BETWEEN THE LINES:Phillip Chidavaenzi
Title: Life Will Humble You
Author: Audrey N. Chirenje
Publisher: Royalty Books (2019)
AUDREY CHIRENJE is an emerging novelist whose debut literary offering, Life Will Humble You, opens the lid into the private lives of the powerful and wealthy Kondwani family that runs a growing and influential Pentecostal church whose activities attract extensive public interest.
The adage that never judge a book by its cover (not literally) comes out strongly as what people see outside is not always what happens inside. One may argue that the Kondwani family is scandal-ridden — especially as the media is constantly pursuing the dreadlocked son, Riko, whose past life is at variance with what his family represents — but this is indicative of the fact that a ministerial calling does not necessarily place the individual beyond the reach of mortal failings.
With a cast of colourful and diverse characters that are comfortable and at home in their own skins, Chirenje tells a moving story of how Ronda, a young public relations and marketing consultant with McNeil & Sheanesu, is swept off her feet by Riko, an agent for a well-known “bad boy” musician, setting the stage for an enthralling romance that would drag in Riko’s powerful family and some baggage from Ronda’s past.
With his dreadlocks, association with secular musicians, “drama-queen” ex-wife, a hot temper and a child from a past marriage that shattered on the rocks, Riko does not, at first, fit the bill for Ronda’s ideal life partner, especially in the wake of her divorce from a no-good husband who sulked over her perceived inability to give him a child.
Following one encounter with his father, Riko reveals how those who convert to Christianity after a particularly unflattering record of life always struggle to fit in because people connect them to their past and previous misdeeds.
He says: “When was the strife in my life going to end? That discussion with Pops just confirmed that I would always be labelled the prodigal son who went and blew away his father’s fortune before returning dead broke.” (pp77).
The encounter with Riko sets Ronda on a collision course with her belief systems and forces her to reconsider many of her ideals as her love for Riko — “warts” and all — puts her in a place where she commits to work with him on perfecting his character, now that he is a Christian after a long inglorious history of life in the murky waters of the secular world.
Riko is not only a poser to Ronda, but his family as well. The black sheep of an otherwise white flock, Riko’s father, Victor Kondwani, the founder of the mega church, V&V Ministries, has to keep him close and ensure that he continues to tread the straight and narrow path, because just a single misstep will attract the interest of the hawkish Press. It is no mean feat.
Soon enough, matters come to a head when Riko’s ex-wife Nitrah appears on The Grace Talk television show, where she spews falsehoods against Riko and his family.
Riko and his father, however, refuse to take that lying down and demand an opportunity to tell their side of the story. Nitrah is forced to climb down as the powerful Kondwanis set the record straight.
Riko is not perfect, but Chirenje portrays his character in such a way that we love him, and we are dying for Ronda just to accept his ministration, even as his attentions often attract the refrain, “Be gone, Satan!” from Ronda.
That humans do not change overnight is an enduring lesson in the text, and that failure to handle baggage from the past can shipwreck or derail current relationships.
When Nitrah resurfaces in Riko’s life following her return from America, the fact that she wants her daughter to reconnect with her father becomes a ruse to get closer to Riko again.
And all this has to happen under Ronda’s eye.
Written in largely informal language likely to present a challenge to linguists, Chirenje’s writing style violates many formal writing rules, but in a beautiful way, and quickly reminds one of Roderick Simba Mazoyo’s novel, Hupenyu Hauna Formula.
Chirenje writes in a contemporary, innovative style that reflects how we speak and interact in everyday life.
She uses multiple voices and, sometimes, the stream of consciousness to allow different characters to share their views and perspectives on the events unfolding in the story.
Her style confirms the dynamism of language, which continues to evolve with time and place, with otherwise informal words and expressions slowly creeping into official language discourses and staking a claim. That makes this new novel a little more chic and user-friendly for a younger generation of readers.
This is indeed a worthy read!