The Mourning Bird
Review: Karen Watkins
Earlier this year the Jacana Literary Foundation and Exclusive Books announced that Mubanga Kalimamukwento’s The Mourning Bird won the Dinaane Debut Fiction Award 2019.
The theme of child homelessness runs through The Mourning Bird. Sounds like too heavy a read? Think again.
The story is set in Zambia in the 1990s during a state of emergency but it could be any major city in the world. It begins in a village where 11-year-old Chimuka’s father warns her not to let an owl stay.
Before his prophecy comes to pass her life is one of dance with her mother and playing games and singing with her younger brothers, Ali and Kufe.
She dreams of being a teacher like her father. All this changes with the arrival of an owl, what Chimuka refers to as the mourning bird.
Kalimamukwento then cleverly peels away the layers of this Zambian family’s secrets as she reveals how HIV/Aids, suicide, infidelity and sexual promiscuity change Chimuka’s life.
After losing her baby brother and parents, Chimuka and Ali escape their abusive extended family to live on the streets of Lusaka.
Cold, hungry and homeless, they survive by their wits and succumb to drugs and crime while confronting adversaries of other homeless people and the police.
Instead of receiving loving support and guidance from a mother as she leaves the naivety of childhood, Chimuka is forced to use her body to survive.
The Mourning Bird is an empowering debut novel by this criminal lawyer and single mum to two boys.
Kalimamukwento writes with enormous empathy based on her experience of having lost her mother at a young age. She is currently a Fulbright fellow.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and how the author slowly, sensitively revealed the details with great literary prowess.
I could not put it down and highly recommend it.