Without a Name and Under the Tongue

Yvonne Vera

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

224 Pages



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Winner of the 1997 Commonwealth Writers' Prize (Africa Region)
A Finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award

Yvonne Vera's novels chronicle the lives of Zimbabwean women with extraordinary power and beauty. Without a Name and Under the Tongue, her two earliest novels, are set in the seventies during the guerrilla war against the white government.

In Without a Name (1994), Mazvita, a young woman from the country, travels to Harare to escape the war and begin a new life. But her dreams of independence are short-lived. She begins a relationship of convenience and becomes pregnant. Destitute, she is led by fear and desperation to commit an unthinkable act.

With Under the Tongue (1996), Vera became the first Zimbabwean writer ever to deal frankly with the problem of incest that plagued the country. When Zhizha is raped by her father, a self-styled war hero, she loses all desire and ability to speak. Her relationships with her mother—jailed for killing her husband after discovering his brutal acts—and her grandmother evoke profound meditations on the nature and necessity of language and expression, and on the affinity between silence and sorrow: "A word does not rot unless it is carried in the mouth for too long, under the tongue." Under the Tongue won the Commonwealth Writers Prize (Africa Region).


Praise for Without a Name and Under the Tongue

"Vera's style is beautifully matched with the content, and magnificently promotes its central theme that language has both the power to heal and to accrete and to allow those who have once been victims to transform themselves and their future."—Judges' Citation, Commonwealth Writers Prize, Africa Region (Under the Tongue)

"Without a Name movingly exposes the ways in which an unwanted pregnancy can be a virtual death sentence for a poor African woman with a dream . . . A powerful narrative."—The New York Times Book Review

"Vera writes with an unflinching honesty that refuses to varnish or romanticize the grim reality that faces, in Without a Name, a woman, Mazvita, who seeks freedom by leaving her home to go to Harare . . . In Under the Tongue, the violence in the home (the father violates the daughter and the mother kills him) is echoed by the violence of the war in the country, which the author depicts with precision and economical language . . . Vera's language is rich with many memorable phrases that stay with the reader . . . The images are vivid from beginning to end . . . Vera tells her stories with touching grace and extraordinary brilliance."—Lesego Malepe, MultiCultural Review

"Under the Tongue is about suffering [and] it is also about speaking out . . . That is the gift that Zhizha offers, not just to her silent mother and her remembering grandmother, not just to the doubly opressed women of Zimbabwe. . . but to women all over the world."—The Zimbabwe Review

"Vera's most recent novel, Butterfly Burning, was published in the United States last year, and with this first U.S. publication of her two earliest works one of which, Under the Tongue, won a Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1997, U.S. readers now have full access to this prominent African writer. Both novellas are set during Zambia's guerrilla war in 1977. In startling prose, Vera writes of women enduring the horrors of war and poverty as they live on the fringes of the dominant white society. In Without a f0Name, a young woman escaping war in the countryside falls into a relationship with a man in order to cope in the city and finds herself pregnant. In Under the Tongue, a family of women living in township housing maintain a tenuous grasp on their former culture as the war impinges on their lives. Both works show how violence invades the women's lives in unexpected ways, bringing irrevocable changes. Throughout, Vera braids earlier and later incidents together in alternating chapters to build a narrative whole. Her brief, at times childlike sentences capture the fresh, sharp vision of someone new to modern society revealing, for example, the fascination of seeing a bicycle for the first time. Highly recommended."—Reba Leiding, James Madison University Library, Harrisonburg, Virginia, Library Journal

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Without a Name and Under the Tongue
FOR MY MOTHER AND HER MOTHERoneHeat mauled the upturned faces.The bus was fierce red. Skin turned a violent mauve. That is how hot the day was. The faces jostled and hurried, surrounding the bus with shimmering voices. The large black wheels were yellow with gathered dust. Mud had dried in the wide grooves within the tires. Small stones looked out from the mud. Thick layers of brown earth covered the windows and the rest of the body, but the bus still shone red. It was that red. It was so stunningly red it was living.Mazvita separated herself from the waiting
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  • 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.