Chinodya’s nostalgia in ‘Dew in the Morning’

Genre : Society news
Principal country concerned : Column : Literature
Release/publication date : October 2015
Published on : 10/06/2015
Source : 10 June 2015

It is hard for a writer to part with his or her work which launched him/her into the limelight. There are emotions attached to it, memories which haunt the writer even after publishing as many novels or poems as possible. Renowned writer Shimmer Chinodya's debut novel ''Dew in the Morning'' was written when the author was in Form 6 and published in 1982 by Mambo Press.

It is common knowledge that to date Chinodya has a large oeuvre of published works, both fiction and academic, putting him in the class of some successful second generation Zimbabwean writers.

Yet regardless of all that he has achieved, ''Dew in the Morning'', which in 2001 was re-published by Heinemann under their African Writers Series to bring it back into circulation, holds fond memories for him.

At a meeting with students of Advanced Level literature in February this year, Chinodya, with a sense of nostalgia, said he wrote ''Dew in the Morning'' when he was in Form 6 and that it is an earlier version of ''Strife'' which the students are doing at school. ''Strife'' was published in 2006 by Weaver Press.

Last week, announcing the arrival of the Heinemann edition of ''Dew in the Morning'' in Zimbabwe, Chinodya said he is very proud of ithe book because it is a Gweru product and therefore it holds sentimental value to him. Chinodya was born and grew up in Gweru.

To read an accomplished writer's first work is to enjoy his freshest romance with words, technique, and theme. Although it is said Chinodya made "some minor cuts to the text since its first edition", the cuts obviously did less to diminish the ''first creative touch'' of a youthful Shimmer!

''Dew in the Morning'' is in some circles described as a childhood story and it is rightly so, save for its possible eruption into various meanings for various classes of people. It is told from the viewpoint of Godi, a high school student. Godi's account of the countryside and its gradual socio-cultural transformation is breathtaking.

As a Form Six student, Chinodya must have absorbed lots of technical stuff as to allow him to adeptly utilise it in his own way. The first person narrator, Godi, is a ''reliable'' storyteller that a reader can easily recognise Godi even if he/she has to see him in public!

Normally, writers who use first person narrators are limited as the narrator can only let us know what is happening to him/herself. However, in ''Dew in the Morning'', Godi occasionally assumes the omniscient voice, thus adding flavour to the story.

For instance, when Lifi the old woman with whom Godi and others have gone to pick madora in the forest get lost and is not seen for three days, the reader is curious to know what happened to Lifi. Chinodya drops Godi's point of view and employs an omniscient third person narrator and the effect is great. Lifi's ordeal in the forest is not witnessed by the narrator Godi but the scene is delivered in a way that one does not feel a disconnection of narrative voices.

The language, wrapped in a certain sincerity and specificity, invokes memories of the countryside and the subsequent clash with modernity which rapidly affected its cultural value. With Godi's choice of words you really can taste and smell madora, mazhanje, nhengeni, nhedzi, mhunga, and other traditional foods while you are reading!

While the actual setting of the story is vague, the story itself happens in a rural village undergoing certain changes and only in few instances does the setting move to the city where Godi's siblings and their father are based. Godi's family is one of the newcomers to the village, known as the ''derukas'' and during school holidays, Godi and his siblings come to their new rural home. As the ''derukas'' start to accustom themselves to the new country life, there is a certain adjustment they wittingly or unwittingly bring to their own lives and the lives of the other villagers.

Godi and the dew are inseparable. He closely observes the dew on various days. The dew is as important a part of the story as the characters in it. The word ''dew'' is mentioned 25 times in the whole story!

With dew, what exactly does Chinodya want to convey to the reader? According to Wikipedia, dew is "water in the form of droplets that appears on thin, exposed objects in the morning or evening due to condensation".

Dew, in ''Dew in the Morning'', is symbolic of transient freshness (befalling the village). Dew in its natural state hardly escapes Godi's keen eye on the rural environment. After all is done and the story is almost over, he says: "No one, nothing, came and stayed. Each had promised a fresh start but many callings of life had torn them away. All that remained were memories, and now anxiety and fear." His words seem to describe the impermanence of things, subtly though.

The interest in dew on Godi's part is more than just a delight in nature but, ironically, a spiritual longing for permanent peace on the new land where "you felt like standing there for hours, admiring the very colour of it, as if you could actually see the plants growing and hear the infiltration of their roots".

At the beginning, we are made to believe, through the eyes of Godi, that the village, with its locals and derukas (newcomers) is as innocent as the dew, glistening or glossy on the grass.

The drought comes, the rain-making ritual is done and this problem seems settled. Conflicts arise between villagers, deaths by witchcraft rock, more settlers arrive, pressure on the land increases and yet Godi never fails to observe at close range the "golden elephant grass loaded with shiny beads of dew" or Jairos, the headman who "ploughed the path with his car-tyre sandals, wetting his trousers to the knee in the dew" or the "dew in the morning on the green grass when we went to guard the crops". And these are only four instances of all 25 instances where Godi notices the dew.

Only when he is disappointed by Lucia/Lulu, who is his love from childhood, something discolours the dew. One day, a power of love that had been creeping slowly behind him suddenly crumbles before him when Lulu, whom he had started to seriously date, says: "You know the state my father is in. Our affair can never go anywhere."

Jairos, Lulu's father, has been bewitched and the once pompous headman has been reduced to a village madman and Lulu cites this situation as the reason why her affair cannot go any further. She also says to Godi after he asks her if she meant he must just leave her: "Yes, Not because I want you to go. But I just want to be alone to think out my problems and to be responsible."

These words, maybe softly spoken by Lulu, are nevertheless hard-hitting on the heart! And only then does the dew lose its poetry in Godi's narration. He tells us that the next day in the morning, he staggered into the sunshine, but "the light and the dew did not thrill" him.

But this is perfect situational irony which Chinodya employs. Underneath, the village has also crumbled. Negative elements such as superstition, witchcraft, ghosts, deaths, hate, compete and suddenly converge with a growing agrarian quest.

The land is central to the story in ''Dew in the Morning'' as it was central to the war of liberation. Although Chinodya does not indulge in explicit politics of land, he shows, through the characters' motivations, that land was the basis of joy and also a bone of contention before Independence. The truth holds sway even today.

Born in 1957 in Gweru, Chinodya studied at the University of Zimbabwe and later attended the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop, where he acquired an MA in creative writing. His 1989 novel ''Harvest of Thorns'' won him the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Africa in 1990. His collection of short stories, ''Can We Talk'', was short-listed for the Caine Prize for Short Story Writing in Africa.

Chinodya has published other works such as ''Farai's Girls'' (1984), ''Child of War'' (1986), ''Tale of Tamari'' (2004), ''Chairman of Fools'' (2005) and ''Tindo's Quest'' (2011). He has also worked as a curricula developer materials designer, editor and screen writer.

''Dew in the Morning'' is now available in Zimbabwe.

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