Why We Love Her: Where to begin? Pettina Gappah is an international lawyer, essayist and award-winning author writing in both English and Shona. Her first book An Elegy for Easterly, is a multi-layered short story collection that immerses readers in every aspect of Zimbabwean life. Stories like “The Negotiated Settlement”, “Something Nice from London” and “The Mupondawana Dancing Champion” capture the humour, pathos and throbbing danger of each small life explored. Her characters are sarcastic, cutting at times and incredibly entertaining. The collection won the Guardian First Book Award.
“She looked around for something with which to cut the cord. There was nothing, and the baby almost slipped from her hands. Through a film of tears she chewed on Martha’s flesh, closing her mind to the taste of blood, she chewed and tugged on the cord until the baby was free. She wiped the blood from her mouth with the back of her hand. The baby cried, she held it to her chest, and felt an answering rise in her chest. – ‘An Elegy for Easterly”
― Petina Gappah,
She moved back to Zimbabwe temporarily to write her stirring first novel, released last year – The Book of Memory. It centres on the only woman on death row in Chikurubi Maximum Prison and the haunting life that brought her there.
“There is no happy medium to our food; it is either overcooked or undercooked, or it has too much salt or not enough, or there is not enough oil in the fried vegetables or there is so much that you almost fear that America will invade.” – Pettina Gappah, The Book of Memory
Pettina is an avid collector and preserver of African literary culture. She has a private collection of every Shona novel and poetry volume published by the Rhodesia Literature Bureau. Seasoned in several tongues, including French and German (and soon Swahili), she is also passionate about translation and the promotion of work in indigenous African languages. In 2007, Pettina translated Zviuya Zviri Mberi by Joyce Simango, into English. It was the first novel to be written by a black woman in Rhodesia.
She also mobilised donors and the community of Harare to save the Harare City Library which was in a state of disarray. It was a success and now houses the sizeable bequest of 3,500 books from Doris Lessing, the author who spent much of her life there.
Soon readers will be able to get her hands on her latest offering, Rotten Row. Her second collection of short stories is populated with “flawed and fragile characters” making their way through modern chaos, crime and notions of justice. The cover is inspired by the colours and clamouring around recent #ThisFlag protests and the book will be out in November.
Her latest literary adventures and public talks can be followed on Twitter, @VascoDaGappah .