Book Review: Thembe Khumalo’s ‘Words and other Weapons’

Book Review: Thembe Khumalo’s ‘Words and other Weapons’

From the gossipy to the satirical, from the heartwarming to the raw emotion, from womanhood and to everything in between, “Words and other weapons” is a searing collection of short stories and essays from debut author, Thembe Khumalo. How do you tell the difference between fiction and the truth? That is the gift, you can’t!

Khumalo is a renowned Zimbabwean brand strategist and marketer who has worked with numerous individuals, companies (large and small) and NGOs across the African continent. At the heart of it she is a storyteller. Her book “Words and other weapons” can best be described a chimera.

The book is a collection of twenty-two pieces of writing which do not give away which ones are fiction, and which are non-fiction. “Learning is a lifelong process. That it will only end when I fall into my final sleep” from the piece ‘Courage’ sets the tone for the whole book. Perhaps the most striking feature of the book is the constant shift in tone and mood as one flipped through the pages. The essays are varied and each special in its own way giving a robust reading experience.

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Some of the themes from the book include genocide (Tears in Matabeleland), infidelity (Satan & Co), motherhood (World Without You), marriage (Cards) to mention only a few. Some of the standout pieces for me include ‘Misunderstood’ in which the author reveals her unapologetic sass in the piece that details the falling apart of a marriage.

“You…you’re like our daughter’s imaginary friend that she had in pre-school…Perfect, but without substance” and “You are like that kid in class that can pass any exam but can never explain a concept to you. You only know how to get the marks” are the words that a woman laments to her partner who has made a host of promises of change to her. Her writing is raw, piercing, and sure to leave a lasting impression on anyone who has gone through the pangs of love.

Another piece that was comic and entertaining was ‘Guess What?’ which is in the form of a gossipy letter detailing the voice’s eccentric neighborhood.  Another outstanding piece is ‘Good Grief’ which deals with a topic often unspoken in the African context, grief. “Pain can hold you hostage, that a people can be so attached to their wounds that they can no longer see themselves apart from it.; that they can barely remember who they are outside of the pain” are poetically expressed in that piece.

The collection also offers wise counsel. The lines from the piece ‘Courage’, “I know today that when I bring myself to the table, I bring you with me. You, my daughter, my mother and all the mothers before you” reminded me of the writing of Maya Angelou in her poem “Our Grandmothers” in which she writes “I come as one I stand as ten thousand”; affirming the African proverb, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and paying homage the connectedness and oneness of people’s existence. Khumalo’s gentle style of writing is easy for readers to become involved and engrossed by her narratives finding a piece of themselves in her pieces.

Coming from reading this book it felt like the warm comfort of having spoken to a friend, the wise counsel of a mother who has walked the road ahead and the unapologetic banter of a sister. “Words and other weapons” are collection of separate pieces of gems that come together to form a beautiful, whole piece. Highly recommended for fans of African short prose and chick-lit.

Kudzai Mhangwa

Kudzai Mhangwa is a writer, actor and musician. He writes poetry, plays, essays and short stories. His work has been featured on House of Mutapa, Atrebla Magazine, Ka'edi Africa, Poetry Soup and elsewhere.

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