by NoViolet Bulawayo
Early in NoViolet Bulawayo’s brilliant new novel, “Glory,” he completely removes the vocabulary of “humans” from the story and the language of its all-animal characters. The book is set in Jidada, a fictional African country that can be understood as a kind of fantasy of Zimbabwe in the period between the military overthrow of the president in 2017. Robert Mugabe, and his death two years later. This is an excellent 400-page postcolonial tale about the downfall of a tyrant, whose counterpart is an old horse, and the rise of a new tyrant.
Other inhabitants of Cidada are pigs and cows, goats and sheep, cats and dogs, chickens and the strange peacock. There’s a huge, symbol-laden crocodile that evokes the real-life nicknames given to the person who replaced Mugabe. Emmerson Mnangagwaand also to the prime minister of South Africa PW Botha, supporter of apartheid. There are no men or women in “Glory”; There is no such thing as personality, there are only ‘men’ and ‘women’. Things kept secret are “personal” matters. Quadrupeds freely switch between being able to move on all fours and two feet, and when they prefer the latter, this is called “blocking”. It’s an allegory that works entirely in its own terms, with its own ingenious lexicon. Bulawayo removes people from the equation, eliminating the hierarchies their existence would impose. He succeeded in creating the anti-“Father”.
And while there are certainly parallels between Jidada’s creatures and Orwell’s chronicles of Snowball, Napoleon, Boxer, and company, “Glory” in the first chapter cautions against interpreting the book solely through comparisons to “Animal Farm.” In his address to the crowd that gathered for the Independence Day celebrations, Gucci-heeled donkey and the equestrian equivalent of the ousted leader’s wife, Grace Mugabe, Dr. Sweet Mother announced:
“I’m standing here right now in Jeddah itself and as sun witnesses over there to address this nonsense and say: This is not an animal farm, it’s Jidada with one -da and another -da! So my advice to you is, Stop and stop now!”
While part of a ritual targeting his political rival Tuvy, Dr. Sweet Mother’s words are too obvious to be a warning to the reader. Here and again, Dr. We hear it straight from the donkey’s mouth when Sweet Mother cheerfully watches the YouTube video of her talk: This isn’t “Animal Farm.” No remix or translation. “Glory” is its own living world, taken from its own folklore.