Author: Barack Wandera
Title: Dear Anita
Publisher and Year: InterCEN Books, 2022
Reviewer: Mbukha Shitemi
The epistolary novel is rare in the 21st century.
This may be due to the decline of the significance of the traditional letter, as we know it, which gave way to new forms of communication such as e-mail.
However, Barack Wandera has told a story that, while taking cognizance of the centrality of the letter in human communication, brings to the literary world a nicely-written love story of pain, suffering, hope and reconciliation.
Wandera’s Dear Anita revolves around the life and dysfunctional family of Zahalanthi, a University Professor and his estranged wife, Anita.
Despite their failed marriage due to his alcoholism and infidelity, Zahalanthi is desperate to reconcile with his family.
Unfortunately, Anita is not keen about it until their daughter Mariana sets the wheels rolling toward their reconciliation.
Matters of the heart are indeed delicate.
While Zahalanthi is yearning to restore his family, Anita does not share the same spirit because she is still very bitter and naively so.
It is also observable that she is unforgiving and blames Zahalanthi for the death of their two daughters, who died in a school fire in India, where she had relocated to.
Because of her bitterness, Anita uses social media to attack Zahalanthi hoping to get solace from her followers.
This is a wrong move as she learns later, and it affects their remaining children, Zaha Junior and Mariana, socially and emotionally.
This novel has a fair share of twists and turns that would delight the reader.
In a twist of events, after a deep reflection on her life and through Mariana’s persistence, Anita decides to forgive Zahalanthi.
In fact, she agrees to reconcile with him at a critical time when he is trying to jump into the uncertain world of politics, which, culturally and politically, requires him to have a family.
The novel also narrates the dangerous side of politics, which is abundant with crude competition, underhand dealings and, yes, attempted murder and extermination of families.
It is with relief that Zahalanthi is able to bring his family back together and win the elections!
Dear Anita takes us on a voyage of discovery about dysfunctional families, death and loss, alcoholism, political intrigue, social media menace, the dark side of feminism, rivalry in extended families, forgiveness, and reconciliation, among other themes.
We see Zahalanthi remorseful for his failed marriage and not being able to see his children for close to fifteen years, which makes him dive deeper into alcoholism.
Despite being a wealthy man, he is miserable and desperate without his family.
Zahalanthi is a typical African man suffering from challenged masculinity.
Traumatized by the death of his children and a stubborn wife, his life is a shattering nightmare.
Social media is portrayed for what it is: a platform for spewing venom at one another.
Dirty linen is washed and aired publicly with thoughtless copiousness on social media platforms.
Mariana and Zaha Junior are caught in a crossfire as their parents engage in hopeless vituperation.
They learn, unfortunately, about the ugly side of their mother, who selfishly tells them that their father died!
There is a psychological angle to this story.
It brings out the mental torture that children go through as parents fight in dysfunctional families.
The central place of the family is underscored as we observe the social and cultural imperatives set for those who aspire for leadership positions like Zahalanthi.
Interestingly, it appears that a man’s ability to execute his role in a leadership position in society is measured by how well he manages his family.
I think this is a matter of conjecture.
There are thousands, if not millions, of men who have made significant contributions to society but were unlucky on the family front—a good example being the South African icon of politics, Nelson Mandela.
The philosophical thought behind this novel is that it is possible for one to undergo a transformation from grass to grace.
Transformations like that of Saul to Paul in the Bible are not just mythical but can happen in the 21st century.
Zahalanthi is a man who is remorseful about the mistakes he has made and the role he played in breaking up his family, but he is honest enough to accept his mistakes and litigate for reconciliation.
On the other hand, Anita is a selfish feminist who only thinks of herself and does not care about what others think or feel, not even her children.
But she sees the light at the end.
Mariana is an average child who wants to see her parents happily together.
She is also mature enough to understand the mistakes that both her parents have committed to each other.
Despite being closer to his mother than Mariana, Zaha Junior is reserved but happy to reconnect with his father.
The novel is typically a kaleidoscope of men and women of different shades.
The novel presents an interesting flow of educative events.
The story of forgiveness and reconciliation is something that society should embrace.
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