Without a Name and Under the Tongue
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Without a Name and Under the Tongue

by Yvonne Vera, Yvonne Under Vera

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Yvonne Vera's novels chronicle the lives of Zimbabwean women with extraordinary power and beauty. Without a Name and Under the Tongue, her two earliest novels, are set in the seventies during the guerrilla war against the white government.

In Without a Name (1994), Mazvita, a young woman from the country, travels to Harare to escape the war


Yvonne Vera's novels chronicle the lives of Zimbabwean women with extraordinary power and beauty. Without a Name and Under the Tongue, her two earliest novels, are set in the seventies during the guerrilla war against the white government.

In Without a Name (1994), Mazvita, a young woman from the country, travels to Harare to escape the war and begin a new life. But her dreams of independence are short-lived. She begins a relationship of convenience and becomes pregnant.

In Under the Tongue (1996), the adolescent Zhizha has lost the will to speak. In lyrical fragments, Vera relates the story of Zhizha's parents, and the horrifying events that led to her mother's imprisonment and her father's death. With this novel Vera became the first Zimbabwean writer ever to deal frankly with incest. With these surprising, at times shocking novels Vera shows herself to be a writer of great potential.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“A remarkable novel . . . Vera writes gracefully, depicting with extraordinary elegance the chaos and disorder of township life, the surreal conditions of existence imposed by the colonial authority upon the residents.” —Michelle Cliff, The Village Voice on Butterfly Burning

“Vera makes the novel new in Africa.” —Independent Extra (Zimbabwe) on Butterfly Burning

Publishers Weekly
With a poetic flair for transforming the earthly into the surreal, the critically acclaimed Vera sets out in these two chaotic novellas to describe life during Zimbabwe's civil war in the late 1970s. Cadence and enigmatic descriptions are her obsessions; characters and plot are not. As a result, the cracked earth is more palpable than the bristling of Vera's displaced heroines, and her stilted and superfluous ruminations eclipse what are otherwise intriguing themes. In Without a Name, young and fiercely independent Mazvita sets out from her small village for the city of Harare to escape her brutal memories of the war. She cannot find work and soon grows dependent on her quasi love interest, Joel. Pregnancy follows. And when the baby arrives prematurely, Mazvita, hampered by a lingering malaise, neglects to name it. The rest of the story sifts through conflicting emotions of love, scorn, shame and alienation. Winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize, Under the Tongue chronicles adolescent Zhizha's search for identity through a complicated relationship with her family. The tongue-tied girl cryptically reveals her family's secrets why she has come to embrace her grandmother as her mother; why her mother has been jailed; how her father has died. Zhizha is caught between the desire to remember and to forget. Again, the characters are amorphous and often seem merely vehicles for language that would be better suited to a volume of poetry than a work of fiction. These stark tales explore the painful scars left by incest, murder, dislocation and war, but their emphasis on phantasmagoric imagery and failure to make characters more than a reflection of their circumstances leaves their potential power largely untapped. (Feb.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Vera's most recent novel, Butterfly Burning, was published in the United States last year, and with this first U.S. publication of her two earliest works one of which, Under the Tongue, won a Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1997 U.S. readers now have full access to this prominent African writer. Both novellas are set during Zambia's guerrilla war in 1977. In startling prose, Vera writes of women enduring the horrors of war and poverty as they live on the fringes of the dominant white society. In Without a Name, a young woman escaping war in the countryside falls into a relationship with a man in order to cope in the city and finds herself pregnant. In Under the Tongue, a family of women living in township housing maintain a tenuous grasp on their former culture as the war impinges on their lives. Both works show how violence invades the women's lives in unexpected ways, bringing irrevocable changes. Throughout, Vera braids earlier and later incidents together in alternating chapters to build a narrative whole. Her brief, at times childlike sentences capture the fresh, sharp vision of someone new to modern society revealing, for example, the fascination of seeing a bicycle for the first time. Highly recommended for all libraries and essential for African literary collections. Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Lib., Harrisonburg, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.54(d)

Read an Excerpt

Without a Name and Under the Tongue



Heat mauled the upturned faces.

The bus was fierce red. Skin turned a violent mauve. That is how hot the day was. The faces jostled and hurried, surrounding the bus with shimmering voices. The large black wheels were yellow with gathered dust. Mud had dried in the wide grooves within the tires. Small stones looked out from the mud. Thick layers of brown earth covered the windows and the rest of the body, but the bus still shone red. It was that red. It was so stunningly red it was living.

Mazvita separated herself from the waiting red of the bus, color so sharp it cut into her thought like lightning. Merciless, that red. It was an everywhere red which cracked the white and black shell of her eyes. Heat thundered beneath her feet. She retreated.She stood apart, anxious, waiting for the doors of the bus to burst open. She watched the door closed tightly against her entry. The bus sat in a rippling lake of rising heat and dust. The dust sucked the water from her eyes.

"Nothing to load onto the bus?" the voice swooped toward her. It did not wait for an answer but swept past and landed on the trembling roof of the bus; it belonged to an agile black shape fastening beds, caged chickens, maize sacks, chairs, and tables. The pile on the bus was growing steadily. The bus shook, and sagged. The bus sat still. A loud shout rang through the air, concerning a mattress about to fall. The shape that was the conductor left one end of the bus and slid to the back, pulled hard at something gray hanging and heavy, retrieved it, and tied it straight down the roof.

Mazvita saw the faces hurry, heard a murmuring like boiling water. The voices swirled like a flood to one end of the bus where there was space left to haul one more article. A bed was raised high toward the roof, brought forward, tied down. It was lost among the many pieces already struggling there. Jarring, voices scrambled and jostled. Cries converged, called, and retreated.

Mazvita felt the intense heat which circled her with the simmering voices and brought the red glow of the bus to her face. The ominous hue spread down her arms, and sought her fingers. She stood still. She stood near the bus shelter, but not beneath it, a metal roof held up by four high wooden poles. She stood still. She stood next to one of the poles, on the outside. She stood on the outside. She stood alone.

Beneath the dim shed, children had been left to guard the smaller possessions which would be carried onto the bus but their attention wandered as soon as the bus enveloped their mothers in its vibrant shade. They exploded. They ran around the shelter, screeched and scattered. They laughed, because one of them had fallen down. The shedwas full of their delight. They rescued each other from beneath fallen bags which, filled to capacity, tore open on their collapse. A red scarf lay trampled on the ground. It wove itself around a bare tiny foot, and the figure fell again in a knotted cry, but the children had discovered the secret of their freedom; there was no need for caution or restraint. There were no pauses to their joy which resounded in one continuous voice, a tender elegant quiver pure and plain. The children found gaps between the rays of the sun and ran through them, their tiny bodies supple, carried on pattering flirtatious feet, in faltering voices that embraced their yearning for enchanting discoveries. They found narrow and untrodden paths. The children had a limitless tenacity for dream, a flowing capacity to wander wide and far. They were children.

They emerged from their escape in a myriad of joy, their faces covered with their gaiety, bright with their phenomenal journeying. They held out their cupped hands above their heads and gathered the joy that tumbled from the sun, which swooped down their throats. Blue lizard tails disappeared beneath the gray roof of the shed, vanished between their fingers which were spread out to the sky. They ran back quickly into the shed, gurgling, their fingers still surprised, burning and tingling. They filled their dreams with unformed desires, with tentative aspirations, with timid bliss. They bathed in an exhilarating caress of innocent and weariless joy. Then they fell on the split bags, and slept an accented sleep.

The shrieks reached Mazvita, climbed over her shoulders to her back, receded. She felt a violent throbbing cross her forehead, and lifted a limp hand to wipe the water from her face. Drops fell from behind her ears, slid slowly down, trickled beyond her shoulders to her back. The water traced a convoluted path over her tired skin. She passed the back of her right hand across her neck and spread the warm sweat over her arm, over the loose skin. Her neck was twisted. A bone at the bottom ofher neck told her that her neck had been turned and turned till it could no longer find a resting place. Her neck had been broken. She felt a violent piercing like shattered glass on her tongue, where she carried fragments of her being.

There was a lump growing on the side of her neck. A sagging grew with the lump, so that her body leaned to the left, following the heavy lump. She could no longer swallow even her saliva, which settled in one huge lump in her throat. Whatever she swallowed moved to one side of her body. She had lost her center, the center in which her thoughts had found anchor. She was amazed at how quickly the past vanished.

The lump had swallowed her thoughts, she decided. She blamed this lump for her inability to think clear thoughts. It swelled endlessly, this lump, and she leaned her head further toward her lowered shoulder, as though she needed a new angle to her reality, an untried advantage, her eyes quiet, tucked upward beneath her eyelids. She peered at her reality. Some unusual sight had appeared before her, gripped her face and smeared it with mud. The mud had dried in angry and repeated streaks across her whole face, over her lips, her forehead, and held her in a puzzled and frenzied stare.

She nursed an elbow gently in her palm, and waited anxiously The lump lay between her ear and her shoulder. She felt it growing there in repeated outward pushes. She had no doubt that all her body was moving slowly into that lump, that she would eventually turn to find her whole being had abandoned her, rushed into that space beside her neck, for she heard voices there. She heard a faint dying cry The fingers on her left hand curved slowly upward.

Her skin peeled off, parting from her body. She had suffered so much that her skin threatened to fall pitilessly to the ground. It hung from below her neck, from her arms, from her whole silent body. The skin pulled away from her in the intense dry heat. She felt it pull fromher shoulders. She screamed, her arms and elbows bare. The sky tore with her scream, for a dark cloud appeared suddenly over her eyes, blinding her. The skin fell from her back. She was left stripped, exposed, bare wide across her back.

She leaned backward, her eyes astonished.



Without a Name copyright © 1994 by Yvonne Vera

Meet the Author

Yvonne Vera was born in Bulawayo, where she is now director of the National Gallery. The author of Butterfly Burning, she received the 1997 Commonwealth Writers Prize (Africa region) for Under the Toungue.

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