Category Archives: Book & Article Reviews

Sanya Osha reviews A Review of Basil Diki’s Two Hangmen, One Scaffold Book 1, Baiting the Hangman by Basil Diki


An Underground Country


Zimbabwe, since its independence in 1980, has produced an interesting crop of prose stylists. Dambudzo Marechera, Yvonne Vera and Tsitsi Dangarembga are all known as trail-blazers. Lately, Brian Chikwava, Petina Gappa and Noviolet Bulawayo have emerged to carry on the illustrious tradition. All the names just mentioned have had considerable international impact. However, there is much more to be said about contemporary Zimbabwean literature than we are presently led to believe.


Basil Diki is another engaging and energetic novelist and playwright that should be added to the interesting list of Zimbabwean literary artists. His novel, Two Hangmen, One Scaffold Book 1 (2012), centres on the lives of Binga Jochoma alias Akar Muja, his wife Matipa and their son, Peza. Akar works in a mine enduring a punishing work schedule that brings very little by way of monetary returns. We get to know he is a far more conflicted personality than he presents to his wife and family. He lives with his customary law wife, Matipa while he has a common law wife, Nomathemba, living in another city. Finally, he has an undergraduate girlfriend, Gillian to complete a complicated emotional picture. By some sort of schizophrenic twist he is able to keep the separate strands of muddled emotional existence apart. He convinces himself he needs Gillian to serve as an antidote for his creeping sexual impotence. His main dream in life is make enough money to keep his women in different metropolitan centres of world namely, Oslo, New York and Johannesburg so as to be as far as possible from each other’s throats. Clearly, his job as a menial mine worker cannot aid the realisation of his dream and so he has to resort to a Malawian sorcerer to assist him in his quest for unparalleled financial wealth.


Akar plans on stealing Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa from its fortress in Europe which he hopes to sell. Indeed Akar is a mess of contradictions: down-trodden mine worker, ex-soldier, a fervent adherent of juju practices,  a lover of literature and the fine things of life who plans to come by wealth through art for good measure. But alas, there are even more head-spinners. He is sexist though he somehow never beats on his wife. However, there is a secret his wives and family do not know. Akar is a cold-blooded murderer who haunts derelict mines in order to dispossess illegal miners of gold and money. He disappears for many days on end prowling through underground tunnels in a bid to supplement his meagre income. If he doesn’t, it would be impossible to buy Christmas gifts for his loved ones and earn their respect. One of his disappearances earns him the sack from his bosses and which is when his hobby becomes his main source of income.


Diki unveils a multitude of graphic images on the Hobbesian world of illegal mining that make the world illustrated by Emile Zola appear rather humane. The realities of illegal mining in Zimbabwe are peopled by desperate souls, ghouls with broken dreams and ruthless killers. Accidental falls down shafts and man-made pools that rip off flesh, hair and bone are a common occurrence. Poisonous snakes lurk in crevices and machete-wielding killers lie in wait for victims in all manner of places both within and outside the mines. Indeed the concealed turf of illegal mining is more gruesome than one would expect:


There were many ways to die in the tunnels. Gangs roamed underground and robbed the illegal miners of rich and ore and gold. When thugs floored a victim with fists and machetes, pinioned him to the ground and pressed a knife against his Adam’s apple, he invariably yielded all the gold or ore on him. Venomous snakes in the tunnels killed those who stepped on them (p.103).


Diki’s Zimbabwe is many leagues away from Marechera’s and his contemporaries. The seizures of white-owned farms, a national economy experiencing rapid implosions coupled with foreign economic sanctions have severely devalued human life in the country. The Marxian axiom that religion is the opium of the masses is granted especial force. Matipa lives under the perpetual guidance of Prophet Jatropha and personal religious dreams, nightmares and visions. For her and so many others who belong to her sect, when all else fails it is only natural to turn to the phantasmagoria of charismatic Christianity. Unfortunately, she does not often recognise when her rigid faith threatens her marriage. Her husband’s life lurches jerkily under the compulsion of a sordid and absurd mix of animism and vaunting machismo. There seems to be no respite for anyone as everyone writhes within the relentless grip of personal and societal melt-down.


Diki’s highly descriptive novel manages to say quite much with not too many digressions and indeed there are some which is not unusual for a book of such considerable length. Zimbabwe isn’t only Diki’s sole point of reference even though it is the main one. Current affairs such as European soccer leagues and events and lifestyles of Euro-America often crop up for mention. Perhaps this isn’t always very effective. Indeed the finely assimilated products of his powerful imagination are really what would bestow his art with a transcendent quality.


It is a pity that this work which is a perceptive and honest critique of the political situation in Zimbabwe cannot be entered for the Commonwealth literature prize by its publishers Langaa, as the country remains suspended from the body. As a result, not only Zimbabwe but the entire world suffers.


Two Hangmen, One Scaffold Book 1, published by Langaa, Bamenda, pp.346, 2012, is available here: | The Sentinel Bookstore



Sanya Osha is an author who lives in Pretoria, South Africa. His latest novel is An Underground Colony of Summer Bees (2012).

Susan Skinner reviews All the Invisibles by Mandy Pannett

Mandy Pannett’s poetry has its own musical quality that threads through each poem and leads each one to its natural conclusion. On the back of these rhythms we are taken through time and space to varying landscapes:


He know a rock upon the moors

That legend says was once a Troll.

From Stunted


to animals:


All he can tell is that his world

His scary and stinking-of-animals world

From A Mesolithic slant.


to Nordic mythological beasts and people, such as Ask and Embla who were created at the beginning of time out of driftwood. In this collection we can also find a variety of painters and poets (Durer, Ravilious, Seurat, Keats) and historical events – we even hear the voice of a horse from the Bayeux Tapestry!  We are in an illuminated world where viewpoints allow all the invisibles to hide in-between.


To read these poems is to peep through a kaleidoscope where colours and objects shift and shake and where momentary illuminations of scene and feeling are juxtaposed by images that make a prism for the poems.


Mandy Pannett uses many forms of poetry, from sonnet to free verse. She excels in choosing the right form for each poem.


All the Invisibles published by SPM Publications is available here: | | The Sentinel Shop


Eilidh Thomas reviews All the Invisibles by Mandy Pannett

If you only buy one poetry book this year – buy this one. A collection so sumptuous and full of wonder, that I hardly know where to begin.  In her poems, Mandy explores the breadth and depth of human history and the natural world as vignettes of time.


Here you will find a myriad of images and themes, mysterious and complex yet at the same time striking and simple. Each poem offers the reader the opportunity to enjoy the poet’s love of language for its own sake, or to scurry and research the meaning and back story to so many of the poems. I shall pick out some of my favourites.


The first poem ‘Best After Frost’ is a perfect opener – succulent and almost decadent in suggestion of the medlar as a “smutty fruit” it impacts on all the senses from the smell of ripe cheese “like Camembert” to  “the feel of rainfall in Montmartre”. By the end I really wanted to “suck this flesh and luscious rot” for myself.


A millennia of time is contained in the twelve short intimate lines of ‘A Fossil’s Chirp’ where the reader is compelled to stop and listen “I have heard them at dusk, those crickets,” and consider their existence back into the Jurassic age.


With a poet’s insight ‘Heartwood’ empathises with the “Firescar” of a burned out wood and like a lover, concludes at the end “There is still sap/ in heartwood   fecundity/    in roots.” This poem is filled with the longing of a ballad and the acceptance that life goes on.


‘Later, All at Once’ seems to me to be the heart of the collection – a capture of its essence – a story within a story if you like – a microcosm nestled in the middle like a Russian matryoshka doll. The poem ranges backwards and forwards across history. Don’t try to know everything that has gone on in the poet’s head, but relish the journey on which you are taken.


 And so to the title poem – ‘All the Invisibles’. It sits enigmatically as the third last poem in the collection. Who or what are the Invisibles? They are everything you have been reading in this collection; they are nowhere and everywhere, mysterious and imponderable “as we wander the way of the shell”. Behind the landscape you are looking at is the landscape which you cannot see – everything that is under the skin, in the depths of the oceans, around the next corner, in the darkness of history and in all human emotion.


But I have only begun to tell of what is on offer in this marvellous collection. Dip in again and again – a book at bedtime in each and every poem. It is a collection that you will go back to for years to come, and continue to find something new and fresh every time.


All the Invisibles published by SPM Publications is available here: | | The Sentinel Shop