Zimbabwean author Petina Gappah’s The News of Her Death was shortlisted this year for the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award. We liked it so much we shared it with our subscribers via WhatsApp. And we offered a competition – The first 10 people to share a short review, and name 3 things Biggie was selling, would win $5 airtime. In the end, we had so many winners we gave away some consolation prizes as well. But most of all we were delighted that so many Zimbabweans enjoyed Petina’s story as much as we did – And also felt it accurately portrayed a visit to a “saloon!” But don’t take our word for it. Here’s what some Kubatana members shared in their WhatsApp review of the story:
The story portrays modernisation, sexuality as well as societal perceptions. For instance, Pepukai is a woman living in the ‘developed world’ and her views on hair and hairstyles are different from the other local women in the salon who haven’t been were Pepukai is coming from. So the story shows that views and perceptions on what is nice and trending are not homogeneous and are shaped by the experiences and exposure that one has been subjected to. Also the story of Kindness and her death and the way the women in the saloon commented and interpreted it shows that they society, especially women blame women for whatever tragedy falls on them and they rarely blame the perpetrators. The women in the salon blamed Kindness’s death on her behaviour and way of handling relationships. They thought Kindness was the problem. The story clearly depicts women, sex and modernisation especially in the Zimbabwean context.
This is an interesting story which is intricately connected to the happenings in our society. Owing to a number of challenges we are faced with, people end up trying to eke out a living through different ways. *Kindness* who succumbed to gunshots could still have died from contracting deadly sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS. The author is also reminding that salons are a hub of activities as people will be trying to tie the pieces together and survive. The dealers, vendors, people doing odd jobs like *Shylet*. Despite the sad news about Kindness’s death, there’s a thin silver lining in it because it served as a lesson to almost everyone including *Plaxedes* and her sister. Economic challenges are also highlighted earlier in the story when *Mai MaTwins* chided *Matilda* about her bulging stomach saying she was pregnant. But Matilda revealed that her husband was in South Africa, a clear indication that her family was separated as they were trying to find something profitable to do. The story is also replete with the issue of cheating that also involved Mai MaTwins’ husband, who albeit unemployed, was described as a busy man always with people of opposite sex. Finally, people are seeing *church* as a very lucrative business, particularly Pentecostal churches. Mai MaTwins was in the process of starting her own to confirm it.
This is an amazing, humorous and insightful short story about the contemporary Zimbabwe. It gives the insight towards the economic challenges in Zimbabwe, from the changing hair saloon costs, to the mobile vendors and beggars. Not to forget the prostitute Kindness, who has more men so as to sustain her livelihood. Pepukai is even forced to go to London, where it is clear that the diaspora is the only answer to most Zimbabweans. It is really captures the whole situation in a simple hair saloon.
Umm its a a quite a good story, and it resembles a day in a typical Ghetto saloon its so realistic and for like myself who knows the place i really enjoyed it Thank you i will pass it on. A story about a lady who was killed by one of her so called upper class boyfriend’s and the unfolding of the events is so entwined in a tactiful manner, thank you once again.
it portrays clearly how news travel especially the set up of the saloon and the inferiority complex between the saloon workers and clients. it shows that business is low because by the time Pepukai reaches the saloon no client is there. its a beautiful portrayal of what happens in Saloons.
I loved how the story captures issues affecting women, ie how it is always assumed that successful women, like the lady from the bank may have slept her way up, and how as women we can be so pretentious! A case in point is MbuyaMaiTwins, so quick to judge, yet she is a church lady, and she even prays for them at the end, how hilarious! I also connected with the manner in which Pepukai did not eat the fish nor the orange on her flight back; I would also deliberately avoid eating anything that reminded me of the afternoon’s events in the salon! I thoroughly enjoyed the read, and have shared with my girlfriends so that we can gossip and discuss it
Great read there. The author gave the story exactly as it happens in the salons, couldnt help but laugh all the way. I have a question though…Kindness was shot…am not really sure about the statistics on shootings in Zimbabwe; are shooting incidents on the rise? Havent heard of many so this ended up coming across as fiction. I wouldnt know though what the author’s intent was.
The people in the story were at a HairSaloon. They were discussing life issues though many of them looked down on some. The hairdressers sounded like gossipers as they were touching on one story after the other and tend to know everything taking place in their neighbourhood.
The story was mainly concerned about the death of the hairdresser Kindness His workmates mai Shero, Matilda, zodwa,Genia and Shylet were disscussng wth among thmselves and their customrs include mbuya matwinz Pepukai who live in London Plaxedess and biggie who ws selling fish,crisps ,maputi, afro combs etc. Kindness was said to be shot with some of her boyfreinds inNorthfields flats . Pepukai ws searching Kindness for her service of hair dressing whch she percieved to be of high quality and Kindness was dead
Thanks for this l am a fan of Petina Gapah and looking forward to getting my own copy of The Book of Memory. I totally loved this story. Petina does a great job in shedding light on the lived realities of ordinary people. I love how she explores the different lifestyles of the characters in this story – The Diasporan Pepukai, the Hustler Biggie, the Gossip Monger Plaxedes, the Holier than thou Mbuya Mai MaTwins and the Fashion Crazy Salon Ladies. The salon becomes melting pot where we get to know of the challenges people face (yes Econet is one of them) and the desire to live a better life that ultimately robs the life of Kindness. It’s also fascinating how death is a unifier with all these characters lamenting the death of Kindness and how even Pepukai who had never met Kindness gives mari yechema. A really beautiful story, thank you.
The story depicts ghetto life, varying enterprising and entrepreneurial activities young women and men engage in, community relations based on gossip, rumor and hearsay and how this spread fast. It also provides an insight into how young women in the ghettos use dating as a means of upward social mobility. Lastly it gives an insight into the male dominated criminal gangs which affords those involved in dealership huge amounts of money accompanied by rare opulence and extravagant spending. These men voluntarily isolate themselves from many outside their ‘ trade’ to conceal their activities.
The news of her death, is a story whose setting is a hair salon. The story portrays the hair salon as an information hub, where one will not miss anything. From the death of Kindness, and the description of her personal character and conduct and the conflict of statements of the cause of her death. The story also presents hair salons as places of gossip as the women could just gossip about everything. It tells us about a different side of these salon women though, the kind side, as they all extended a blessing hand to the blindman. Also the urgency they responded with to the call for attending to Kindness’s funeral in Warren Park.
The News About Her Death is story about the death of a well-known hairdresser named Kindness. Her death shocked her fellow hairdressers and frequent visitors at a saloon she worked at. Through Kindness death, salon workers characters are revealed as they have perspectives of Kindness character which they assume caused her death. According to the hairdressers at the saloon, Kindness had been murdered by one of her many boyfriends, she was believed to have had. To add, the story reveals society opinion on beggers, vendors, general workers, church goers, and diaspora. The series of events happening at the saloon are witnessed by Pepukai a Zimbabwean woman who lives in United Kingdom.
The story is based on things that are happening in the society. It mirrors the everyday struggles and exposes the bad and the good that happens in the society. The story is unfolding on the incident of the death of a hairdresser after being shot by one of her boyfriends. The story shows the misfortunes that take place in the lives of women and the girl child perse. Overaly it exposes the day to day struggles and efforts to lead a good life in Zimbabwe.
The characters are so real, i feel like I know them, in fact I do. Any woman who has been to a salon in Zimbabwe does. However they are made more interesting as seen through the eyes of a Zimbabwean living abroad. The names in the story are so typically Zimbabwean( Maishero, Mbuya matepwins, Plaxedes, kindness and Biggie).The nuances of conversation are so intersting a the tragic death of Kindness is hot news and by the time Pepukai leaves saloon she has a picture of what happenned.I couldnt help feeling outraged as Mbuya Matwins and the others savaged Judith’s client and even when Plaxedes demanded to know details about Pepukai’s perfume, what it cost her, its name, if she can speak in french (groan), i mean really! The story is chillingly real as when Pepukai gets into salon and tells the stylists her preference they attempt to change her mind as they presumably know better, I say Kudos to Pepukai as i would have just gone for the “rihanna’, but she stood her ground. Whats not to like about the story, the street lingo is on point, up to the ever present vendors, in this story one Biggie who sells just about everything and claims his wares are authentic, including an “all weather” herb. The gossip is also on point, the snickers behind client’s backs, the knowing looks and nudges are all too familiar. I even sweated while reading through the story, grateful that at least I don’t have to go abd get my hair done today.
This story confirms the stereotype that beauty salons are the hub of rumours and women with loose morals. Salon women in this story are two-faced and bad mouth on another. While not everyone deserves to be pigeonholed like that, it’s the weakest who are viewed as the general representation in such a setup. Most behavioral fostering is a product of the environment; economic hardship and dealing with the public on a daily basis could be life altering indeed.
In review its hard to see if the writer was sympathetic or critical to the life of city women in this context who work in the saloon. The story is about a lady from London who had made an appointment with her hairdresser kindness. When she showed up at 9.30 30min late she was told that the hairdresser has died the night before probably shot or axed by one of her many boyfriends. The story tries to show how women relate to each other, the good and bad and how kind they are at times to helping the needy. They story also exposes a theatrical side of women as they joke and also how silly they can be.
Its like a ball with many sides depending on how u demarcate its context.
The title of the story conveys a sentimental or emotional feeling juxtaposed to the story content.The story conveys the plight of women in their workshop areas and can save as an anecdote,it grows from focusing on an individual to different women.We get to question the battle between sexuality and personality rather appearance over reality.Kindness is a name that suggest humanity but the deceased s actions tallied to expectations
Thank you so much for this, it was a good read. A true rendering of what one would meet with in a salon even today. It’s fraught with gossip, backbiting, jealousy, even a little romance! What’s glaring yet not explicitly said is the failed state of the economy causing people like Biggie to sell everything under the sun, Kindness to virtually prostitute herself (if the other women are to be believed), and generally causing people like MbuyamaTwins to mind everyone else’s business because hers is a miserable mess. It’s sad really. Biggie was selling the multitasking herb, maputi and cellphone covers
the story was filled with issues of the daily lives of most ordinary zimbabwean women their lifestyle includes gossip buying from vendors and meeting some from a different social class however what is common is that they are not regarded as bread winners in their homes but they keep the family running as they are the most enterprising and make more money whilst husbands are either unemployed or out of the country….biggie sold dried fish, medicinal herbs, phone covers and other things
Petina Gappah in this short story, unravels the themes of identity crisis, tradition, modernity, alienation and cultural decay in a complex and yet simple narrative. Women occupy the centre stage in this narrative and the issues they face daily are condensed into a salon setting; the centre of social commentary or gossip.
The death of Kindness- the one who wanted to be upper class and thought the way to be upper class was to go out with an upper class man- represents the cultural decadence; the death of the moral fabric. Her death gives the characters the licence to perform an unrestrained moral autopsy on her. Death becomes a central theme and it is telling that in all that Pepukai remains a silent if not indifferent bystander. It is ironical that Pepukai, the story’s focal character(wake up in Shona), who represents the archetypal cosmopolitan African woman is the only one who exudes authentic African identity, choosing old fashioned “shabbha” braids over the “ Rihanna” weaves. Hairstyle choices becomes a symbol of identity; highlighting how much the African woman has been alienated from her true identity. To some extent Pepukai represents the new African woman who is spearheading awareness of self or a cultural renaissance, although it must be emphasised how such a woman is caught between two civilisations.It is her double consciousness that makes her seem like a lone observer, a stranger marooned in familiar territory when she is in the “salon”. This short story is a glimpse into the feminine world of the day, with the action centred in a salon setup, itself a new platform but serving the same function as the traditional meeting places such as the village well. The salon takes the reader into the lives of the diverse women who are all caught in different levels and types of identity crisis, from Kindness to pepukai, Matilda to Shylet. In short, Petina Gappah attempts a “cultural autopsy” in a post-colonial African world trying to negotiate the condition of the African woman caught between modernity and tradition. And she succeeds in doing it with an effortless precision that leaves the reader intensely captivated.
Airtime received, thank you! I would want to give away two dollars of the airtime though. I know there is that vendor lady you always see in your neighbourhood you know needs the airtime. Please do send her contact whenever you can and i will share with her. – Hariet