'Glory' book review: A political satire on Zimbabwe’s history that pays homage to Geroge Orwell’s classic
Glory demands awareness of Zimbabwe’s history, as much as it compels readers to find out more.
NoViolet Bulawayo’s Glory is partly dedicated to “all Jidadas, everywhere”. A book that recounts former Zimbabwean prime minister Robert Mugabe’s revolution and his subsequent post-colonial reign on the country, immediately becomes a universal story, recognisable, in parts, for democracies everywhere. “Jidada with a da and another da” is a fictional country reeling under the tyrannical regime of over four decades where corruption, economic collapse and a high crime rate are rampant.
Paying homage to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, in Glory, Jidada is a land of animals ruled by the old horse or the Father of the Nation, his bullish young donkey wife Marvellous, his deputy horse and army veteran Tuvy, and a ruthless and vicious police force of defenders comprising attack dogs.
Framed around the military coup d’état that ousted Mugabe, and had his vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa replace him, Bulawayo writes her tale of anthropomorphic characters with vivacity, humour and rage that seeps out from that humour. “Comrades on the Seat of Power, who, despite their so-called credentials, despite the stories they told about themselves, she discovered, were fathers as much as heaps of dried turds could ever be fathers of anything,” she writes.
Glory demands awareness of Zimbabwe’s history, as much as it compels readers to find out more. Her use of animals to narrate this tale also grants her the desired distance from real events to do justice to them. A political satire in its finest form, she names Jidada’s cabinets as the ministries of Revolution, Corruption, Things, Nothing, Order, Propaganda, Homophobic Affairs, Disinformation, and Looting.
The word tholukuthi finds a way into the novel in a manner that seems grating at first but soon becomes a part of the reading experience. Literally meaning ‘you find that’, it was late rapper Killer Kau’s song ‘Tholukuthi Hey’ that became the unofficial anthem for the revolution that swept the country in 2017 in the form of the coup. The song is critical of the government, the failing justice system and the rising unemployment.
Through characters like Destiny, the goat who was exiled from the country for participating in protests against rigged elections, Bulawayo recounts difficult historical events like the Gukurahundi genocide.
Entire chapters are written in the format of a Twitter debate, making Glory feel like a 21st-century update on Animal Farm. The omnipresent narrator not only gets into the minds of the leaders of Jidada, but also the Jidadans, who struggle between adulation for their leader, and the inability to understand his role in them not having enough to feed their children at home.
There is, however, hope at the end of the tunnel as the book moves towards the possibility of an optimistic future. Bulawayo’s first novel We Need New Names made her the first Black Zimbabwean woman to be nominated for the Booker Prize in 2013. Glory too is a deservedly strong contender for the coveted prize this year. (This is the third of a six-part series, featuring reviews of books shortlisted for this year’s Booker Prize)