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Petina Gappah’s An Elegy for Easterly

Eachan Johnson

an elegy for easterlyPetina Gappah
An Elegy for Easterly
Faber & Faber, 2009
304 pages
ISBN 978-0571246939

Petina Gappah dreams of a homecoming. But since the early 1990s, the Zimbabwe that was her home has sunk into a mire of corruption, despotism and hyperinflation; over three million have fled the country, their mourned homeland preserved only in memories.

Gappah sets down these memories in her debut collection, An Elegy for Easterly, as a verbal portrait of her expiring motherland, where the brush-strokes are the short stories she has each based “on one true thing”. The collection’s wide scope takes in past and present (Rhodesia, Zimbabwe); people and place (the cousin returning from America, the diplomatic assistant in Geneva falling foul of an email scam); the newsworthy and the trivial (the burial of a ruling party chief, a marital argument), all of it laced with deliciously dark comic undertones.

Scorning literary nationalism, the anthology appears to court an international audience—Gappah herself lives in Geneva, counselling on the law of the World Trade Organisation. English dialogue is interspersed with Shona, the predominant dialect of Zimbabwe, and this hybridization of cultures assimilates the reader into the vibrant, prosperous home left behind, but preserved in Gappah’s hopeful imagination. Easterly is an ambitious attempt to replace a na√Øve notion of homesickness with sympathy for Gappah’s own sickness of the place which was once her home, but which is no longer.

Eachan Johnson is a MChem student at Exeter College studying Bioinorganic Chemistry. He is a managing editor of the Oxonian Review.