Author: Panashe Chigumadzi
Publisher: Blackbird Books
Publication Date: 2015
Number of pages: 201
Sweet Medicine, the debut novel of Zimbabwean-born South African resident Panashe Chigumadzi, is the story of Tsitsi. Tsitsi was raised in Harare but went to a rural school to do her O and A Levels. She ends up back in Harare to do her degree in economics and after graduation gets an administrative job at a government ministry.
She is one of those unfortunate souls who happened to live in Zimbabwe when the country was going through its biggest upheaval economically in the mid to late noughties. For those who remember recent history, Zimbabwe went through a horrible period when its currency basically went to the toilet as its central bank printed more and more money. You can imagine therefore someone is earning a salary that a very short while ago was considered a decent wage and now her wages can’t even last two days.
As she considered how her family was depending on her as the only college educated person to change their lives, she decides to get a sugar daddy; she hooks up with her boss at the ministry, Minister Zvobgo. The old man keeps her first as a small house (mistress) and when he falls out with his wife she moves into his home as his companion. The young woman who was raised in a strictly Christian home now has to live with herself as she lives in sin. Her family appreciates the goodies she brings as a result of her relationship with a rich man but her mother looks down upon her child for straying from the path of righteousness.
This book is a very good debut for the South African. She weaves a story of a young woman who was raised to do things in a straightforward and pious manner. Her mother who has had to struggle with her family who disowned her when her father died struggled to ensure that her child went to school. This need to excel leads her to read like crazy all through her education. She is seen pulling moves in boarding school like studying with her feet in water for hours to keep her awake. (This is common behaviour in my neck of the woods incidentally) She is fighting to make her space in the world as she goes against the boys who look down on her femaleness as well as an unfeeling world when she leaves school.
What she finds out there as an adult of course is that it is even harder that she had it as a student. When she eventually bags the big dhara (boss) it isn’t any easier as she has to battle with servants who had been reporting to a previous madam.
Her characters are very well written with very strong women at the core. My favourite of these was Tsitisi’s college best friend Chiedza who is as “wild child” as the society she lives in allows. She sleeps with whoever she wants for whatever she can get. Then there is Rudo Tingamira who was the first Mrs Zvobgo who knew her value and would argue mano a womano with her husband at a dinner party. And when she found out about his infidelity she left him and eventually divorced him. That was one helluva strong character. Then there is Tsitsi’s mom who has to struggle with her child to give her the best in spite of the really lousy arm she was thrown when her husband dies.
Would I recommend that you read this book? Yes. The prose is rich, the characters are well thought out. It also vividly shows the pain that Zimbabwe went through in its worst time as a country after its independence period.