“Zenzele” Book Review


“Zenzele” is a beautifully written novel by J. Nozipo Maraire based on the letters a Zimbabwean mother sends to her precocious daughter who is off at Harvard receiving her education. I saw the play at Northwestern University and cried, but I read the book and contemplated the ideas found in the story. From the political, to matters of the heart, Amai Zenzele gives her daughter concrete life lessons on what it means to be a Zimbabwean woman and how to hold on to her culture and customs as a foreigner in a distant land. After reading the book, I began to reevaluate what it means to be an American woman of African descent; what it means to fight back against oppression and subjugation wherever it may exist; and how to carefully choose a mate whose life goals are similar to my own. Words of wisdom are laced masterfully throughout the book, but don’t come off as preachy. Mama Zenzele is quick to point out to her daughter when she does not have the answers to life’s many questions, but is willing to share the knowledge and experiences she does have. Finally, the backdrop of the Zimbabwean struggle with the white settlers from the eyes of Mama Zenzele and her family members provides an important lesson of self-determination.  Mama Zenzele continues to stress to her daughter to preserve her African heritage, her principles and resist evaluating herself through a Western lens. This is a great lesson for not only Africans fighting against colonialism, but all people of color throughout the Diaspora, who are consistently forced to measure up by standards that are not set by our own traditions, tastes and values.

The most poignant passage in the novel are Mama Zenzele’s advice about choosing the proper life partner:

“Shiri, at the end of the day you will meet only two men in your life: One will ale your hands tremble; the other will make them steady. The first will be your passion of youth, but like the blazing fires of the bush, it will soon die to glowing embers, then cool ashes. The second will enter your life quietly, like a thief in the night. He will be like the mighty trees in the forest that we do not see before us, yet they are there, strong and tall; in rain and sun, they dig roots deep and shade us with their leaves. It is the second one who you must marry. He will be a good husband and father to your children” (113).

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