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A Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist
A woman in a township in Zimbabwe is surrounded by throngs of dusty children but longs for a baby of her own; an old man finds that his new job making coffins at No Matter Funeral Parlor brings unexpected riches; a politician’s widow stands quietly by at her husband’s funeral, watching his colleagues bury an empty casket. Petina Gappah’s characters may have ordinary hopes and dreams, but they are living in a world where a loaf of bread costs half a million dollars, where wives can’t trust even their husbands for fear of AIDS, and where people know exactly what will be printed in the one and only daily newspaper because the news is always, always good.
In her spirited debut collection, the Zimbabwean writer Petina Gappah brings us the resilience and inventiveness of the people who struggle to live under Robert Mugabe’s regime. She takes us across the city of Harare, from the townships beset by power cuts to the manicured lawns of privilege and corruption, where wealthy husbands keep their first wives in the “big houses” while their unofficial second wives wait in the “small houses,” hoping for a promotion.
Despite their circumstances, the characters in An Elegy for Easterly are more than victims—they are all too human, with as much capacity to inflict pain as to endure it. They struggle with the larger issues common to all people everywhere: failed promises, unfulfilled dreams, and the yearning for something to anchor them to life.
"Petina Gappah's stories range from scathing satire of Zimbabwe's ruling elite to earthy comedy to sensitive accounts of the sufferings of humble victims of the regime. Gappah is a fine writer and a rising star of Zimbabwean literature."—J. M. Coetzee
"In an era when a never-ending newsfeed lets crucial events slip into oblivion, Petina Gappah's stories are particularly important. With great insight, humor, and energy, she brings us a world that, despite its differences at first glance, is not unlike our own: its people’s hopes and fears are our hopes and fears, their laughter and tears ours, too. Gappah is a powerful new writer worth celebrating."—Yiyun Li, author of The Vagrants
"In An Elegy for Easterly, Petina Gappah has written a vital and honest collection of stories that vividly capture the surreal personal tragedies of twenty-first-century Zimbabweans through a rich palette of wry, dark, and intimate voices."—Owen Sheers, author of Resistance and The Dust Diaries
"In this brave, compassionate debut collection, Zimbabwean writer Petina Gappah finds the irony and humanity in everyday life under the Mugabe regime."—David Daley, The Courier-Journal
"A revolutionary wife barters her silence for a seat in the Senate. A woman weds for wealth but receives a deadly virus. Short story writer Gappah trains her satiric wit on her Zimbabwean homeland where the powerful struggle against inflation and the powerless cope."—Ms. magazine
"Today’s Zimbabwe shows that you don’t need a war to destroy a country. After a promising start and years of prosperity, a toxic blend of unbridled power and unrestrained corruption has led to the current disaster: a nation ravaged by AIDS, farmland lying idle, and inflation so mind-boggling that it has rendered the Zimbabwean dollar more valuable as an eBay curiosity than as legal tender. An Elegy for Easterly, a debut collection of stories by the Zimbabwean writer Petina Gappah, turns this dire situation into a series of short, heartbreaking tales. Like people everywhere, the Zimbabweans in these stories personalize their troubles, viewing the social and economic forces that batter them in terms of the choices they make in their day-to-day lives . . . A summary of this book inevitably makes it seem bleak, but these stories are shot through with humor and empathy. And for anyone who has been in Zimbabwe in recent years, this book is full of closely observed local detail that will bring back memories: Kingsgate cigarettes and Castle lager; white-robed fundamentalists worshiping in open fields; ramshackle 'emergency taxis' running through Harare; and the music of Andy Brown, Oliver Mutukudzi, and the Bhundu Boys."—Geoff Wisner, The Christian Science Monitor
"Death and disaster, while never glossed over, are handled with unexpected humor, as they often are in folktales, and this is a part of the book's great charm . . . [One] story, about an elderly coffin maker who comes out of retirement and then dances himself to death on the floor of the 'Why Leave Guesthouse and Disco-Bar' has a wild, cracked gallows humor reminiscent of Chekhov's peasant stories. And 'The Maid from Lalapanzi', a wonderful tale structured partly as a chronicle of the various country girls hired and fired as maids in the narrator’s household, spreads out such a wealth of comedic social detail that you don't fully grasp the underlying brutality of the story until it's over. All of these pieces depend on swiftness and lightness for their effect; flaring up into momentary life and then fading out before they acquire any burdensome solemnity, and this . . . seems true to the essential nature of the [short story] form."—James Lasdun, The Guardian (UK)
"It is the frequent humour in these stories that makes them remarkable, even if their outcomes can be tragic. Often satirical, occasionally lyrical, they are a delight."—Tom Fleming, The Observer (UK)
"Gappah shows herself to be a mistress of crushing ironies and acerbic humour . . . A fiercely indignant, justly cynical and bravely unflinching work."—Trevor Lewis, The Sunday Times (London)
"A fine, soul-stirring debut presents 13 snapshots of life in desperate contemporary Zimbabwe. Hunger, disease and a worthless currency loom over this varied collection. In the title story, Josephat's wife believes, after three miscarriages, that his aunts are eating her children. The truth, which involves her unfaithful husband and a pregnant madwoman in their ramshackle township, is almost as shocking. Rich or poor, Zimbabwean men are equally promiscuous. Esther, a South African, calls them 'worthless dogs.' In 'At the Sound of the Last Post,' she is attending the state funeral of her husband, a hero of the liberation struggle who died from AIDS, which stalks many of these characters. The funeral is a sham: Her husband was a corrupt bigamist who avoided the war. The meaty 'Something Nice from London' spotlights a family of professionals dragged down by another useless male. After bleeding his parents dry, ne'er-do-well Peter lies dead in London, and his quarreling relatives await the return of his body in a scintillating black comedy. Elsewhere Gappah dips into the past. 'Aunt Juliana's Indian' shows an Indian shopkeeper/employer in 1979 to be almost as difficult as the whites, while in the effervescent 'My Cousin-Sister Rambanai' the ever-adaptable title character, a young immigrant woman, hustles her way in 2002 from Texas to London via Harare, greasing palms back home to get a new passport. 'The Negotiated Settlement' dissects a marriage. Thulani wed young and now feels trapped, though occasional flings relieve the pressure. His wife knows what he's doing, but despite a revenge fling with a fellow teacher, she wants only Thulani. The author gives this unhappy couple a ray of hope at the end, which is unusual here. Frustrated in love, her characters are more likely to consider suicide, as the mental patient in 'The Annex Shuffle' does, or to actually kill themselves, like the character in 'The Maid from Lalapanzi.' Searing, but never over the top: Gappah holds the anger and horror in check with exemplary artistic discipline."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"In her accomplished debut, Gappah, a Zimbabwean writer and international trade lawyer, casts her compassionate eye on a diverse array of characters living, grieving, loving—and fighting to survive—under Robert Mugabe's regime. 'In the Heart of the Golden Triangle,' the second-person narrative of a wealthy woman's tormented marriage, turns a mirror upon the reader: You worry because you have not found condoms in his pockets, the narrator muses of her husband's behavior, but in the cushioned comfort of your four-by-four, you don't feel a thing. Meanwhile, in 'The Cracked, Pink Lips of Rosie's Bridegroom,' a village ponders a doomed marriage in which the groom, who has a history of buried . . . girlfriends, is clearly marked as being afflicted by the big disease with the little name. In 'The Mupandawana Dancing Champion,' Gappah sets her sights on political absurdities with a cutting story about a coffin maker with some great dance moves and an unfortunate nickname. Gappah's deep well of empathy and saber-sharp command of satire give her collection a surplus of heart and verve."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)