Short Story #26. Why Don’t You Carve Other Animals (Yvonne Vera)

Deal Me In Reading Challenge: I drew the three of clubs.

Story: Why Don’t You Carve Other Animals, by Yvonne Vera (in The Granta Book of the African Short Story)  [Read in July; re-read and reviewed in October]

Comments: The online articles which top the list in a Google search for Yvonne Vera will tell you that she is renowned for her strong female characters – but this story features two men.  One is a carver, the other a painter, and they both sit and work outside an Africans-only hospital (in Vera’s native Zimbabwe, formerly Southern Rhodesia), producing cheap items to sell to those going in and out.  The carver carves elephants and giraffes, “bringing the jungle to the city”.  A central part of the story involves a somewhat philosophical discussion about the competition between the elephant and the giraffe for the highest leaves on the trees, which the giraffe accesses by his long neck and the elephant by his strength and long tusks.  The animals which the carver makes are lifeless, and he knows it.  He has never seen in reality the animals that he carves.  The painter’s work, on the other hand, is full of life, as he adds details of a couple eating ice-cream to a picture of the Victoria Falls – though he too has never seen the Falls in reality.

So – talent and attitude are what bring vibrancy, more than experience or opportunity (or the lack of it)?  Perhaps this is one theme in this story?  This could also be behind the giraffe /elephant competition-for-highest-leaves theme, though most commentators seem to relate it only to the politics of Zimbabwe at the time.

Yvonne Vera died in 2005 at the age of 40.  Her mother subsequently wrote her biography, which would surely be an interesting read:


Short Story #6: Dancing to the Jazz Goblin and His Rhythm (Brian Chikwava)

Deal Me In Reading Challenge: I drew the two of diamonds.

Story: Dancing to the Jazz Goblin and His Rhythm, by Brian Chikwava (from The Granta Book of the African Short Story)

Comments: A young man moves from Bulawayo to Harare, at his mother’s insistence.  “She had said, ‘I’m not disowning you, my child,  but it brings bad luck for a woman to keep on looking after a child who has grown a beard.’ ”  So he moves.  At first he comes under the influence of a jazz musician who sponges off him, but after a relatively short time the protagonist gets away from the Jazz Goblin and moves into a new flat on his own.  The move happens on the day on which Zimbabwean Independence is celebrated, 18 April.

And that’s it.  Am I missing something here?  Okay, so there’s the “independence” theme.  And – what?  Is the young man somehow supposed to represent the country?  At the end of this story I’m saying “So what?” and wondering if I need some kind of Interpreter’s Guide to this book.  Helon Habila’s Introduction doesn’t help any with this particular story.