There is just something gripping about the narratives of women navigating their way through life and Makanaka Mavengere-Munsaka’s debut novel is no exception. ‘Perfect Imperfections’ is like a cross between the Real Housewives franchise and Desperate Housewives all set in the backdrop of contemporary Zimbabwe. Get ready to step into a world of hopes, dreams, betrayals, struggle, survival and the most powerful of them all: resilience.
This scorching novel follows Maxine who escapes an abusive polygamous marriage from Sinyoro to live in the big city of Harare. The naïve girl finds a job working as the maid for four women dealing with love, relationships, careers and men (think the book ‘Waiting to Exhale’ or the sitcom ‘Girlfriends’). The four women in question are Monde, a successful career woman; Nyarai, a battered wife; Tendekai, a woman who lives a reckless life; and Brenda, a wife trying to hold her marriage together.
When Maxine starts working for these women, all our main character sees is a façade of gleaming perfection that slowly begins to shatter before her eyes when she gets to know her employers more and more. These women search for a bridge to healing in very difficult circumstances. Finally, when Maxine believes that she has achieved her own freedom, she makes a troubling revelation that could compromise any hopes she has of being completely free of her past.
Mavengere-Munsaka brilliantly uses Maxine as a crystal clear window into which we observe the lives of these women. The novel is written primarily in the first-person narrative. However, the writer does use third-person narration from time to time; I commend the writer for doing so very carefully to avoid any confusion on the reader’s part.
The reader acts as an observer along with Maxine―her journey becomes your journey. Readers are sure to fall in love with Maxine whose naivety, growth, humour and journey are sure to keep the readers entertained from beginning to end. The novel is a character-driven narrative, the writer pulls you to sit down with these women and experience their severely complex lives.
The story is alive and kicking as page by page Maxine becomes more and more engulfed in the lives of these women while she makes new explorations of her own in the big city. With an easy-to-follow language, the author peppers in humorous Shona dialogue which is simple enough for non-speakers to understand. The writing is very cinematic with characters that you fall in love with at every turn of their journey. One particular character who stands out besides the main character is Nyarai. The amount of emotion that is invested in telling Nyarai’s story is very powerful.
What makes the books stand out the most is that Mavengere-Munsaka tackles a subject that is often viewed as taboo in African storytelling: female desire. Unapologetically, the writer lays out these women’s feelings, desires, preferences and wishes. The women in this book live in a patriarchal society that pushes their womanhood aside while giving preference to their roles as mothers, wives and ladies. This novel presents its characters as human beings first and foremost―individuals flawed, broken, and complex.
From the way the men are portrayed, you would not think that there are no men in heaven! A majority of Maxine, her employers’ and friend’s problems stem from the actions of the men in their lives. The most likeable male character is arguably Tamuka, Maxine’s love interest in the novel. The two of them make for some of the most heart-warming moments in the novel for those who love their romance.
I was privileged enough to meet the author at a playwriting workshop which we both attended. She confessed to being a great listener who once missed her bus stop in order to listen in on an interesting story. She mentioned how the book was inspired by stories of everyday women which she knew; this makes the book worth reading even more. The book was adapted into a stage play which was met with acclaim at its staged reading premier at the Almasi African Playwright Conference held in early 2020. Makanaka is now working on a full production of the play.
Over and above, this is a heart-warming novel which strives to reinforce the message of a Zimbabwean’s resilience. Perfect Imperfections is one of those books that teach women about each other while also educating men about women.