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Jonathan Ball

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Petina Gappah Chats about The Book of Memory, Zimbabwe and Translating Animal Farm into Shona

The Book of MemoryMark Reynolds recently chatted to the critically acclaimed author Petina Gappah about her second novel, The Book of Memory.

In the interview, Gappah speaks about the weight of expectations that came with her first collection of stories, An Elegy for Easterly, and how it delayed the completion of The Book of Memory: “They were not meant to be the big event, and then they sort of became a biggish event, and that completely messed me up.”

Reynolds questioned Gappah on a range of issues, including her three-year writing sabbatical to Zimbabwe, her resistance to being dubbed “the voice of Zimbabwe”, and her views on the state of literature and publishing in Zimbabwe. Gappah also speaks about the experience of translating Animal Farm by George Orwell into Shona.

Read the article for this in-depth interview:

Was your three-year return to Zimbabwe essentially a writing sabbatical; or was part of the intention to give your son a taste of growing up in the country?

It was both of those things. I wanted to take a break from working because I thought I needed to focus on the novel and other things as well, and then I also realised that my son had not really spent more than a month ever in Zimbabwe, and his Shona was slipping. It was really important to me as well that he get to know my family, especially my father who was quite frail. So it was a great opportunity for me to write, and to have Kush engage more with Zimbabwe and also for me to do some of the community things that I’ve always been interested in, like helping to rebuild the Harare City Library. So those three years ended up being our way of reconnecting with Zimbabwe, and they thread into the novel as well, because a lot of the passages I’m particularly proud of are passages that were directly inspired by things that I saw in Zimbabwe.

Like the lively dialogue, for example, which often flits between English and local languages?

Yes, absolutely. I eavesdrop quite badly, and I take notes copiously.

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