Author: Sue Nyathi
You know you’ve read a great story when you find yourself wondering what the characters are up to. Or you find yourself still shocked or in awe of what a character did or said. You may even find yourself wanting to gossip about the characters as if they were real people you met somewhere. And when the book is finished, you miss them like they were your own family.
I experienced all of this and more with The Polygamist. I’m still wondering what Joyce, Essie, Matipa and Lindani are up to.
The Polygamist is set in Zimbabwe, starting in the years before the economic troubles of the early 2000s. It tackles, as the title tells you, a subject that has come to illicit nervous giggles and some hostility in Southern Africa – polygamy. The title had me curious for days because I wasn’t sure if this would be a story about a certain presidential polygamist or if I’d like it. One doesn’t wanna just follow the hype, you know, and I feared the writer was trying to cash in on the hype. But this is story worth your time.
Luckily, Black Letter Media was exhibiting at the Jozi Book Fair and happened to be sitting across from Sue Nyathi’s stand. On the last day, I had to jump at the opportunity to get the book before she left – I almost chickened out. So glad I didn’t.
The Polygamist tells the story of Jonasi Gomora through the eyes of the women in his life. Jonasi is a man of power. A tall dark and handsome brilliant businessman who worked himself out of the township and built himself a large tenth floor corner office at one of the most powerful finance companies in Zimbabwe. Jonasi commands respect wherever he goes, and he’s the most eligible married man in the country.
His first wife, Joyce, the beautiful housewife, has always been Jonasi’s cheerleader. She has been with him for years, long before the fame and fortune, she has given up a lot to be with Jonasi and helped to build his empire. He’s the love of her life, the mother of his children. She believes she’s the queen, the one and only. Joyce is blissfully ignorant.
Then there’s Matipa. She knows what she wants in life and when she sets her mind to it, she gets it. Matipa is a career woman, intelligent educated yet still knows how to turn her sex on to get what she wants. What I liked about Matipa was that she was never apologetic about her love for power, money and sex – “in that order”. What I struggled with was why she made some of the choices she made. Matipa drives Jonasi insane with her intelligence, her determination, her sexiness. But is she the total package? Enough to tame and claim Jonasi Gomora?
Essie is his first love, Jonasi would agree but I’m not so sure knows what love is. Essie knows the old Jonasi. She’s the past that’s always there for Jonasi, when he needs a place of comfort. And she knows a side of Jonasi that the other women don’t. But they will all soon find out.
The youngest of Jonasi’s women is Lindani. In a way, Lindani feels like the fall of Jonasi. Ok but maybe that’s not fair – not sure how I feel about Lindani and her unashamed gold-digging. And I’m not saying that she is but because of her lifetime choices it’s easy to blame it all on her.
Jonasi, the character that had me shaking my head and calling out his name in disbelief (but Jonasi!), is a man-whore. But I feel for him too. I could see this tall, dark, powerful man. The kind that will have you taking your panties off just by saying hello. He’s not even a smooth operator as such. But his sheer determination and confidence makes all these women just want to yield to him – if he doesn’t force them to yield. I think his dark side is the most heartbreaking for me because it felt unnecessary. He’s equally seductive as he is infuriating. He’s indeed a memorable character.
My favourite character is Joyce’s mother. The little old woman put the fear of death in bodacious Matipa! I don’t want to spoil this for you but the way she dealt with her husband’s, Joyce’s father, shenanigans had me laughing in tears for hours.
For a debut nobel, The Polygamist is solid. Sue Nyathi writes with a confidence of an old pen. Her characterisation made it easy to follow they characters through their journeys. It was pretty easy to figure out which character is speaking because each character had a distinct way of speaking, thinking and a clear world view.
Because the story is told from the women’s perspective, you only get to learn about their thoughts, feelings and opinions. We don’t hear Jonasi’s voice. But this is not an issue at all, if anything when it comes to polygamy the we all tend to appoint ourselves the spokesperson for the women involved. The men also always have a say about how it’s their culture and their families are happy. I find that author’s explores the women’s voices in an interesting but not particularly unexpected way.
I really appreciate Sue Nyathi’s creativity and look forward to more of her writing.
The Polygamist is available from all good book stores,
especially Book Lover’s Market at R160.