This September Sun: Part Two …ferreting out hidden racist sensitivities

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IN the previous submission I warned you against psychological complacence and urged you not to be cheated by the meretricious lure of liberal art.
A lot of critics, especially those that are either ideologically bankrupt or ideologically decentred including those who are ideological nomads, fail to see through the veneer of language.
They are often cheated by the lure of style and they fail to understand that style is only, but a means to an end and that the same means can be a vehicle for sinister purposes as well.
Many such critics have received This September Sun with both arms.
I shall quote a few to demonstrate how some critics have been victims of such wiles of deception.
Christopher Mlalazi describes the biographical novel as, “a beautifully executed story about Ellie’s painful journey of self-discovery”, and proceeds to describe the novel as firing, “a clear warning shot across the bows of world literature to announce that Bryony Rheam has arrived to claim her rightful place”.
Caroline Gilfillan also describes the writer as one of ‘great promise’, saying her novel is, “elegantly written, funny and poignant”, meaning it draws a lot of sympathy (and wonder from who?).
John Eppel, too, commends this novel not only as a debut novel, but one which “expertly combines the Epistolary, the Bildungsroman, Romance and Mystery to produce a work worthy of a place in the bibliography of post-colonial writings in Africa”.
All the above quotations are etched on the blurb of the novel, presumably meant to market the product to all and sundry.
However, if we accept that the story is set mainly in Africa, and that it is making certain claims about the birth of Zimbabwe, then we can also be persuaded to suggest that Africans and Zimbabweans in particular, are the appropriate and most immediate readership.
And if this observation is true the next question we ask is: how does the novel fare in terms of content if subjected to interrogation by an African/Zimbabwean sensibility?
All the above critics are enthusiastically welcoming Rheam into the world of literature about Africa, with Eppel qualifying it under post-colonial category; but they all do so from the point of view of style.
They are all enthralled by style.
None questions the sensibility of the writing.
They imagine themselves occupying mirage global identities when the story itself is fairly localised.
If they had occupied a specific centre, that centre being Zimbabwe, they would not have been eluded by racist nuances and undertones that characterise both the text and the sub-texts.
I now want to take you through these and more as we navigate the novel from the first page.
First of all, this novel is autobiographical and that alone means that you cannot separate the author’s life from that of the protagonist.
As you are aware, characters are the many pieces that characterise the writer’s imaginings.
The title itself, This September Sun, echoes the aesthetic beauty of the warm Savannah climate which metonymically stands for the African warmth.
It is a metaphor for Zimbabwe; Zimbabwe being the major attraction for these former Rhodies including the author-cum-protagonist, Ellie.
Ellie, the first person narrator, begins her story with an unusual birth-right claim.
The very opening sentence is full of racial ironies.
First, April 18 1980 which is the date of birth for Zimbabwe is also the protagonist’s date of birth.
When Zimbabwe is born the protagonist is celebrating her sixth birth day.
One wonders why the author crafted this coincidence unless she wanted to claim a symbiotic and organic relationship with Zimbabwe.
A second irony comes when her grandfather burns the British Union Jack flag, presumably to symbolise the dawn of a new era, the end of British rule.
However, there is a further irony embedded in the act.
The act assumes that black majority rule was brought about by the same whiteman who had colonised them in the first place.
This is a twist of logic and a clear disrespect of history.
This country was brought through the barrel of the gun.
By the indigenous people of this country who are apparently absent in this imagined Zimbabwe.
And yet these are the people who dislodged the Union Jack both in reality and metaphorically.
They are the people who authorised and authored the struggle, the Zimbabweans, and therefore the rightful claimants of this victory.
These white people again never tire of stealing!
If you are not careful they will steal your victory as well.
This novel is already doing it right under your very nose.
Another twist of irony which we may describe as counter-irony is that when Ellie’s grandfather ignites the flag, he acknowledges something which is not in keeping with his apparent symbolic intent: “Grandad said we were in for trouble; this was just the beginning.”
At this point we are made to see that his act was far from symbolic, but an extreme expression of disappointment at the turnout of events.
Later his behaviour is echoed by former Rhodie soldiers at the Naval Club. They too are angry with Ian Smith for surrendering, arguing that, “they were on the brink of victory”, when Smith gave in to “Nationalist aggression”.
Grandad and these other racist die-hards are angry with the British for facilitating the Lancaster House Conference that eventually gave Zimbabwe independence.
Burning the British flag is therefore like saying “go hang” to Britain.
It is not a gesture of welcoming Zimbabwe.
Do not be fooled by the author pretending that she is criticising fellow whites for their white supremacist vindictiveness.
No.
Rheam is the creator of these character images.
And their racist language is her own conscious creation too.
Grandad ejects “a long deep mournful cry of sorrow” to accompany his incineration of the British flag and proceeds to hurl it at his wife, scorching her skin in the process.
The result is what the author-narrator describes as a “scar on the underside of her forearm (which) looked like the shape of Zimbabwe etched on her hand”. This is another symbol any Zimbabwean should be uncomfortable with.
Can you ever imagine bragging about the shape of Britain tattooed on your skin unless you have gone mad?
Yet the author further claims that, “Gran was always a little proud of the mark (as) a symbol of the price she paid for her freedom.”
I am sure the writing is fast unveiling on the wall.
Stand by for Part Three.

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