Butterfly Burning A Novel

Yvonne Vera

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

160 Pages



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Winner of the Berlin Literature Prize and of Italy's Feronia Prize

Butterfly Burning brought the brilliantly poetic voice of Zimbabwean writer Yvonne Vera to American readers for the first time. Set in Makokoba, a black township, in the late 1940s, the novel is an intensely bittersweet love story. When Fumbatha, a construction worker, meets the much younger Phephelaphi, he"wants her like the land beneath his feet from which birth had severed him." He in turn fills her "with hope larger than memory." But Phephelaphi is not satisfied with their "one-room" love alone. The qualities that drew Fumbatha to her, her sense of independence and freedom, end up separating them. And the closely woven fabric of township life, where everyone knows everyone else, has a mesh too tight and too intricate to allow her to escape her circumstances on her own.

Vera exploits language to peel away the skin of public and private lives. In Butterfly Burning she captures the ebullience and the bitterness of township life, as well as the strength and courage of her unforgettable heroine.


Praise for Butterfly Burning

"Vera makes the novel new in Africa."—Mandivavarira Taruvinga, Independent Extra (Zimbabwe)

"From the oral poetic tradition comes a new young writer, and we hail this arrival as we do the raincloud in the heat of day . . . Butterfly Burning is as passionate, volatile, loving, terrible, clear and confusing as any novel could be."—Nikki Giovanni

"A remarkable novel . . . Keen, vivid. The author's political sense, her critique of colonialism, is intrinsic, never intrusive . . . Vera writes gracefully, depicting with extraordinary elegance the chaos and disorder of township life, the surreal conditions of existence imposed by colonial authority upon the residents."—Michelle Cliff, The Village Voice Literary Supplement

"Written in lyrical, metaphor-laden, heavily symbolic prose, this mesmerizing first U. S. appearance of Vera's work is sure to garner attention."—Publishers Weekly

"A rare work of beauty, capturing the oft-tragic poetry of life in a black township in Rhodesia in the 1940s . . . Vera's phrasing and style [give this] story of love, longing, and betrayal a lyric quality . . . Readers of Isabel Allende, A. S. Byatt, or Toni Morrison will all enjoy this introduction to fine African literature. Highly recommended."—Ellen Flexman, Library Journal

"This author is an unflinching guide, and if you trust her to take you off-road, she'll show you an exquisite piece of unmapped landscape."—Anderson Tepper, Time Out (New York)

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Butterfly Burning

There is a pause. An expectation.
They play a refrain on handmade guitars; lovers with tender shoulders and strong fists and cold embraces. Birds coo from slanting asbestos roofs. Butterflies...

Read the full excerpt


  • Yvonne Vera

  • Yvonne Vera (1964-2005) is one of Zimbabwe's most acclaimed writers and social critics. She is the author of Butterfly Burning, winner of the Berlin Literature Prize (work in translation), Without a Name, and Under the Tongue, which won the Commonwealth Writers Prize (Africa Region). In 2002 she was awarded the Macmillan (UK) Writer's Prize for Africa (adult fiction) for The Stone Virgins.