The Uncertainty of Hope by Valerie Tagwira, a novel which Charles Mungoshi calls 'an astonishing debut'. Through the various and complex lives of Onai Moyo - a market woman and responsible mother of three children, and her best friend Katy Nguni - a vendor and black-market currency dealer - we are given an insight into the challenges that face those who only survive by their wits, their labour and their mutual support. In doing so Tagwira aptly captures how precarious the future is for the inhabitants of Mbare, Zimbabwe in 2005. The story of these two close friends is situated in a high-density suburb. However, the author also introduces a much wider cross-section of Zimbabwean society: Tom Sibanda, a young business man and farmer, his girlfriend, Faith, a law student, Tom's sister Emily, a health professional, and Mawaya, the ostensible beggar. With depth and sensitivity, Tagwira pulls these many threads into a densely woven novel that provides us with of some of the many faces of contemporary Zimbabwe.
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A quiet and ambitious novel, this is a story that works in the tradition of Dickens to not only tell an engaging story of social relevance, but to illustrate a wide range of individuals. Tagwira's work here is not only one of the rare novels to directly engage with the intertwined questions of HIV/AIDS and poverty, and unflinchingly, but does so from the perspective of victims who are not directly infected with the virus--something I haven't seen before in African literature. If you're interested, this novel is worth finding. And, if you want a contemporary example of Dickens...