Sweet Medicine by Panashe Chigumadzi
Publisher: Blackbird Books
Release Date: 2015
My Rating: 3.5 Stars
Sweet Medicine is the story of Tsitsi, a young woman who compromises the values of her Catholic upbringing to find romantic and economic security through otherworldly means. The story takes place in Harare at the height of Zimbabwe’s economic woes in 2008. The book is a thorough and evocative attempt at grappling with a variety of important issues in the postcolonial context: tradition and modernity; feminism and patriarchy; spiritual and political freedoms and responsibilities; poverty and desperation; and wealth and abundance. (Source: Goodreads)
Two things got me into this book – 1) The Cover and 2) The First Sentence. I have been talking about covers recently and I am quite passionate about it – I feel like African publishers are putting little to no effort on the covers of the books they publish, so when I saw this I was blown away. I almost want to frame it and hang it in my living room. The double- coloured cover is also quite apt in describing the situation Tsisti finds herself in – torn between her catholic values and her hunger and need for wealth and a comfortable life.
"YOU CANNOT FIGHT an evil disease with sweet medicine," says the N'anga
Tsitsi’s story is so many girls’ story! She is smart, has a good education, she is one of the only two female students in the economics class and graduates with distinction. She however finds herself in rut – stuck in a dead-end government job with no future prospects and a salary that is barely enough to meet her needs let alone take care of her widowed mother and uncle. The ‘Black Tax’ beckons!
She decides, against her staunch catholic teachings and own values to find a ‘sponsor’/ ‘blesser’/ ‘benefactor’, however you choose to call it depending on which part of Africa you are from. We see Tsitsi struggle with her decision from start to finish. She convinces herself that she has no other choice and each time she concedes just a little bit more of her soul and her values to secure the new life she has built for herself.
This is a contemporary story and it is familiar to many of us. I loved the way Chigumadzie told it without imposing herself on the reader and leaving it to you to decide for yourself. Did I judge Tsistsi? Hell Yes! Did I sympathise with her? YES. Did I feel she had no other choice? Yes and No! I realised as humans beings we are most times so judgmental of other people’s decisions that conflict with our own values.
I loved the unapologetic use of Shona and Zimbabwean slang. Untranslated and unexplained. Almost like she was telling us to find some Zimbabwean friends to translate or just move the F on. We need more gutsy writers like this. If you’re looking for an easy read, pick this one up! I recommend!