'The Scandalous Times of a Book Louse' captures the magic of childhood

01 June 2021 - 13:22
'The Scandalous Times of a Book Louse' is a magical coming-of-age tale set in rural Zimbabwe.
'The Scandalous Times of a Book Louse' is a magical coming-of-age tale set in rural Zimbabwe.
Image: Supplied/Penguin Random House

Ah, you’ve arrived. Sit down, please, and make yourself comfortable. There may not be much dinner tonight — Father is still out of work; Mother can’t do anything with those stunted maize plants in the stony ground — but at least you are here, in Gushure Village, home to unsurpassed raconteurs and the Guramatunhu family, who know that telling stories staves off hunger.

Surprise awaits at every turn: thoughts and conversations bloom into poems, political speeches and songs.

You will find instructions for cooking a hare, how to defend yourself when a dead snake is your enemy’s chosen weapon, how to speak in war tongues, how to compose a fist and aim it at a tree trunk, how to eliminate animal terrorism in a time of rabies, how to rehearse the body-viewing of a good-looking corpse, how to rock under flying okapis with The Double Shuffle, and how to practise your lovemaking technique on a woman drawn in the sand.

At a time when cooked ants constitute a feast, the future nevertheless holds abundant prospects for the boy who devours words. But there is an unexpected fork in the road for this book louse and plenty of wondrous twists and shocking turns.

Hilarious, poetic and poignant, Robert Muponde’s vibrant coming-of-age story of Ronald Guramatunhu brings to life rural Zimbabwe from the Second Chimurenga to independence. There are malevolent mermaids, eccentric shamans, outrageous relatives, fearsome teachers, and men who transform into hippos in a tale that captures all the magic of childhood.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Muponde holds a PhD in English from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, where he is both a professor of English in the School of Literature, Language and Media, and the Wits Director of Postgraduate Affairs. He grew up in Rusape, Zimbabwe, and has lived and worked in Joburg for the past 20 years.


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