Love’s Dilemma by Walije Gondwe

Love’s Dilemma is part of the Macmillan Pacesetters series that was extremely popular in Africa from the 1970s-1990s. Though mainly publishing writers from Nigeria, the series encompassed writing from all over Africa becoming extremely popular. These were the books that young educated Africans wanted to read. These books were fun, exciting, topical and unpretentious.

Knowing this, I still didn’t really know what to expect of Love’s Dilemma. I imagined I might get something of an African Mills and Boon, but there is much more to this short novel than that. Love’s Dilemma simply and carefully outlines the difficulties of Towera’s life. She is a young educated woman, with a child and a failed marriage behind her, working as the only woman in The Department of Agriculture. When she meets her new colleague, Luka, a whole new romantic story unravels, one which doesn’t revel in cheesy epithets of desire, but instead creates a cohesive worldview, a snapshot of Malawian society in the 1980s.

Walije Gondwe uses her words carefully and the concrete descriptions are masterfully evocative:

Towera was sitting down under a large tree, with her legs crossed, doing some embroidery, while the labourers were hard at work with their hoes and rakes on the tobacco plots. One of the men, who had been answering the call of nature in the bush a few yards away, came running, still fastening the hooks and buttons on his somewhat overworked short trousers. (p24)

I admit that some of the appeal of this novel for me is a desire to better understand what it feels like to be a Malawian woman – perhaps of the 1990s but I’m quibbling now – and I feel a nostalgia for the place itself, but I really enjoyed the novel and feel sad that we currently see so few African novels making it onto our bookshelves. And while this novel won’t be to everyone’s taste, I found Gondwe’s writing sensually evocative. I enjoyed reading about the food and seeing the small gestures of those we love somehow elevated into significance.

I have ordered Walije Gondwe’s other pacesetter novels and I look forward to reading them.

Next week, to continue the African theme, I’m reading Harvest of Thorns by Shimmer Chinodya.