Glory: A Novel

  • By NoViolet Bulawayo
  • Viking
  • 416 pp.

This searing fable of corruption in Zimbabwe conjures Orwell.

Glory: A Novel

NoViolet Bulawayo’s second work of fiction, Glory, builds on African and worldwide folklore traditions to tell its story through an all-animal cast of characters. For many Western readers, this approach will likely evoke George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which also relies on anthropomorphism. The comparison is especially apt since both books are about the betrayal of a revolution — with Orwell’s book targeting Russia, and Bulawayo’s her native Zimbabwe.

The betrayals of Zimbabwe’s revolution and independence of 1980 are plentiful, many of them highlighted in Glory: the Gukurahundi genocide of 1982-1987, when the military turned on revolutionaries who had fought alongside them against the colonizers; the violence and suppression by the military in July 2008 after another rigged election; and every day in between and since, thanks to the relentless corruption and plunder of the country’s resources by those in power.

Set in the fictional country of Jidada, the events of Bulawayo’s novel so closely mirror real life that the reader can easily identify who the animals represent. The most important are an old horse, referred to as His Excellency, Father of the Nation, or simply the Old Horse (modeled after Robert Mugabe); his wife, a donkey called Dr. Sweet Mother (inspired by Grace Mugabe); and Vice President, a horse named Tuvius Delight Shasha, or “Tuvy” (based on Zimbabwe’s current president, Emmerson Mnangagwa).

Those familiar with Zimbabwe’s recent history will not be surprised when Tuvy is fired by the Father of the Nation to clear the way for Dr. Sweet Mother to replace him — a plan thwarted by the military, or the Defenders, who are all dogs. When the Defenders depose the Old Horse and put Tuvy in charge, the animals of the nation rejoice at the promise of change, but their joy is short lived when the new president starts implementing the New Dispensation, and free and fair elections prove to be anything but.

Aside from these political characters, two others — young Destiny and her mother, Simiso, both goats — are the heart of the book. Through them and their neighbors in the township of Lozikey, we learn not only about the violent suppression of every protest and act of resistance, but also the grinding day-to-day reality for Zimbabweans: shortages and queues, blackouts and water rationing, an acute lack of supplies at hospitals and schools, and a 150-percent hike in fuel prices from one day to the next.

While much of Bulawayo’s focus is on the corruption of the Zimbabweans in charge, she doesn’t spare the foreign powers that also carry blame for her country’s bleak situation: former colonists and neo-colonists, as well as China and Russia for supporting the corrupt regimes in exchange for billion-dollar mining rights. She even lands a few digs against a former U.S. president, aka “the Tweeting Baboon of the United States.”

Despite their similarities, Animal Farm and Glory have strong stylistic differences. While Orwell used third-person-omniscient narration — a detached, straightforward style — Bulawayo switches points of view throughout the book and even within chapters, weaving in and out of the creatures’ heads and making extensive use of the collective “we.” The results are more visceral and immediate than in Orwell’s story, conveying the urgency of her country’s plight.

At 400 pages, Glory is also more than triple the length of Animal Farm and much more ambitious, rife with themes of sorcery and the supernatural, tribalism, and the subjugation of women. Bulawayo touches on the topics of trauma passing from generation to generation; history repeating itself, especially when people romanticize the past; the internet providing an escape into alternate reality while also serving as a tool for dissent; and evangelists not only supporting corrupt leaders but also co-exploiting their own followers.

While Bulawayo’s peppering of the text with non-English words — such as “tholukuthi,” a Zulu word used for emphasis — might prove distracting to some readers, one doesn’t need to know their literal translation to follow the book’s trajectory. Even more accessible is the humor she manages to find amid the darkness, usually used to mock the animals in charge. In one scene, shortly after Tuvy ascends to power, he speaks at a church to the congregation:

“Say tremendous in Jesus’s name!”
“Tremendous in Jesus’s name!!!”
“No, I meant just tremendous!”

According to Orwell’s essay “Why I Write,” Animal Farm was his first attempt “to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.” Bulawayo shares her similar intent in Glory’s foreword, as well as through the character of Destiny, who learns “the importance not only of narrating our own stories, our own truths, but of writing them down as well so they are not taken from us, tholukuthi never erased, never forgotten.”

Ultimately, despite the crushing of every act of resistance and a final, poignant tragedy, Bulawayo imagines a better life for her characters. One can only hope it will manifest for real Zimbabweans, as it is long overdue.

Imaginative, sweeping, hard-hitting, eye-opening, and unabashedly political, Glory is an important read. While it’s much too early in the year to make predictions, I’ll make one anyway. In 2013, Bulawayo’s first book, We Need New Names, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. This year, Glory will win it.

Susi Wyss is author of The Civilized World, a novel in stories set across Africa that was largely inspired by her 20-year career in international health. In addition to receiving the Maria Thomas Fiction Award, The Civilized World was named a “Book to Pick Up Now” by O, the Oprah Magazine.

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