Book Title: In Pursuit of the Light
Author: Amanda Nazombe
Illustrator: Ronald Nthubula
Editor: Janet Chikoja
Reviewed by: Nana M’bawa
Year of Publication: 2022
I am starting off my review of Amanda Nazombe’s poetry collection by literally judging a book by its cover. The illustration on the cover by Ronald Nthubula shows a bright, circular object, which could either be the sun or the moon, but which is definitely a source of light. This light is at set against a dark background from which two hands emerge, reaching towards the light. One hand has a smooth appearance, whereas the other hand has sinews and fingernails that look so sharp they could be classified as talons. We thus have a tension of light versus darkness, gentleness versus force, right from the cover. This is an introduction to the different types of tensions that characterise In Pursuit of the Light.
The book has four parts: ‘A Dose of Lore’, ‘The Shadow of the Rising Sun’, ‘Beneath the Graves’ and ‘In Pursuit of the Light.’ The poetry in ‘A dose of Lore’ interrogates elements of folklore. An example is ‘A List of Lies’ which tackles superstition. A repeated line for each stanza is ‘I have heard of you,’ in which the person addresses a particular belief of superstition. For instance, the persona addresses the chameleon, which, in Malawian folklore, is said to die once it gives birth:
I have heard of you:
That you cast your body from the tallest tree
To birth the souls trapped within you.
Among other issues, the poem tackles beliefs about albinism, disability and women’s bodies, and the refrain ‘I have heard of you’ acts as a confrontation of those beliefs. Apart from personification, other aspects in the poem include the contrast between the ideas. For instance, this idea of contrast is seen in the following stanza, which takes on some beliefs about disability:
I have heard of you:
That to point at you is to cripple my hand;
That to speak as I pass by you is to lose my voice. (italicized by reviewer)
The section on ‘The Shadow of the Rising Sun’ has a collection that includes reflections (pun intended) on contemporary challenges, including poverty, health and relationships. The richness in language use is evident in ‘Deeper in love’ in which language associated with beauty unearths domestic violence:
The steps of your love approaching
Mark the drums of my stomach beating.
You love me as no one can
I know this, you’ve told me.
My soul decays
Underneath your watchful care.
In Section 3, ‘Beneath the graves’ the focus is on death, but also on the passage of time. For example, in ‘The Calling I’ and ‘II’, Nazombe focuses on loss. The two poems can actually be read in terms of their contrasting images; the coffin in the ‘Calling I’ is described as a home built with pine. In ‘The Calling II’, the grave is described as a ‘cell sealed with stone of marble
Engraved with the name of him
Forbidden to slither out and see the sky.
The final section, from which the collection draws its title, mainly focuses on disillusionment. In the ‘Tomb of Dreams’, the persona discusses standing in an allotted space, watching dreams ‘burst into flames.’
These are just some of the poems in a collection that speaks to several issues in Malawian society and beyond. I enjoyed reading it because it provided food for thought in terms of topics that we quite often shy away from, or those that society has tended to accept as the way things are done. I also appreciated the mastery of language, particularly the way in which the author wields that language as a weapon. ‘In Pursuit of the Light’ successfully uncovers the tensions between expectations and reality, truth and beauty. Back to the book cover: if you look closely at the image of the light, you will notice that even the light has various shades to it. What is presented is thus not just a question of opposites, but of how some tensions are prevalent even in the various forms of light as presented in the book. One can thus speak of a study of tensions within tensions.