Book Review: A Cowrie of Hope by Binwell Sinyangwe

a-cowrie-of-hope

“When light streaks the sky, hope begins to burn.”

Publisher: Heinemann

Year: First published in 2000

The hardships of a mother to keep her children alive, to give them the best and create a better life for them, are hardly recognised or applauded. This is worse in poor societies where women labour and break their backs to ensure that their children are fed and are able to get an education. These are challenges that aren’t made any easier by patriarchal domination and the in-law system that can be harsh to them. Yet, for their children they manage to soldier on.

After Nasula’s husband dies his family takes all the money and the house that he had left behind for her and their only daughter, leaving her in dire poverty and forcing her to move back to her village. These are the nineties, a time of economic hardships and a disease that is going around consuming so many people. Nasula dreams of a better future for her daughter Sula, with education and independent of marriage. Sula is a brilliant pupil and she needs to continue with her schooling but money is a problem. Nasula needs to find a way to raise the large amount needed to pay for her fees. Her attempt to ask her in-laws only leaves her disappointed. A good friend advices her to go to Lusaka to go sell her in-demand bag of beans. After making the journey and ready to sell, a predator snatches her last hope of getting money to send her Sula to school. She might be forced to fight her way to find the thief or just give up and go home to tell her daughter that she has failed.

 

The wheels of the story move along swiftly and each chapter passes on the baton to the next without fail. It might be because I have spent years around Zambians but this book is written in true Zambian style. I can hear the accents, the voices, I can see the gestures and the small details that can be attributed to that particular people of the country. I can envision the setting in the book and together with Sinyangwe’s good hand, it becomes a pleasant read.

The way he uses characters and settings of the story to capture the realness of the period in which the story takes place is satisfying and the subjects that he brings to our attention are done so in an enlightening and easy to understand way. The way he leads us through the challenges that Nasula faces, the dangers in the city, the corruption, the hunger, the disease and the way a lot of matters are handled by the different characters in the book are close to the truth. It may be fiction but you can almost taste the realness of it all; the culture and the lives that these people lead. You are in Zambia.

It’s a well written story, it’s enjoyable and it’s a quick read. It doesn’t linger on the need for sympathy but rather refreshes you with the way the main character shows courage all the way. The strength of a mother. I think a lot of women, mothers even more, will enjoy this story. People who can relate to it on different levels and appreciate the way it speaks to them.

Binwell Sinyangwe is a Zambian novelist and poet who was born in 1956. He studied Industrial Economics at the Academy of Economic Sciences in Bucarest, Romania. A Cowrie of Hope is preceded by another novel, Quills of Desire. He has had a number of poems and articles published in various Zambian magazines and newspapers.

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