The Critical Reception of Chenjerai Hove's Bones

Rino Zhuwarara, Ph.D., Chair, Department of English, University of Zimbabwe

This material originally appeared in Rino Zhuwarara, "Men and women in a colonial context: A discourse on gender and liberation in Chenjerai Hove's 1989 Noma award-winning novel -- Bones," Zambezia: The Journal of the University of Zimbabwe 21, No. i (1994): 3-4. Published by University of Zimbabwe Publications, P.O. Box MP 203, Mount Pleasant, Harare, Zimbabwe.


Readers, especially those in Zimbabwe, have yet to agree on the nature and scope of Hove's achievement in Bones. Part of the problem arises from the thematic ambiguity of the text. On the surface, the novel is about the liberation struggle which gathered momentum in the 1970s and ended with Zimbabwe's attainment of independence in 1980. A closer examination, however, reveals the struggle more as a backdrop against which we are to grasp the full extent of Marita's suffering. The latter occupies the centre of the stage and promises to raise fundamental issues pertaining to the role and fate of African women who are caught up in a coloniai situation which is dynamically changing. But, again, as will be shown later, such issues are handled in a manner which is ambiguous and problematic.

Writing in The Herald, Leonard Maveneka argues: "In Bones, Hove has focused on the neglected sector of our community, the peasants, and has used a very original deviceÑailowing them to speak for themselves" (1 August, 1988, 4 ]. While on the whole Maveneka is positive in his appraisal of Bones, throughout he remains judiciously hesitant to point out with emphasis and conviction the specific nature of Hove's contribution to modern African writing. On the other hand, the response of the internationai audience is best summarized by Lan White:

Bones is a marvellous book, drawing on its Shona Iyricism to create an English idiom which persuades more completely than anything else I have read, that thls is how the war was experienced in rural Zimbabwe. It is a difficult book to get through not, as has been suggested, because the narrative is confusing, but because the writing is so eloquent, such a sheer delight to read, that the eye keeps pausing to re-read and relish instead of proceeding. ["The language of two novels from Zimbabwe," Southern Africa Review of Books (Feb/May, 1990), 3-4.]

Although Lan White goes on to focus on Hove's vision, it is obvious that he is much more fascinated by the quality of the language which is constantly haunted by a sense of the poetic. The following comments are designed to underline the strengths and acknowledge the weaknesses of Bones in so far as these are reflected in Hove's treatment of men and women responding to colonialism.


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