Chigumadzi picks a surprising route through familiar terrain. Sweet Medicine is set in a socio-economic and political era when Zimbabwe’s people have been forced into survival mode. The book is a microscopic view into broader unfulfilled dreams of many young Zimbabweans.
Tsitsi is a bright young economics graduate. She was brought up by her widowed mother to believe that hard work leads to success. However, she now discovers that despite her hard work, she is unable to progress her career. As such, she is unable to fulfil her number one dream of supporting her mother. Consequently, she decides on a benefactor relationship with an elderly Zvobogo. Chigumadzi journeys her reader through hoops Tsitsi jumps as she bravely settles herself from an SRB to “small house” and now to be the “Woman of the Zvobogo house”.
In Sweet Medicine a young author pierces into the depths of the impact of Mugabe’s policies on ordinary people. In particular, the book shows how good and hardworking people are forced into uncomfortable positions, just to survive. “The time for careers (is) gone. Hunger pangs replace ambition” (p.86). The very essence of their belief system is threatened by existential needs. In the book, an otherwise staunch Catholic mother is forced into an uncomfortable silence as she survives on her daughter’s benefactor. Dickson (Tsitsi’s unemployed uncle) is reduced into a self-effacing relationship with his niece, Tsitsi, just to survive. This unsettles society’s gender and generational relations, and leaves all uncomfortable; Zvobogo, Tsitsi, her mother and her uncle.
Throughout the book Tsitsi’s burden is palpable. But I was constantly conflicted between sympathising with and chastising her. Is she a selfless daughter forced into a dark corner, or a cunning manipulative serpent? Should I even be judging her when I am not walking in her shoes?
Chigumadzi’s strength lies in her careful use of words to build memorable characters. Contradictions in Tsitsi’s life produce a strong yet fallible character. She’s a staunch Catholic, yet she resorts to the n’yanga when under pressure. She drives her land cruiser and in her Ferragamo shoes jumps stench open drains to her n’yanga. Whilst dislodging Mrs Zvobogo from her house, she has a quiet envy and respect for her.
Tsitsi’s mom is a constant thorn in Tsitsi’s flesh. She is her conscience. Her “disciplining silence” tears Tsitsi apart. She is well aware that her choices are ripping her mother apart, yet she desperatelylongs for her compassion and gratitude.
This book highlights how women are always the most impacted by hard economic times. Their innate nurturing nature pushes them into uncomfortable positions to benefit men and children. It is also seem this way because women represent the societal moral compass and they are the bedrock of society, particularly in trying times.
I recommend the book to young women and married men.