I enjoyed all the stories, mostly because they were different from the myriad of West African novels I usually read. I loved reading about Zimbabwe and admired Chinodya’s use of Shona (the principle language of Zimbabwe) in the text. The glossary at the back of the novel helped me translate some of the words used in the text, but even without the glossary I was able to understand the ideas conveyed in the stories. Chinoya’s use of alliteration, metaphors, repetition and other literature techniques were perfect in illustrating issues of love, confusion, guilt and loneliness. There is also a lot of humor in these stories- its not all depressing!

My favorite stories were:

“Brothers and Sisters” – A tale of a young man who suddenly becomes a staunch Christian and tries to convert everyone he interacts with to Christianity. He finally finds the love of this life, but when she finally reveals to him her true self, things take an interesting…exaggerated turn.

“Snow” – This is not a story per se…I wouldn’t call it a poem either. Its more like a collection of words. “Snow” more or less is a collection of words expressing different ideas and feelings about living in the West- from accents, to weather, food, international students, immigration etc. To get a gist of the text, here are two excerpts from pg. 59 & pg. 61:

‘White flesh white flesh. Blue eyes. Green eyes. Black eyes. Brown. Blonde hair. Brunette. Red. Black. Multivitamin smiles. Braced teeth. Sun-tan.

Food.

Foodfood foodfood foodfood.

French fried, fritters, frankfurters, fish, fillet, farina, falafels, figs, fennel, flax, Fanta, fruitbread.

Fat.

Fat fat fat.

Fudge-face, milk-nose, coke-lips, burger-bums, popcorn-belly, choc-cheeks, gum-teeth, cream-tongue, pizza-palate, Budweiser-chin, candy-kiss…’ (pg. 59)

‘Snow. Cold, loneliness. No legs, no laughter. Layers of loneliness packing into cakes of ice. The hard ice of longing. Cold and hard as pornography. Magazines splattered with blood-red flesh. Peep shows. Live.

Can the earth be so dead, so cruel? So white? Were shorts possible?

Oh, for a black face, for laughter, for warmth.’ (pg. 61)

I love this story because I’m currently obsessed with narratives on African life in the West/immigrant experiences. I especially love how “Snow” ends, because winter can truly get lonely and make any African miss home immensely! I simply understood and bonded with the collection of words and had fun reading it. Shimmer Chinodya is a wordsmith!

My only issue with this collection is that most of the stories were written from a male’s perspective. It would have been nice to have more than just one story (“Play Your Cards”) with a female voice.

But I will definitely be on the lookout for more Shimmer Chinodya books to purchase. I think I’d like to read his book- Chairman of Fools next.

My heart was glad after reading this novel. 🙂

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

Purchase Can We Talk and Other Stories on Amazon

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