Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo

This is a story as old as time and quite simple in a way. A dictator becomes old and so his wife steps in and starts to give speeches in his place and tell everyone what he is thinking and wants.

. . . because it follows that one problem femal, by nature generally implies a whole hornet’s nest of them whether they are visible to the naked eye or they’re hidden to the naked eye, Hallelujah!’


The others in the party who are also powerful don’t like this and so Generals get together and decide who will take over. This future leader is advised to leave the country and then to return as a conquering hero ready to change the world with #freefairncredibleelections.

The election takes place but towns and villages vote for someone that the Generals have not chosen and so they are fixed to allow the ‘right’ person to win much to the shock of everyone. He’s from the same party as the old leader so why should anything different be expected.

‘You call this fool, this criminal, this genocidist, this perfect idiot, a president, Mother of God?’


The ruling party then set about pillaging and plundering and become incredibly rich – so rich they don’t really know what to do with their money. And then the powercuts and water shortages arrive, all whilst the leader is out and about tapping the west for money, whilst Doctors go on strike for pay and justice. Queues start and at first everyone does this politely, it soon descends into a scrum with people blaming those from other ethnic groups for the troubles and before you know it there are riots and looting and the internet is shut down. And so it repeats itself all the while with huge expectations and the belief that change can happen from the population.

This is the story of Mugabe’s downfall in Zimbabwe and what happens thereafter but the story is made more generic by not naming politicians or even having them as humans but replacing them with animals or ‘mals’. So the Father of the Nation is a horse and his wife is a donkey or maybe even an ass, the security police are slathering dogs and the peoples of the nation are a whole host of animals. With this anthropomorphism comes some of the humour in the book and some of the savage critiquing ‘Even a hyena has clean patches on its anus.’

There are elements of this book that apply to other countries – who do we know who has shut down the internet? Blamed other ethnic groups for the problems? Become incredibly rich as the leader of a country? Surrounded themselves with yes men? Caused problems for those that disagree with them? I would say that for several leaders of countries this book is all too close for comfort and that is its power.

The story is written as a fable because how do you write about atrocities and genocide and still retain the bigger picture of history repeating itself. As one chapter is entitled ‘Past, Present, Future, Past’, it is so hard to pull yourself out of the status quo, the acceptance of how it is because it has been worse and because you have found a way to work around the current difficulties and generational traumas. The story is narrated by and held together by women. They are ridiculed and blamed but not pushed out of the picture and still violence is used against them as a weapon of suppression and oppression and to talk of animals is to make it slightly more bearable, slightly more possible to tell about something that can barely be spoken.

In places the book exaggerates to highlight the ridiculousness – there is the Minister of Things, the Minister of Disinformation, The Minister of Propaganda, the Minister of Order and the way in which the leader falls in love with Siri because she never answers back or contradicts him like his wife does. The word play is excellent – animals hind when they pull themselves up to their full height and they cross their paws and verbs are chosen for their use about animals such as the familiarity of a goat being tethered to her cousin. I just loved the idea that leadership is not ‘sexually transmitted’. (It puts me in mind of the Clintons not just African or Argentinian leaders.)

Part of the humour is found in the fact that elements and opinions of the population are told through social media posts with POTUS being called @bigbaboonoftheUS, the use of hashtags, soundbites and the portrait of a defender of the revolution (dog) as a biography. These are really clever uses of different text types to tell the story.

The writing is sublime, the sentences often having a repetition of words or phrases that are like spells or chants

. . . Old Horse was finally failing at last. And so, families and friends came together and celebrated. Sworn enemies touched heads and celebrated, Complete strangers stood with each other and celebrated. Supporters of both the Opposition and the Party of Power came together and celebrated. The ailing rose healed from their sickbeds and celebrated. The old and the young stood side by side and celebrated. Animals of all faiths came together and celebrated. The poor and the rich broke bread and celebrated.

But it was still a complicated joy . . .


This is a remarkable book and it is such a shame that it didn’t make it to the shortlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. I would have put it there instead of Black Butterflies by Priscilla Morris. I do think Glory could have been shortened – it is a little long in places but that is all.

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