Tendai Huchu’s The Intervention, shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing this year (find the link to the story here), carries as much heft in analogy as it is lighthearted. A group of Zimbabwean friends in the United Kingdom meets socially, and what unfolds is a half-hearted intervention aimed at resolving a couple’s relationship problems – an intervention that is hindered by news on television on elections in Zimbabwe, and is, ultimately, as unsuccessful as the real life intervention in that country.
The story’s lightheartedness grips one from the first paragraph, and serious minded folks may find it a little superfluous that it has been shortlisted in the first place. They might find the thin prose a little off-putting. Older folks, having to ruminate over phrases like “effing Zulu”, “got me a Bud”, “ultra-crap”, “meant a fart”, and more, might find it a flippant reminder of the waywardness of the language of modern youth. “Afro-poets” might find resonance with the narrator’s sudden poetic outburst, as spontaneous and passionate as it is; in fact, they might find the entire story a poetic polemic of Africa, an anguished cry of whither the motherland. Huchu actually provides a wonderful description of poetic souls:
“There’s a sixth sense by which poetic souls become aware of one another. By poetic souls, I mean not only poets or readers of poetry, but those for whom poetry induces profound emotion and a heightened understanding of the world.”
For the young and young at heart good timers, well, they might see it as a jolly good story on how not to take life too seriously.
However, let not the story’s lightheartedness and simplicity deceive you. It is a well meaning commentary on quite a number of issues – Zimbabwe’s and Africa’s malaise and hopeless interventions; lives in exile – such as helplessness (“Nothing we said or did meant a fart”) and dislocation (kids not speaking Shona); and contradictions – Z is secretly happy that The Party has won as he has a pending asylum application which would have been jeopardized if the opposition won. The analogies are all too clear, and quite apt. There is no scratching of the head, no attempt at literary esotericism, and thus the story is easy to connect with.
Is Huchu’s offering a throwback to NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names – whose juvenile humour and lightheartedness makes reading through heavy themes effortless, much like The Intervention? Will it win as We Need New Names won? Well, we just have to wait and see.