Review of Erina by Wim Boswinkel

John Eppel

This material has been provided by Professor Brian Jones, founder of 'amabooks [GPL].

Johan comes to Africa to manage a tea plantation. He meets Erina and his life changes forever. The story takes a leap into the unknown, cleverly blending an African setting with the fantastic premise at its core: the arrival of a black female Christ-figure.

Erina is a story of the Second Coming, a girl child this time, born not in Bethlehem, not in Rome, not in Waco (Texas), but in a remote village in the middle of Africa. Unlike Jesus, who was born of a virgin, Erina is born of a barren whore. Jesus dies into life; Erina lives (loves) into death. Jesus is a complex, paradoxical messiah; his teachings can be (have been) interpreted in many different ways. For example, what do Christians who take out insurance policies make of this advice: "Take therefore no thought for the morrow" (Matt 6:34)? It is indeed Jesus' Sermon on the Mount where he comes closest to the sympathies of the black, female messiah, whose simple message is spelled out in the last chapter of the novel:

all that matters is happiness and it is available to everyone who is willing to embrace it. Surrendering to it, by showing love for others, is not a sacrifice but a start of one's own absolute liberation.

The novel highlights this message by contrasting it with a fairly savage, and often hilarious, attack against that well known pair of greed-mongers in Africa: the European colonizers and their post-independence emulators like Kamuzu Banda. Here is a taste of that attack:

Robert Day formed, together with around forty other counterparts (who also were engaged in tea or in tobacco), the white elite in the country; they were rich, often away on foreign business trips, and had over the years become real pillars under the regime of Kamuzu Banda, who signified stability and financial security for them. Strikes were illegal and the few that had been tried were put down with great force by the Ngwazi's police. Although the inflation rate was high, only very minimal increases in wages were tolerated by the government. High profits for the companies meant high profits for the government, which often disappeared into the private coffers of government leaders. All ministers now possessed farms, and had to exploit their labour force even more than the whites were doing, in order to try to stay viable in spite of their inexperience with commercial farming. Independence had replaced one governing clique with another, but had not brought material advantages to the masses of peasants and city dwellers.

Here Boswinkel is in his satirical mode. In this matter-of-fact tone of voice, the irony bites. His characters, mostly whites, who have been corrupted by money, are grotesques: "Lying on stretchers in the shade of a tamarind tree, after a refreshing dive and while sipping a gin and tonic that they had just been served, they dreamt of a better time."

When he writes about the blessed people he shifts comfortably into a lyric mode: "eventually the singing subsided and the rain stopped, while the clouds rapidly dissolved in a vast blueing sky. In a short time it became as light and as hot as before; the girls would have thought that it all had been a dream if it were not for their soaked clothes and the pools on the ground."

The "unbelievable" story of Erina and the white plantation manager (the narrator) she redeems is given a certain verisimilitude by presenting it as the fulfilment of prophetic writings from the second apocryphal book of Tobias. The novel is an interesting amalgam of genres, drifting in and out of allegory, satire, romance, and myth. It will not be well received by the bigots and the hypocrites in our midst -- and that is to its great credit. The book will shock those who deserve to be shocked, and delight those that deserve to be delighted.


Boswinkel, Wim. Erina Bulawayo: 'amaBooks [P.O.Box 9160, Hillside, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe]. ISBN 0-7974-2539-X

Zimbabwe OV Literature [Politics] Wim Boswinkel John Eppel

Last modified 7 May 2010