Inside the Pages – Harare Book Club

By Rumbi Zinyemba

I moved back to Harare in 2017, and visited my childhood library. It was in a state of disrepair, the few books on the shelves were the same as those from my childhood. There were more text books than novels, and the place had an air of – nobody really comes here anymore.

That’s not how I remember it. Public libraries are where I met Enid Blyton, and CS Lewis, and solved mysteries alongside Nancy Drew. There, I later discovered Doris Lessing, Alan Paton and Zimbabwean literature. 

Finding the library empty- I visited bookshops and found very few novels. The prices for the few I found were likely among the highest book prices in the world.

Do people in Harare just not read?

I met with a book publisher and seller early in 2019 and I had two questions: why are there no books in Harare and why can I not afford what I do find? After giving me a run-down of her sales, the difficulties authors encounter in printing, importing, and pricing books in Zimbabwe and the dust the over-priced books end up collecting on shelves in bookstores, I came away with the perception that there really was not much of a market for books nor an appetite for reading in Harare.  Boy was I wrong!

Talking to friends I had taken literature classes with in high school, I discovered that they had come up with other ways of sourcing books and were interested in getting together to discuss them. Our book club’s first meeting took place at Vanilla Moon Café in Avondale. We discussed Tsitsi Dangarembga’s new book, This Mournable Body. We’d found it in bookstores in South Africa, and we were trying to grapple with the downfall of Tambu, a character we all grew up with in Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions. 

In January we had a wonderful meet the author session with the same Tsitsi Dangarembga, with a guest list of eighty people. This was our second such session; we’d met with Petina Gappah in 2019 after reading her brilliant novel Rotten Row.  Gappah introduced us to her new historical fiction, Out of Darkness, Shining Light, a wonderfully clever and very well researched piece about the journey Dr David Livingstone’s dead body took from Bagamoyo to the coast in Zanzibar and on to his home in England. 

The club continues to grow. Our Whatsapp group is 100 strong, and our monthly meetings now have an average of 20 and up to 35 people for book discussions and wine, always wine!  

So who are we?

An eclectic, sometimes boisterous, sometimes deeply reflective mish-mash of entrepreneurs, writers, students, lawyers, doctors, lecturers, engineers, poets,  stay at home mums, NGO workers, musicians, civil servants, 20 and 40 something year olds, job seekers, Shona speaking, Ndebele speaking people who have one thing in common: we love to read.  We are a mixture of poetry, African literature, biographies, fiction, existentialism, American literature and Zimbabwean literature readers. The growth of the book club has been a wonderful journey in discovering that Harare’s reading community is as vibrant as ever. We have made exciting connections with new and veteran Zimbabwean authors and the meeting of these two- the readers and the authors is, I believe, the start of some creative solution to the troubles in the book industry in Zimbabwe.

Harare Book Club 

Whatsapp: 0771416896

Ndeipi Magazine Issue 116, ndeipi.co.zw

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