As Malawians lamented over the theft of billions of kwachas through the infamous scandal dubbed cashgate, a Blantyre-based young woman, Gertrude Gomani saw an opportunity to write a novel on the ills of the society.
The 26 year-old accountant, who apart from drawing the writing inspiration from the short stories in her literature lessons while in Secondary in 2011, said the cashgate scandal gave her a different view on the plight of women.
She then started the novel project which got completed in 2016 titled 'Surviving: The Lean Seasons'.
“I adopted a theme based approach to my writing. I had themes in mind and I found a story later to blend with those themes. However, most of my writing was weak. I abandoned the project after I sat for my MSCE and stopped writing altogether. It was only in 2013 that I returned to writing. Mariama Ba’s Scarlet Song re-ignited my interest in writing. Inspired by the notorious cashgate, I began to write a novel depicting the society as at that time – a society undergoing great strain with public services on the verge of collapse, criminality, the rise of false prophets, and all consuming poverty.
“The novel is about a teenage girl who, from the very unpromising and uncertain circumstances, emerges to realise her dream of going to university,” she explained.
The 202-paged book published by Montfort Media Limited is also stocked in their bookshops across the country selling at K2, 000.
The editor, Professor Pascal Kishindo of the University of Malawi’s African Languages and Culture describes the novel as a must read.
“Surviving the Lean Seasons is a compelling story of Kuleza who, from the very upromising and uncertain circumstances emerges to realise her dream of going to University. It is a well-wrought story; narrated with passion and velve. For those who enjoy a good story, this is it,” he said.
Kuleza (literally meaning patience) is a Form 3 secondary school pupil at a community day secondary school. Her father who is her greatest source of stress is a wasted drunk who spends most of his time at beer drinking joints. Her mother goes around doing piece works for the medical staff and primary school teachers. Her grandmother is a Christian diehard. She is overbearing and is fond of giving Kuleza unsolicited advice. Kuleza's brothers, Alick and Tilitonse, are primary school pupils at the nearby primary school.
Later on Kukeza's father joins a gang in order to provide for his family. Things end badly for him when he is caught stealing and is burnt alive by the angry mob alongside his three friends. Following the death of Kuleza's father, Kuleza's mother marries a total stranger, Mr. Nsabwe, in order to provide for the family. Mr Nsabwe is a business man dealing in carvings. He buys carvings from the local carvers and exports them to South Africa. Little does the family know that this man is an ex-soldier who participated in the Mozambican civil war and left Mozambique after killing his wife and children and faking his own death.
A false prophet later on arrives at the village. This excites Mr Nsabwe who, out of the blue, gets excited about religious matters. At the same time a dried cassava seller from Mozambique arrives at the village and starts asking around about Mr Nsabwe's activities. The man knows very well about Mr Nsabwe's awkward past. This makes Mr Nsabwe very insecure until he kidnaps the dried cassava seller and hides him in the false prophet's prayer room.
Later on Mr Nsabwe plans to exit the country with the dried cassava seller and one of Kuleza's brothers. Luckily his attempts fail when Kuleza saves her brother and the dried cassava seller before exiting the country. The novel ends on a positive note: the stepfather and the false prophet are arrested, Kuleza is selected into the university to study humanities, and Kuleza's mother starts a household business after selling Mr Nsabwe's car. The main themes are good versus evil, the role of women, pride and downfall and nationalism and patriotism.