This is the first of five reviews of the stories that were shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing. This post is about “Hitting Budapest” by NoViolet Bulawayo from Zimbabwe. You can download the story here if you’re interested.
So, it has literally been a couple of years since I have read anything literature. My reading has been dominated by academic non-fiction, and my downtime has miraculously been spent reading the same. This is my first foray into African literature (besides Beasts of No Nation a few years back), and I’m excited to see where these five stories will take me. If you want to read more reviews, scroll on down to the bottom where I’m compiling the list.
I would start with a summary of this short story, except I don’t really know what to tell you. Because not a lot happened in this story. It is told by a girl named Darling and it is about a group of children who head from their slum-neighborhood (ironically called Paradise) to the nice part of town (called Budapest) to steal guavas. They meet a British expat who takes their pictures, they steal guavas, and they find a dead woman in the jungle. They scream at the expat, they eat said guavas, and they steal the shoes off of the dead woman. But there’s no progression in the story, and no real conflict beyond what seems to be the normal bickering among children and some tension when the children’s regard for the British woman goes from curiosity to anger. The story isn’t really all that eventful.
There are interesting things in the story. For starters, the character Chipo is described as being slower than everyone else “because her grandfather made her pregnant.” That’s a heavy piece of information to be dropping mid-sentence a few paragraphs in, and nothing comes of it. It just becomes part of the setting. In the middle of discussing how to leave Paradise and become rich, one of the children argues that “I don’t need school to make money. What Bible did you read that from huh?” which presented an interesting dynamic of prosperity and proselytism in these kid’s lives, I suppose.
When they ask the British person what she has (asking about the food she is eating) she assumes they are asking about her camera, which they really don’t care about but which she must think separates her from them, but nothing really happens with that either. In the same scene she tosses what’s left of her food in the trash and it sets a stark contrast, as Darling explains that “we have never seen anyone throw food away,” followed by rebuking her for acting as if “she had never seen anybody pregnant,” referring of course to ten-year-old Chipo. What’s normal for one’s life is not normal for the other, but again – nothing comes of it. They let the woman take pictures of them and then they leave and scream at her for, apparently, throwing away food.
Maybe I’ve been away from literature for too long and I’m missing something. The uneventfulness of the story reminds me of the worst summer reading I ever did, A Separate Peace. But that’s about where the similarities end beyond children arguing and the story going nowhere. But, maybe this is how it’s supposed to be. The story is very much a-day-in-the-lives-of-us, so I guess it shows that their lives are rather uneventful. At the same time, I feel like it’s attempting to show the ruin of Paradise – the kids aren’t going to school and living in good homes, they’re stealing food and they only have one set of clothes and one of them was raped and they find a dead woman on the road home, all while being the slum tourist photo op for the British woman. But I feel like a story needs to do more than show children being children or poverty being poverty. Overall, I’m not too impressed with this story, but maybe it’s just not my type of writing.
As for the co-blogging experience. Check out these awesome bloggers and their analysis of “Hitting Budapest:”