Mutare-based author Chichi A Ngwarati has published a moving debut novel titled "A Beautiful Dream of Ashes" (2017) which probes a family unit disintegrated by an unfortunate remarriage of the father and how the children are made to bear the burden of sorrow. Ngwarati's self-published novel is fast-paced, realistic and character-driven.It evokes in the reader a wish to help those in need. It asks: When last did you give a street kid in your city something that shows he/she is still loved? While it is true that education begins at home, education in the family without love is meaningless as it drives away the young ones' hope. The novel uncovers the disgusting 'homes and families' that await young boys like Tino, the main character, who runs away from an abusive step-mother. The ironic situations in the novel ask for nothing but your sympathy for the boys and girls whom we have "leisurely" shunned and/or obliterated from our pressured daily lives.
The author chose a theme of child abuse and street children that has been talked about often without much action being done. And how she presents the case to the reader using a focused, privileged narrator is no "play" but a call for everyone to love any child the same way they love their biological children. Do you remember Dr Cainos Chingombe's autobiography "No Easy Walk: The Inspiring Story of My Life" which Bookshelf reviewed last month?
This same issue of adults who at times become selective when they live with children who are not biologically theirs is brought up in a different context in Ngwarati's book. Dr Chingombe once worked as a cattle herder for a heartless woman who starved him to the point that wild fruits became his staple food. In "A Beautiful Dream of Ashes" a boy named Tino runs away from home as he could not stand his cruel step-mother.
His father re-married after Tino's mother passed away. Tino's step-mother is a character only appearing briefly as the story begins but she keeps knocking on the reader's mind. The suspenseful, chronological narration achieves its purpose of drawing the reader close to an issue which has been taken for granted in some quarters, the plight of step-children. The heroic Tino crosses the other side of the river where he hopes to find a better world. Although he has been a victim back home, he refuses to surrender to the insensitive new world and adheres to his dream. Indeed there are some loving step-mothers in real life but the step-mother in "A Beautiful Dream of Ashes" have no simplest idea of respect, love and care in their minds.
After Tino disappears from home, the response her step-mother gives to her enquiring husband is devastatingly cruel. She "wouldn't care less even if the wild pigs gore him (Tino) to death". When Tino arrives and turns into a street-kid in the city of Mutare, his brave character unmasks the sad life lived by other street children whose backgrounds the narrator keeps hidden from the reader.
The privileged narrator, also known as the omniscient narrator, tells the psychological hurt of street children in realistic, touching episodes. Love and kindness, and their opposites, keep gnawing on the reader's mind, challenging him/her that something must be done and it starts from the heart. Street kids are not always criminal, after all. They still feel and want to give but they are limited by the sometimes unresponsive world outside the streets. For example, Tino and his friend witness crime in a forest and rescue the man whom the criminals leave bleeding.
They make effort to get the man to the hospital but once at the hospital they take flight on hearing mention of police wanting their statements later. There are many occasions when the author so well describes the action to show the bias people have against street children. Caroline, Tino's young sister is another fragment of a broken family who appear at first as a representative of defeat but near the end of the story she becomes a winner. In the novel, there are many lessons for parents and young children in similar circumstances but the bigger lesson is for society at large -- to love and keep loving. Chichi Ngwarati was born in Harare. "A Beautiful Dream of Ashes" is her first published work but she has another work in progress.