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An Elegy for Easterly Paperback – April 16, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In her accomplished debut, Gappah, a Zimbabwean writer and international trade lawyer, casts her compassionate eye on a diverse array of characters living, grieving, loving—and fighting to survive—under Robert Mugabe's regime. In the Heart of the Golden Triangle, the second-person narrative of a wealthy woman's tormented marriage, turns a mirror upon the reader: You worry because you have not found condoms in his pockets, the narrator muses of her husband's behavior, but in the cushioned comfort of your four-by-four, you don't feel a thing. Meanwhile, in The Cracked, Pink Lips of Rosie's Bridegroom, a village ponders a doomed marriage in which the groom, who has a history of buried... girlfriends, is clearly marked as being afflicted by the big disease with the little name. In The Mupandawana Dancing Champion, Gappah sets her sights on political absurdities with a cutting story about a coffin maker with some great dance moves and an unfortunate nickname. Gappah's deep well of empathy and saber-sharp command of satire give her collection a surplus of heart and verve. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“Petina Gappah’s stories range from scathing satire of Zimbabwe’s ruling elite to earthy comedy to sensitive accounts of the sufferings of humble victims of the regime. Gappah is a fine writer and a rising star of Zimbabwean literature.” J. M. Coetzee

“In an era when a never-ending newsfeed lets crucial events slip into oblivion, Petina Gappah’s stories are particularly important. With great insight, humor, and energy, she brings us a world that, despite its differences at first glance, is not unlike our own: its people’s hopes and fears are our hopes and fears, their laughter and tears ours, too. Gappah is a powerful new writer worth celebrating.” Yiyun Li, author of The Vagrants

“In An Elegy for Easterly, Petina Gappah has written a vital and honest collection of stories that vividly capture the surreal personal tragedies of twenty-first-century Zimbabweans through a rich palette of wry, dark, and intimate voices.” Owen Sheers, author of Resistance and The Dust Diaries

“Death and disaster, while never glossed over, are handled with unexpected humor, as they often are in folktales, and this is a part of the book’s great charm… [One] story, about an elderly coffin maker who comes out of retirement and then dances himself to death on the floor of the “Why Leave Guesthouse and Disco-Bar” has a wild, cracked gallows humor reminiscent of Chekhov’s peasant stories. And “The Maid from Lalapanzi”, a wonderful tale structured partly as a chronicle of the various country girls hired and fired as maids in the narrator’s household, spreads out such a wealth of comedic social detail that you don't fully grasp the underlying brutality of the story until it’s over. All of these pieces depend on swiftness and lightness for their effect; flaring up into momentary life and then fading out before they acquire any burdensome solemnity, and this…seems true to the essential nature of the [short story] form.” James Lasdun, The Guardian
 

“A fine, soul-stirring debut presents 13 snapshots of life in desperate contemporary Zimbabwe. … Searing, but never over the top: Gappah holds the anger and horror in check with exemplary artistic discipline.”—Kirkus Reviews

 

“In her accomplished debut, Gappah, a Zimbabwean writer and international trade lawyer, casts her compassionate eye on a diverse array of characters living, grieving, loving – and fighting to survive – under Robert Mugabe’s regime. … Gappah’s deep well of empathy and saber-sharp command of satire give her collection a surplus of heart and verve.”—Publishers Weekly

 

“Many of the stories are written with humor and insight, and Gappah’s characters are so vivid that it’s easy to put aside the politics for a while and embrace the human factor … Perhaps it’s her love of people that has helped her to get under the skin of her characters and shape them so effortlessly on the page.”—Lauren De Beer, The Weekender (South Africa)

 

“A series of short, heartbreaking tales. … These stories are shot through with humor and empathy. And for anyone who has been in Zimbabwe in recent years, this book is full of closely observed local detail that will bring back memory.”—Geoff Wisner, The Christian Science Monitor

 

“It is the frequent humour in these stories that makes them remarkable, even if their outcomes can be tragic. Often satirical, occasionally lyrical, they are a delight.”—Tom Fleming, The Observer

 

“The book is an elegy in a broader sense – for the optimism and hope of 1980, beautifully evoked in ‘Aunt Juliana’s Indian.’ … Gappah’s language is crisp and clean, with a musical quality that frequently draws on her first language, Shona. An Elegy for Easter is a powerful debut from a fresh voice, with themes – from disappointment and betrayal to promise and love – that will resonate with readers everywhere.”—Susan Williams, The Independent

 

“Laced with deliciously dark comic undertones. … This hybridization of cultures assimilates the reader into the vibrant, prosperous home left behind, but preserved in Gappah’s hopeful imagination.”—Eachan Johnson, The Oxonian Review

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (April 16, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571246931
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571246939
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,839,838 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Blackman on April 13, 2009
Format: Paperback
This debut short-story collection by Zimbabwean writer Petina Gappah is a wonderful read. The tone of each one is perfect: the language is consistently beautiful but also completely natural. You get to know the characters very quickly, through small details artfully described, and are left at just the right moment to move on to the next tale.

The title gives a clue to what's in store. "Elegy" is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "A song of lamentation, esp. a funeral song or lament for the dead". This book feels like Petina Gappah's lament for the Zimbabwe she grew up in, a Zimbabwe that has been scarred by political corruption, economic chaos and the scourge of AIDS. I can't say whether she means to say that the Zimbabwe she knew is dead. Of course the country endures, the people endure, and that's what these stories are about. Perhaps the lament is not so much for the country itself as for the people who have suffered so much. In any case, there's a deep sadness underlying all these stories, and there's a death or a funeral in most of the stories.

Yet the strange thing is that there's also a lot of humour, and the humour often goes hand-in-hand with the sadness. There's the old carpenter who is cheated out of his pension and wins a dancing contest, the diplomat who is new to email and loses thousands of euros to the old lottery scam, and the bizarre goings-on at the Hotel California. In many of the stories, the humour is very real and genuinely funny, and yet it feels like a thin veneer which Gappah deliberately lets slip every now and then, exposing the horror underneath.

My favourite story, though, has no real humour. It's called 'Something Nice from London' and tells of a family waiting at the airport for the twice-weekly flight from London.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Customer on July 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I haven't been to Zimbabwe for over 15 yrs and when I heard this new author of contemporary stories interviewed on NPR I immediately ordered her new book. Her characters and their situations range across the spectrum of means, from the wife of a wealthy politician to a rural woman whose township is reduced to rubble at the hands of a ruthless government. In total, her stories paint a vivid portrait of life in Zimbabwe today. The theme of endurance and resilience is inspiring and also heartbreaking, as the challenges her characters face, very real challenges to the people of Zimbabwe today, are so much more extreme than the Zimbabwe I knew.
The writing is searing, direct and beautiful.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Book Worm on May 25, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
We often wonder how Zimbabweans have coped with the tragic political, economic, and social environment. Whenever I try to explain the beauty and strength of the Zimbabwean people, I find myself stumbling over words and not able to really explain myself or how people do survive--both materially and emotionally--with any eloquence. Thankfully, Petina Gappah's collection of stories succeeds where I fail miserably. As the other reviewer said, these stories are sad, hilarious, and very real. You find yourself empathizing and understanding them as people as they struggle through their daily lives.

This is a fantastic book that helps explain the real lives of real Zimbabweans living in a very unreal time. If you want to understand Zimbabwe beyond cholera, Mugabe, AIDS, and politics -- this collection will help get you there.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Lime Tree on July 31, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Most readable tales of a troubled country written by someone who obviously knows her subject. A great antidote to the "colonial Brit" tales written by outsiders. If you're a fan of the saccherine ladies' detective stories you should read this so you can put things in proper perspective.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By James Kilgore on September 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Gappah writes in the wonderfully minimalist style of one of Zimbabwe's classical writers, Charles Mungoshi. Yet, her stories are not memories of an idyllic past but crunching reminders of the present day reality of a once proud, achieving country sunken into the abyss. Gappah's attention to the details of everyday life combine with her gender eye and mocking tone toward political power to make these stories incredibly poignan . I'd call them a pleasure to read, but then how can the tragedy of Zimbabwe provide us with a source of pleasure?
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By K. A. Stidworthy on March 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Petina's writing is the most powerful,evocative,wry,insightful and beautiful I have read. Elegy is an astonishing book. I visited Zimbabwe in 1998 however only spoke with rich safari owners, their staff and poor villagers. Elegy opens up perspectives of Zimbabweans who either have or have had money. Exquisitely written and informative, quite a rare combination.

Anne Stidworthy
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By JOHWA on February 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Quite interesting and a humourous reminder to the author's generation olden days in Zimbabwe. It would certain appeal to any Zimbabwean who has emigrated to other countries. One area of concern is the right to use real people's names in her stories. Having grown up in Zimbabwe and knowing the people she mentioned in her stories it sounds too real than fiction.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By nkosana hlazo on August 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I loved the book. I hadnt had a good read like that in a long while. Perhaps my bias is because I share a similar background so it was a sort of nostalgic trip into my childhood.

Cant wait for the next book. Perhaps, next time, Petina can treat us with one long story. well done
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