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A Fine Madness

A Fine Madness

by Mashingaidze Gomo
With a Preface by Ngugi Wa Thiong'o

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ISBN: 978-0-9562401-4-9 | 192pp | Weight: 0.38kg | Paperback | Published 2010 | Rights:

Categories: African | Black Interest | Literature | Poetry | History | Race | Politics | Gender |

Synopsis

A Fine Madness is Mashingaidze Gomo’s masterful work of great poignancy—a poetic narrative that transcends the physical battlefield to depict Africa at a postcolonial crossroads where difficult choices must be made. The writer exploits poetry’s closeness to the African oral tradition and its capacity to carry unlimited and complex semantic baggage to give a common soldier’s cosmic perspective of the African problem through a Zimbabwean prism. Flights over the theatre of war become metaphoric flights over African historical experience which time has twisted into a pattern of violence. Mercy missions are depicted as a chase after the ideal of international justice, which the double standards of the new world order have turned into an ever-receding horizon for a destitute postcolonial Africa. Concepts of responsible African leadership, sovereignty, economic independence, democracy, racism and international relations are interrogated in the light of this conviction. Rising political turbulence in Zimbabwe and the chronic instability of the Great Lakes region emerge as recurrent characteristics of the African historical context. The novel can be said to be continuing the critical tradition already established by such works as Franz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, Aimé Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism and Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Lawino & Song of Ocol.  A Fine Madness was crafted from diary entries made during Gomo’s experiences of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Gomo’s first novel is a must read and features a Preface by Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

  • This is a masterful work… I found it powerful, as powerful as the fiction of the early Marechera.”

– Simon Gikandi.

  • The author painstakingly spreads Africa’s colonial past over the neocolonial present to show an intriguing tendency for human tragedy to keep piling on the same sites of struggle, as selfish human interests keep intervening to preclude lasting solutions for everyone’s benefit. It is uncompromising in its message of a fairer deal for Africa and presents a hopeful world vision that will engage open minds in interesting dialogue.
  • This book will have a wide appeal for the general reader interested in novels tracing colonial and post-colonial history, Africa’s international relations, African popular culture and the continuing debates about Africa’s unequal relationship with the West and the rest of the developed world.

Recommendations

 

Film Fiction Theatre Art Poetry Guest
Dundee University Review of Arts, Dundee university, February 2013

 

A Fine Madness, Mashingaidze Gomo

(Ayebia Clarke, 2010); pbk. £9.99.

A Fine Madness is a collection of prose-poetry portraying the experiences and political awakenings of a soldier during the 1998 Congo war. The collection is based on the author's own writings, composed during his time as a combatant. Mashingaidze Gomo joined the Airforce of Zimbabwe in 1984, beginning a twenty-three year military career as an Alouette III helicopter technician and gunner, which saw him serve in both in the Mozambiquan civil war and the Congo war.  Gomo has described his writing as a way of averting madness in the face of the pressures of war and military service; growing up during the Zimbabwean struggle for independence was a major influence.  A Fine Madness can be read as an exorcism of the writer's thoughts and frustrations about life, conflict and Africa.  That rite is personal and, perhaps more importantly, political.

The opening poem, "Tinyarei", is a declaration to the poet’s lover, African women by extension, and the continent herself. Gomo embarks on a voyage through a soldier’s fevered brain; through mundane, everyday experiences, he arrives at a truth about Africa, her history, future, hopes and even possible demise.  The narrative follows the soldier's stream of consciousness during an unspecified period of time.  Ordinary events, like meeting a girl ("Human Contact") or watching a wasp devouring a caterpillar ("The Wasp is Corrupt") spark impassioned political discourse.  Through metaphor and remembrance, Gomo makes a case for African sovereignty and true independence, thus allowing the land to find her own way to prosperity and development.  Each poem begins with a moment or event, providing the scenery and inspiration for political musing.  Mbira, ancient African music, and in particular the song "Kufa kwangu"(translated as "My death"), provides the soundtrack to Gomo's warzone.

Gomo explores notions of the self and other through the pairings of African and Colonial, and Zimbabwean and Congolese ("Impeccable English and French").  Evocative descriptions of landscape and nature contrast with images of war technology, creating a turbulent, disjointed backdrop.  Under the flow of his political discourse, there are glimpses of the realities of war as it affects  non-combatants, and especially for women. Love is juxtaposed with violence and weaponry. The issue of land rights and land politics is a particularly Zimbabwean concern, and provides a key to understanding the politics in many of the poems (especially the group of five poems, beginning  "The piety of men" and ending with "Unempowered choice is not freedom"). Gomo does not provide a history of  Zimbabwean post-independence politics, but he does give provocative justifications for the unforgiving treatment of those whose ancestors have dispossessed African peoples.

This forceful collection provides an effective vehicle for Gomo's thoughts on Africa and its problems.  It gives voice to silenced participants in African warfare and an insight into the real mindset behind the popular Western media images of the armed African man.  A Fine Madness cannot fail to stir strong feelings, whether or not the reader agrees with the politics expressed here. Any reader would be well advised to learn something of the historical context of these poems, in order to understand fully some of Gomo’s allusions. As is written in the publisher’s preface "The reader will not find this narrative neutral … It is a weapon of war and no weapon of war in the hands of a combatant is neutral." This collection is an emotional expression of defiance in the face of a history of oppression. It makes that stand, too, against the current climate of international interference and criticism of African politics. It is told, as Gomo insists is necessary, by the man on the ground; the one who was there.

Fiona MacHugh

The Herald

ZIMBABWE Monday, July 19, 2010

 

Tracing history of capitalist deceit


A Fine Madness; By Mashingaidze Gomo, With a Preface By Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Oxfordshire, Ayebia Clarke Publishing Limited, 2010.  192 pp

ISBN: 978-0-9562401-4-9 (Paperback)

MASHINGAIDZE Gomo’s A Fine Madness is a book with a difference. It is a book whose value is found on every page from cover to cover. It is a book that you do not want to put down once you start reading.
However, the reader has to be fully conversant with the history of the Democratic Republic of Congo soon after independence from Belgium in 1960.
The name of Patrice Lumumba automatically comes to mind. That nationalist who became the first elected Prime Minister of the Republic of Congo in June 1960. His government did not last more than 10 weeks as it was deposed in a coup that enjoyed the support of the former colonial power as well as the United States.
Herein lies the continued desire by the US to have a grip and influence on the vast central African country.
Ngugi wa Thiong’o, who wrote the preface to the 35-part book, gives an apt comment on how difficult it is to ignore Congolese history.
He notes: "A Fine Madness is really a collage of verse and prose narrative, memories, images, thoughts and characters against the background of the 1988 Congo war following the death of the Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and the Senior Kabila coming to power.”
"Kabila, a Lumumbaist was a long time foe of the Mobutu dictatorship." (p1)
Kabila himself is challenged by rebels with the backing of the West, which is suspicious of Kabila’s links with Lumumba and his leanings towards Marxism and Maoism. In a way, it is things that happened years back that determine the contemporary politics of the Great Lakes region in general and the DRC in particular.
Ngugi continues; "The poet-narrator would seem part of the Zimbabwean forces operating from and around Boende, in the Congo.
From the air and on the ground he is able to observe and contemplate the chaos in the Congo, which in his eyes also becomes the story of an Africa that has seen so much blood and tragedy." (p1) What is sickening about all this is the fact that these conflicts are not authored in Africa but have their roots in the corridors of power in Western capitals.
Memory Chirere, an academic with the University of Zimbabwe says of the book: " A Fine Madness is charmed, mad and maddening prose poetry in which an armed man snoops into Africa’s history of deprivation and strife to do the painful arithmetic.
Meanwhile, the Congo civil war rages on like a monstrous fire, eating and allowing brother and sister to get eaten by the syphilis of the West’s relentless desire to plunder . . . But . . . Africa is a stubborn hope."
The author therefore seems to be able to identify the general African problem, which the continent has been trying to shake off. Africa goes through a long period of slavery, is forced to leap into the pit of colonial subjugation and lands in continued capitalist domination in the post-colonial nation.
He writes: "And they talked about legendary white explorers who discovered an Africa that was dark and chaotic and inhabited by savage black people who needed the light of Western civilisation, democracy and Christianity/ And we read about famous white men of the cloth who facilitated dispossession and forced labour of poor African people" (p39)
The title that Gomo chooses for his book is in itself reflective of his concerns. There is an element of paradox in A Fine Madness. How can madness be fine? The author uses his first hand experience in the DRC conflict to explore the themes of horror, loneliness of war, the beauty of resistance, peace among others. Resistance, in the writer’s opinion, brings peace. He alludes to the resistance that Nehanda and her contemporaries put up against British occupation during the last decade of the 19th century.
A Fine Madness is unique in terms of style. The poet in Gomo cannot be hidden and true, just as things happen spontaneously in real life, so is Gomo’s style of capturing human experiences.
The writer himself says of his style; "This is some form of artistic rebellion. There is no form book in telling of our experiences. You do it in the way you feel and hence you can not follow prescriptions.
One of the major concerns of the writer is to show the world that soldiers are also human. They have feelings and can cry.
They can also love like any other human being. This explains the presence of Tinyarei in the book, a woman to which the poet-narrator is so much attracted. Gomo wishes women do not sell their beauty to propagate European commerce. "They have accused Tinyarei of sitting on money and insisted that she should invest herself in European fashion magazines.
They have insisted to me that Tinyarei should be walking the streets of London and Paris, signing contracts that shackle her to European . . ." (pp4-5) The perception that soldiers don’t think and are tools of dictators is also demystified in A Fine Madness.
"And today’s African soldier is a man who has studied the concepts for which he fights/ and he knows Zimbabwe’s history has to be told by the spirits of the First Chimurenga who know that lessons of intolerance can be learnt from invading . . . has to be told by the descendants of the beheaded who know that no lessons on human rights and tolerance can be taken from a European community whose collective conscience is so hostile . . . " (p41)
The writer transports himself in memory from Boende in the DRC back home on several occasions. The actual geographical locations mentioned in the book, Bokungu, Goma, Manono, Mbandaka, Kinshasa, Kabalo among others, together with the names of fighter aircraft, the Alhouette III, Casa, M135 gunship all help render the narrative unparalleled authenticity.
The writer is talking about war. He brings the experiences close so the reader sees for himself that war is not good. It does not only affect the soldiers who are at the battlefront but families down the line.
The happenings around Club Fulangenge bear testimony to this. "And there were more such children around . . . some seated, some dancing around, watching their mother catching men . . . their bottoms being pinched and slapped randomly by armed men" (p31) Among the other consequences of war are the destruction of infrastructure as power and water supplies are cut plunging people into darkness and disease.
Related consequences down the line should also be highlighted. As mostly men troop to the battlefront, women and children are left at the mercy of invader forces. These are real issues like has been happening in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Gomo rightly identifies poverty as one of the major problems facing the continent of Africa. "Poverty wears the moral fabric of a society to a threadbare see-through clock through which the attractive valuables of a nation are spied on and made liable to exploitation . . . Poverty creates pimps and prostitutes/ Poverty sustains slavery/ Poverty erodes self-confidence to create a complex of inferiority and inadequacy and a sense of hopelessness" (p32).
Central in A Fine Madness is the role Western capital plays in fomenting conflicts in African countries. The DRC is not unique in this.
Renamo, the Mozambique rebel movement, enjoyed the support of apartheid South Africa, Savimbi’s Unita actually maintained chaos in Angola so that US planes could continue to fly in and plunder that country’s resources especially diamonds. Gomo writes: "armoured cars, helicopters, armed men, commandos, paratroopers and hired guns crawling into gigantic aircrafts to be airlifted to the borders of human dignity/ to the place of the skull/ To the weeping place? To prop up and hold an African civilisation together, where it was coming apart, dismantled by the insolent champions of Western civilisation . . . What was at stake was a birthright/ An African birthright!" (p17).
For Gomo, resistance breeds hope. The early resistance against colonial rule lost against imperial might. However, it is the battle that was lost but the war raged on as in later years nationalists were to draw on Nehanda’s inspiration to continue with the fight. "He talked about how most of the early fighters had been captured and executed but kept on coming, until the myopic Rhodesians had so much on their hands that they lost all initiative. (p25)
Mashingaidze Gomo was born in 1964 in colonial Rhodesia. He lived through the euphoria of independence and joined the Air Force of Zimbabwe in 1984 as an aircraft engines technician, joining 7 Squadron as an Alouette helicopter technician and gunner which saw him involved in Zimbabwean campaigns to prop up the Frelimo government in Mozambique, as well as the DRC conflict in 1998.
He completed a BA in English and Communication Studies with the Zimbabwe Open University and after retiring from AFZ, he pursued a degree in Fine Arts with the Chinhoyi University of Technology.
This is evidence that Gomo is an artist at heart. The publication of A Fine Madness, he says marks the beginning of a long road as an artist.
This book is a must-read for those who seek to correct the misconceptions peddled by Western media on the various conflicts on the continent in general and the DRC in particular.

 

Review

Title: A Fine Madness
Author: Mashingaidze Gomo
Publisher: Ayebia Ckarke Publishing Limited, UK
Isbn; 978-0-9562401-4-9
174pages
When an excited friend brought to me the manuscript of Mashingaidze Gomo’s A Fine Madness, at first I thought that there was something unfinished (and spooky too) about it as the jagged lines ran and ran seemingly incongruous. But I began to sense that the script was deceptive and I could have been fooled into dropping it. I started reading it in the middle of the night and I was alone and I never went to sleep afterwards. I felt that the room was peopled by all the heroes and traitors we read about in African History.

The other time when a work of art had slowly dragged me to its depths was with Brathwaite’s The Arrivants. The second time was with Cesaire’s A Notebook of the Return to My Native Land. The third was with Armah’s Two Thousand Seasons. You pick a book, saying, ‘What do we have here?’ Then – gone!

With such works of art, the act of reading becomes a long and wide dream in which you are taken through the paths of human joy and agony, ending in a whirlpool of emotions. You want to curse. You want to laugh. You want to revenge. You want to walk about the room. You want to go away and be mad. You want to forgive and be forgiven.

Immediately after, I asked to see the author because I had been told that he was a gunner with the Airforce of Zimbabwe. I wanted to see him in order to believe that he had indeed written A Fine Madness. Then the man I saw was a soft spoken gentleman. It was really an anticlimax! Later, I was to conclude that the Mashingaidze Gomo case is interesting in so far as he doubles up as a man of action and a philosopher. He lives at the cutting edge of history but he is able, meanwhile, to reflect on the African condition.

Then I gave the script to a colleague, a professor of Zimbabwean literature. He threw the script among his old papers saying, ‘We will see.’ He was used to many pretenders over the years that showed him things that they called stories. Things that ended up eating up one’s time for nothing. Then one day the professor came to me in the morning with red eyes and said, ‘I didn’t sleep, last night’. It was because he had made the mistake of reading the first pages of A Fine Madness. He was not able to stop!

We were both agreed that this script should be published because A Fine Madness is a charmed, mad and maddening prose poetry in which an armed man snoops into Africa’s history of deprivation and strife to do the painful arithmetic. Meanwhile, the Congo civil war of the late 1990’s rages on like a monstrous fire, eating and allowing brother and sister to get eaten by the syphilis of the West’s relentless desire to plunder. At the centre of this story is the anger and the question why the West is always at the centre of African conflicts, siding with one side and arming it against the other, as in the 1998 civil war in the Congo.

The narrator who is out at Boende in Congo sometimes reflects on his relationship with Tinyarei, an African beauty back home in Zimbabwe:

"The woman I am missing now is a beautiful woman
An older woman aged in beauty
A beauty that hangs on even as age takes its toll
Lingering on like a summer sunset… reluctant to go
A beauty digging in…making a last stand around the
eyes where her smile is disarming.
I missed Tinyarei with a wretchedness that was like
madness
A very fine and enjoyable madness
And it always feels pleasant to miss a woman
Sometimes it is even better to miss than to be with her
And at Boende, it felt nice to miss Tinyarei..."

But, Tinyarei is a lover, a mother, a trophy to be won and sometimes she stands for mother Africa herself.

Sometimes the narrator watches the Congolese men, women and children dance to Ndombolo and wonders why poverty sucks and stinks and erodes self confidence. The Congo war which pitied brother against brother and neighbor against neighbor, gives Mashingaidze Gomo opportunity to listen to human voices and messages from the Congolese flora and fauna and come up with multifaceted pan African philosophies. He also wonders why we often give in easily, why we think less about our dignity, why we are turned against the real substance and asked to take in abstract values, why we don’t wonder why we are considered ‘the whiteman’s younger brother’… and why… and why?

I agree with Ngugi Wathiongo when he says (in the preface) that this prose poetry book is not only about ‘the horror and loneliness of war; but also the beauty of resistance’ and that Mashingaidze ‘can yoke the most contradictory into a searing insight.’ And yet I do not agree with Ngugi that the emergence of postcolonial dictatorships and their actual relationship to the Western corporate bourgeoisie’ can always be explained better by always taking a class perspective. This book’s forte surely transcends explaining the emergence of postcolonial dictatorship in Africa. A Fine Madness dwells on the varied patterns of the relationship between the North and the South from before colonialism to date.

A Fine Madness is the best book that I have read this 2010!

(Reviewed by Memory Chirere)

Posted by kwaChirere
Labels: , , , , ,
© The Herald, Zimbabwe.

A Fine Madness

by Mashingaidze Gomo

(Ayebia, ISBN 9780956240149)
This is a book about war by one who
knows. Mashingaidze Gomo was a
helicopter technician and gunner in
the Zimbabwean Defence Forces and
served in the Democratic Republic of
Congo in the catastrophic civil war that
followed the downfall of the tyrant
Mobutu – a conflict which drew in all
the DRC’s neighbouring countries.
It is difficult to categorize this work;
technically a novel, it is a kaleidoscope
of notes and fragmentary diary entries,
poetry and prose, factual descriptions
and phantasmagorical flights of fancy.
★★★★
New Internationalist ● OCTOBER 2010

New Internationalist

Gomo uses his experiences of the
horrors of war to reflect on the wider
issues of colonial exploitation and the
possibilities of a Pan-Africanist vision of
the continent.
This is Mashingaidze Gomo’s
first work of fiction but it is an
astonishingly assured book, both
in its dizzying mash-up of styles
and techniques and in its clear-eyed
assessment of Africa’s tragic past,
despot-laden present and uncertain
future. Gomo has, in common with
the other authors reviewed here, a
capacity to draw on tradition and
oral history, while maintaining a
willingness to experiment with the
formal structures and conventions
of fiction. Rarely does a first novel
become a classic. A Fine Madness may
well be set to join that select band.
★★★★★
New Internationalist ● OCTOBER 2010

Dalky Archive Press
Publisher of The Review of Contemporary Fiction;
Fall 2011 (Vol. XXXI, No.3)
At the University of Illinois

Mashingaidze Gomo. A Fine Madness. Preface by Ngugi wa Thiong’o.
Ayebia Clarke Publishing, 2010, 174pp ISBN 978-0-9576240149 Paper £9.99

The narrator of Mashingaidze Gomo’s first novel is a helicopter gunner, part of the Zimbabwean forces fighting in the Congo during the Great War of Africa of 1998 – 2003. The story of that war is complex and horrific, but one needn’t know it to appreciate A Fine Madness, which is interested in the Congolese conflict primarily as a synecdoche for the failures and bloodshed of so-called post colonial Africa, where the US and former European colonial powers still sucker the natives with games of economic and ideological three-card monte. Less story than screed, less screed than diary in free verse and prose, A Fine Madness obsesses over African capitulations, betrayals and delusions. It is a “story of designer evil, styled to torment and to take all without moral restraint,” of “carrion men massacred” by the “sponsors of neocolonial barbarism.” As Gomo’s diarist sits watching gunships take off or wanders the shabby streets of Boende, he rehearses the outrages committed against the colonized—from the imposition of a hypocritical Christianity to the loss of one’s unsung history and language.  Throughout its thirty-four brief chapters, A Fine Madness proves compelling not because its analysis of colonialism is particularly original—it is not—but because Gomo made at least this reader believe in his educated but otherwise ordinary soldier’s earnest struggle to make sense of his circumstances “in the punishing humid heat of the equatorial sun.” As the helicopters beat towards a retreating horizon, Gomo even manages to wrest beauty from a punishing jungle “scrounging around for bits of darkness and tucking them around its gloomy figure… reluctant to be indentified” and of those who suffer an impoverishment that “makes the voice of its victims unreasonable.” No wonder Gomo’s narrator feels good to be finally “mad at the world.” [Brooke Horvath]

Dalky Archive Press
At the University of Illinois
Aaron Kerner
Editorial Assistant
Kerner@dlkeyarchive.com

Mashingaidze Gomo was born in 1964 in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), third in a family of eight where he was raised during the struggle for Zimbabwean independence. He joined the Airforce of Zimbabwe in 1984 as an aircraft engines apprentice and later joined 7 Squadron as an Alouette 111 helicopter technician and gunner in Mozambique where Zimbabwean Defence Forces protected the fuel pipelines from Beira during the Mozambique civil war. He returned to the Zimbabwean Airforce School of Technical Training as an instructor in aircraft engines and later served in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  After the DRC, he completed a BA degree in English and Communications. In 2007, he retired from the Airforce to study for a BA (Hons) degree in Fine Arts (Chinhoyi University of Technology) and to pursue a life in the arts. Gomo is married with three children and lives in Zimbabwe.

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