EDIT 10/09/2013:- Oh boy! This has been included in the shortlist despite my misgivings to the contrary. Heartiest congratulations to NoViolet Bulawayo!
Books like this one have me fumbling around for the right approach to review them, because they try to cram in too much within the scope of a regular sized novel and consequently just stop short of resonating strongly with the reader.
It's like Bulawayo had a message to give me, something potent and fiercely honest enough to burn right through all my prejudices and cherished misconceptions and leave me staring right at all the cold, hard facts. But then halfway into it, her voice went off in various tangential directions in an effort to tackle too many issues at one go and lost most of its intensity.
As a result the message that she had set out to deliver, gave off the impression of poor phrasing and ended up sounding half-hearted and rather dubious.
If I try my absolute best, I can only delineate this as a search for identity, a raw account of coming to terms with the after-effects of displacement. Or an attempt at summarizing in a few hundred pages the feelings of being neither here nor there.
But then Bulawayo let me know so much more. She told me about the experiences of surviving on a few stolen guavas, walking barefoot on the burning asphalt of the dusty road and yet enjoying the smug satisfaction of playing 'Find Bin Laden'
with equally destitute and miserable kids of your age. And what it feels like to flee from and forget the tattered remains of a land you were born in simply because it could not offer you the promise of a fulfilling life ahead anymore - a land torn apart by strife, ethnic violence and unstable, unsympathetic governments. The irony of silently selling away your dignity in a foreign country in exchange for a life better than what your own motherland could afford to bestow upon you. The feeling of being swept up in the vortex of too many rapidly occurring changes as an illegal immigrant and the utter hopelessness of never really belonging anywhere.
Bulawayo may not be capable of subtlety or stringing beautiful words together into lengthy sentences fraught with imagery, but she has a compelling and unique voice of her own nonetheless.
I will surely look out for her other works in the future.
**A 3.5 stars that could not be rounded off to a 4**