Yvonne Vera's talent is amazing - she is gifted with the ability to relate stories set in her native Zimbabwe with stunning literary grace and beauty, opening the lives of her characters to the readers' eyes and hearts, laying bare the lovely and depraved and everything in between. That she does all of this and additionally illuminates and brings forth the universal aspects in each and every instance bears witness to the fact that, while she may be an African writer, writing about African people and events, she deserves to be recognized, admired and honored by the world at large - and the world at large owes it to itself to discover her talents.
BUTTERFLY BURNING is set in a Rhodesian township in the late 1940s - long before Independence from British rule. The black citizens (who, in reality, weren't recognized as citizens in their own country) were reviled by most of the whites, looked upon as a source of cheap labor and criminal activity. They weren't even allowed to walk on the sidewalks with the 'imported' white citizens. The heroine of Vera's novel is a young woman named Phephelaphi - orphaned as a young girl and raised by a close friend of her mother, she is filled with a burning need to always become more, to see her life expand without limits. This longing became widespread in the hearts of women in the West many years later with the rise of feminism - women sick of being relegated to cooking and cleaning, aching for more of an education and more of a chance to find their place in the world. Phephelaphi's yearnings lead her ever forward - emotionally, socially, and with respect to a potential career. When her path crosses with that of Fumbatha - an older man with a kind heart and a bruised and battered past (as many in Rhodesia were) - she finds love and security, and, for a while, satisfaction and fulfillment. With all of the love he can offer her, however, Fumbatha cannot fulfill all of Phephelaphi's needs - and her search to meet these needs brings her both joy and sorrow. The joys she experiences will raise your heart to the heavens - and her sorrows will break it.
As in her newest novel, THE STONE VIRGINS, Vera breathes palpable life into her characters - they are immediately acceptable and accessible to the reader. The physical settings - both the natural world and the world of the township and city - spring to life as well through the careful brush-strokes of the author's words. All of it blends together into a style that entertains on one level, certainly - but this writing will affect the reader on many, many levels. There is a depth and beauty here - and a natural grace - that is a rare thing in writing. Vera's novels are short (two of them, WITHOUT A NAME and UNDER THE TONGUE, are contained in one volume), but don't be deceived - once begun, they expand exponentially, and they will resonate within you for years to come.