Undiagnosed Trauma in the novella SHARDS

Cynthia Marangwanda falls in the select group of Zimbabwean writers who inspire me to continue to explore language; the many ways in which it can be broken and bend to speak that which we want it to. Other writings that have had me pondering on the magic and dexterity that language can bring into telling stories are by Memory Chirere, Ignatius Mabasa, Ethel Kabwato, Fungai Tichawangana, Blessing Musariri, Tariro Ndoro, Tsitsi Ela Jaji, Togara Muzanenhamo, just to mention a few.

Shards is revered for dealing with issues spiritual but to limit its focus to this only would be a total disservice to the author’s gift of dealing with interconnected underlying themes that add to the richness of the story-telling.

From the beginning, it is clear to the narrator, even though she admits, almost halfway through the book that she is

“…off centre…” P.78

For me, there is an incident that could easily be brushed aside or ignored that is mentioned on page 6 which hints at the reason why the narrator is off-centre.

“My arms are riddled with bullets. They stopped bleeding when I stopped feeling at the age of seventeen. That is when a father figure grabbed me by the throat and threatened the innocence out of me.”

This toned-down shattering of a seventeen-year-old seems to fit the finding of

“…undiagnosed psychosis…” and “merely clinically depressed children in denial…”

as alluded to by Shavi on p.68, whilst the seemingly convincing hallucination by the narrator of a character called Benzi insists…

“I keep telling them I’m not insane, but they have made up their wayward minds that mine is a case of the deranged.” Benzi Pg 54

as if they are aware of the root cause of their affliction other than the diagnosis provided by medical institutions.

I also note the loss of respect for the elders aka (father figure), for what kind of a father figure corners a child by the throat?

“…we no longer worship their authority, rather we curse their cuts or personality. We are a bitter brood bringing desecration in our cupped palms…”

There is a pulsating rebelliousness in the narrator and I would associate this with the ‘fermenting’ trauma of the aforementioned incident…

“The bathroom looks so clean and sanitized I have no choice but to promptly vomit on its sparkling floor. I purposely avoid the toilet chamber. My intention is to mar.” narrator p.7

Even though the narrator never spills the proverbial incident, it is not too far-fetched to say that she thinks it and voices to herself the quest to free not only herself from this secret but perhaps a whole people.

“The time of living in cages has long since said goodbye and vacated the premises, leaving us at liberty to crack the padlocks that once constrained us and spill out like a seething dark mass unattached to tomorrow.” P.22

Benzi who calls the narrator, Mupengo, a case of the kettle calling the pot black, has a level of disorientation that is disturbing and because there is no back story to him, one wonders whether he was, as Pan would say, a case of Mupengo

“…befriending ‘her’ own hallucinations,” P.60

Also, the way the nurse turns, confused (P.57), when Mupengo asks if Benzi has also been discharged like her, is a pointer to the heightened hallucinations the narrator was having.

What are the manifestations of trauma and to what level does trauma fester and how would it affect one’s mental health? This trauma, to what extent does it affect an individual’s imagination and their ability to employ this imagination to escape and survive? I would throw in grandmother and Benzi for argument’s sake.

This review is not to dismiss issues of spirituality, for me it is to say that this novella has so many intriguing twists that may leave you astounded after reading it.

It also, in many ways, provides a juxtaposition of how for the longest time mental health and issues of spirituality have been misconstrued, confused, and still are even today.

“The diseases of our thoughts had us clamped by the throat. The battle to be considered sane was a deflating, degrading one.” P51

There is too much going on for the young and with the backdrop of a malfunctioning economy and the lack of “occupation,” a hopelessness of sorts has crept into their psyche.

“What’s the point of clinging to youth when the electricity has all gone…” Sheba confronts Shavi on P.69

They are suicidal, rebellious graffiti-bombing youths seeking “eruptions and explosions.” Even Mupengo who has attempted twice is confused why Sheba who is perfection-personified would want to “annihilate” herself. There is an ignored mayhem, pandemic-like, that is being downplayed.

I love what Marangwanda has done with language in this novella. She has mastered the many influences she has encountered and managed to absorb that which is essential to her environment, the result is Shards, a meal with just enough seasoning in the right quantities.

Shards was first published in Zimbabwe, in 2014 and won a NAMA in 2015.

Second Edition was published in Great Britain by Carnelian Heart Publishing.
ISBN: 978-1-914287-40-4
Number of Pages: 94