Book Review: HOUSE OF STONE, an unreliable narrator infiltrating a Zimbabwean household

Tshuma, Novuyo Rosa - House of Stone (2) (1)House of Stone
Novuyo Rosa Tshuma

During a political rally in Zimbabwe, Bukhosi Mlambo disappeared. Desperate to locate their son, they are vulnerable to the attentions of their lodger, Zamani, who is only seven years older than Bukosi. Zamani, an orphan, tries to become the Mlambo’s missing son, willing to go to desperate lengths to maintain his proximity to the family.

Unreliable, at times, Zamani, an orphan, believes he is a more worthy son than Bukosi. In other cases, he is more deliberately cruel to the parents in order to rewrite his own history and in turn remake his past. He misreads and misreports his own and other’s motivations and misunderstands people’s emotions and attitudes. As a result, he’s completely unreliable and completely fascinating.

History, memory, storytelling, and the right to declare the truth play an important role not only for Zamani and the Mlambo family. The country itself struggles with the same issues. After Zimbabwe gained independence, two nationalistic parties struggled for power during the Rhodesian Bush War. The national army under Robert Mugabe systematically killed Ndebele people ostensibly because they were dissidents, but in actuality because they supported the rival political party and Mugabe feared their opposition.

The book is not easy emotionally to read first because Zamani represents an unsympathetic character with whom it is difficult to empathize and second because of the terrible and graphic atrocities Abednego and Agnes experienced, and at times committed, in the aftermath of independence. Although I found certain sections slow, particularly Abednego’s teen and young adult years, once more characters were introduced and their secrets unfurled, the novel became surprising and unrelenting.

While I don’t think this is a universally appealing book, I am extremely glad I read it. I didn’t know anything about Zimbabwe’s Bush War and genocide, and though the descriptions were horrific, I thought it only fitting to fill the role of witness as uncomfortable as that might be. Additionally, as much as I despised Zamani, as a narrator, he was completely spellbinding.

House of Stone should find it audience among readers interested in African history, colonialism, genocide; those who find stories about history, memory, and identity compelling; and those who are fond of reading books from the perspective of unreliable narrators.