I did not realise that Gappahs ‘ Rotten Row’ was a collection of short stories. Having recently read, and enjoyed her novel,’ The Book of Memory’, I mistook ‘Rotten Row’ for another novel.
Gappahs stories are based in Harare, Zimbabwe and focus on Rotten Row. A street synonymous with Law and Justice.
The intricacy and subtly of Gappahs stories are a credit to her writing style. She takes her time to describe the background, setting and situation and by doing this the reader is easily transported to that space. This is also coupled with the ability to talk deeply and at length about a small and basic issue. A typical example is in ‘Washington wife decides Enough is Enough’ where we see Washington’s wife being upstaged from her rightful position. The position of the passenger’s seat beside her husband. In this story Gappah did not employ extensive dialogue yet she was able to produce a story which was not only engaging but simultaneously humorous.
Some of the stories take place within the space of a few hours , a typical example is ‘The News of her Death’ which took place in a hair dressers salon. This is also seen in ‘Copacabana, Copacabana, Copacabana’, which was told within the snapshot of a bus ride in Harare. Then there is ‘The White Orphan’ which spans much wider than a mere bus ride or hair appointment.
There is also a fusion of cultures by making reference to Enid Blyton’s posh English boarding school, Mallory Towers. She also transports us to Luton England in ‘The President Always dies in January’ .
Another aspect of Gappahs writing which I admire in ‘Rotten Row’ is the subtle link between the stories, it would therefore be a good idea not to read the stories haphazardly but in the order they are written. This is because she has the apt of throwing in a character mentioned in a previous story into a present story. On recognition of this link a smile would come to my face.
Gappahs legal background, portrayed in ‘In the Matter between Goto and Goto, is another noteworthy aspect. She writes as if she is petitioning a case, a technique which is more prevalent in a court of law. I have not come across the use of this legal technique in the literary field. It was a very good move, very effective and captures the essence of the story.
There was one issue which, for me,was a bit of a stumbling block. This was the littering of so many words in Shona, a native language of Zimbabwe. Gappah probably used so many of these words in order to portray an authenticity of her settings. However, this sometimes hindered the flow of the stories, most especially to me not being a speaker of Shona. Even though it occasionally, hindered it did not distort it.
So, despite the massive influx of Shona, I would highly recommend this book.