Oriana's Reviews > Hope Deferred: Narratives of Zimbabwean Lives

Hope Deferred by Peter Orner
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Mar 14, 13

it was amazing
bookshelves: read-2010, read-for-work
Read from September 28 to October 01, 2010

Oh god, I think this book is even more devastating than those Holocaust essays from Vassily Grossman, because this shit is still going on. The situation in Zimbabwe is just fucking agonizing, and if not for this book, I'd have had only the vaguest idea that some weird bad shit was going down there, but because I lead a stupidly privileged life that I did nothing to earn, that would have been the extent of it.

Do you know about the Voices of Witness series? It's funded by McSweeney's, and it is absolutely harrowing and brilliant and so so urgently needed. Look, I know lots of people hate Dave Eggers for being twee and precious and full of himself and too pomo and all the rest. But even of you loathe his writing or your perception of his personality, I beg you to consider the lasting impact he has had and is still having on the literary and cultural landscape in this country today. He has a hand—and a financial investment—in some incredible movements (826 Valencia, The Teacher Salary Project, Voices of Witness, among others), which, at risk of getting all squishy, is so noble, so praiseworthy. You have to give him that, at least.

Anyway, please don't stop reading, I have more to say.

This book is several hundred pages of interviews with Zimbabweans, many in exile and under forced asylum. They do a brilliant job here of covering the whole spectrum of voices, people from all the different political parties, old and young, black and white, native and non-, soldiers, veterans, farmers, organizers, black-market suppliers, border-jumpers, the unemployed, the HIV positive, torture survivors, torturers, on and on and on. There are extensive appendices for the woefully uninformed (me), tracing the national problems back for decades, so you can see that none of this shit is black-and-white (pun not intended), that the problems today are results of mismanaging the problems from last year and the year before that and the year before that, that the horrifyingly corrupt government was originally elected on great platforms and intended to do wonderful things, that this terrible fucking mess is so far gone that how can it possibly be fixed now?

You will learn so much from this book, and it will leave you (probably; it did me) feeling so hopeless and devastated you will not know what to do.

Books like this make me hate myself, hate my easy life, my stupid fucking trivial first-world problems, my lack of awareness, my lack of action, god, what a fucking world we live in, full of so much shit and misery, and here I am in my nice little Brooklyn apartment deciding what new music to download with my fast internet connection on my spiffy new-ish laptop and wondering where I will go to pay for an overpriced dinner tonight, and no one is shooting at me and I am in no real danger of getting raped or tortured or forced off of my land, and I know I will be able to eat (too much) today and tomorrow and in perpetuity and why am I not working with Doctors Without Borders? Or trying to find a cure for AIDS? Or doing anything lasting or meaningful or real?

Fuck. Oh my god. Please read this book right away. I have to go finish crying now.
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Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)

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message 1: by Brian (new)

Brian Well, in all fairness, you shouldn't feel bad over the fact that our society has, at least in large part, struggled out of most of those issues... It's important to do what you can, when you can, and it's important to stay informed, but kicking ourselves doesn't help anyone. And you, in particular, would be in a disproportionate amount of danger, were you to join Doctors without Borders and work in Zimbabwe... Being white means you're worth mugging and being a woman means you're worth raping... And I don't mean to paint a picture that shows that everyone there would feel that way. Frankly, John Stewart's characterization of the U.S. holds pretty true even in a place as imbalanced as Zimbabwe. Maybe 30% of people are promoting (or using) violence or adding to the crippling corruption, but probably 70% of people are just trying to be safe and go about their lives... Raise their crops or go to their jobs... Send their kids to school... Etc. It's also a sign of our stability and progress that we actually want to help others, in the first place... And that is something we can take some pride in, as a culture... I lived in Zimbabwe for 15 months, and one of the teachers at my school would talk about how she couldn't imagine choosing to go somewhere significantly lower in development than the place she lived, to help others. I lived and worked at a rural high school, in a village that had no plumbing, no electricity, no phone lines, and no tarred roads, and most of the people in my village lived as hard a life as anyone in the U.S. will ever see, with none of the safety nets that most people in the U.S. take for granted - unemployment, welfare, fire and emergency services, schooling that's paid for by the government... But that's just life, and people still found happiness in all the things in which people everywhere find happiness. So, yes, try to do what you can for those in need, and try to stay informed of what need there is, but be grateful for the developments we've made and the very fact that we can and do help those in need... Don't kick yourself for being in a position that allows you to help others, just help them, when and if you can. =)


message 2: by Dave (new)

Dave Gaston I liked your review. Cheer up you are doing something about it... you're spreading the good word via your review, which I read in Chicago. In turn, I'll read the book and write a review and spread out to my circle. Best for the day! Dave


Oriana Thanks for the kind words, you guys. I wrote that review when I was in the middle of one of the most devastating stories in the whole book, when I really was near tears at the horror of these people's plight. I'm feeling a little better now, but I do still wonder sadly at the absolute unfairness of life, where I am so disproportionately lucky compared to the vast majority of people. But yeah, if I can spread awareness by getting people to support Voices of Witness and donate to Doctors Without Borders and read this book and others like it, I suppose that's something...


message 4: by Scribble (last edited Jan 03, 2011 02:54PM) (new)

Scribble Orca Brian in post 1 is very sensible, Oriana, in saying to accept where you are and use that to help others.

Your feelings captured something of what motivated me to write my The Road review.

Thank you for sharing and looking at ways to make small differences. Many small differences add up to one big change. :D


Oriana Thanks, G N!


message 6: by Scribble (new)

Scribble Orca I think it's also about looking at our own choices and asking what of our choices leads directly or indirectly to either lessening or increasing the suffering of those you mention. While it seems very far removed, there is an interlocking chain which starts with our most simplest decisions: what shall I buy at the supermarket today? Fair trade and more expensive, or free trade and cheap?


Oriana You're right, of course. There are so so many tiny things each day that we can do to reflect ethical decisions. It's just so discouraging to think about my fair trade coffee and organic muffin weighed against the immense suffering of millions of people all over the world... But of course, what good does it do to torture myself like that? Not much.


message 8: by Brian (new)

Brian I thought you might be interested:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/24/wor...


Oriana oh god, devastating.


message 10: by Scribble (new)

Scribble Orca Not something I wanted to read with my morning coffee :( - I stopped at the descriptions.


message 11: by Magdelanye (new)

Magdelanye I am not sure why I am getting this now,but I am glad (wrong word,there isn't a word) because it's necessary to to know these things, and because maybe there is a tiny hope that things have improved since you first reviewed this book.
What can we do?
Beating ourselves up,feeling guilty while we carry on,is,as others have pointed out,a useless response. We dont all have the skill to join doctors without borders or the money to start a clinic,or what have you. We can however simplify our lives,review our decisions,become more environmentally sensitive, and fight for world wide moratorium on violence,for instance,while we figure out where we need to go from here to ensure that the world be a more equitable place,not just a playground for the rich and miserable life for the poor. Theres lots that needs to be done to raise awareness of the real issues,and you are doing a good job Oriana in this direction.


message 12: by Tuck (new) - added it

Tuck one thing usa could do is stop spending $1,000,000,000,000 a YEAR on war and start spending it on peace. it would work, i'm convinced, , it really would.


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