A-Life-Steered

A Review by Reviewer Eddie Hewitt

A Life Steered is a wonderful but sometimes heart-rending story of Sandra, an ambitious young woman who finds herself having to endure a series of painful experiences and emotions, interspersed with only moments of happiness. Some of the challenges seem unbearable, but still Sandra holds on to her dreams of a more fulfilling life.

The story is semi-autobiographical, with the author finding the writing process a form of therapy as well as a channel for delivering an engaging story. Thoughtful and compelling to read, the story also offers hope to those who may be seeking to overcome their own hardship and sadness (i.e. most of us at some point).

Sandra, a young Zimbabwean girl, is the oldest child in her family, headed by a father who drinks too much and frequently changes his partner. The mother has been long gone. Sandra wishes to pursue her education to pave the way to a better future, but circumstances conspire against her. The will is there, but the resources are not. Unable to improve herself in the way she hopes and expects, Sandra finds her life being steered in a different direction.

Marriage soon follows, after a surprise and as a moral necessity, but also out of love for a man who loves her back and supports her. Sandra gets the chances to train as a teacher, but to get there she has to undertake a number of unpleasant journeys on public transport, fighting off the unbearable heat and the unwelcome attention of lecherous men, and falling victim to a cruel confidence trickster. Moving forward is never easy. The marriage is tragically short-lived, and Sandra has to pick up the pieces of her life yet again. Other relationships follow, but they all appear destined to fail, and Sandra forever seems to have only herself to rely on. Ultimately, we leave her on the brink of a new and potentially rewarding journey that deserves, almost demands a sequel.

There are many intriguing and interlinking themes in the story. Becoming a woman, education, family struggles, lack of male support, financial troubles, finding and losing love, resilience and exceeding the expectations of others. As the story develops, the concept of a divine will is developed.

If there is one defining message, for me, it is the awareness that we cannot rely on earthly relationships. Other people will invariably let us down, sometimes through no fault or will of their own. So we have to be strong within ourselves. We have to develop the confidence and the courage to move forward with a purpose that sometimes seems to make little sense.

A Life Steered is not a happy story, for the most part, but it is nevertheless inspiring. Full of warmth and commitment, it reveals the author’s passion for sharing something of her own life in order to help others. The message will apply to many of us, if we are prepared to look deep and to acknowledge some key truths. Sandra is humble, but she is also a leader and someone who has a story worth listening to. And I want to know how the story continues…
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A review by Deswell Chitewe

Deswell Chitewe is the founder of verenga.com and ZimBookshop.com both of which are online bookshops specialising in books by Zimbabwean authors. Also a Certified Accountant by profession. Here’s what he had to say:

‘What I really struggled with after reading this book was who to send my coffee bill to! When reading this book I made several cups of coffee to sip on while enjoying this book but they all went cold because I was so engrossed in the topsy-turvy story of our heroine, Sandra. This book is a depiction of a sequence of real life events that occur in Sandra’s life which range from broken family, friendship, relationships, death, inheritance, love, suicide, tradition, determination and so on. All these events are topped with sprinkles of light comedy.

Bertha’s style of writing is simple yet sophisticated enough to take the reader on an adventurous journey in Sandra’s shoes. On top of the themes already highlighted, there is no shortage of characters to help the author elucidate the account of Sandra. What makes the story realistic is that the character of Sandra is someone who one can easily identify with. She, Sandra, can be described as an average girl/woman going through realistic life experiences that many of us will have come across in our own lives. She is far from perfect and the quality that differentiates her from the norm is that she is determined to achieve her goals irrespective of the catalogue of events that steer here off course. Sandra is not super-human as we see her falling pregnant out of wedlock and the scene she gives up on life in the midst of her struggles, among others. However, she bounces back and continues to chase her goals.

The most touching moment from me was when Sandra goes to meet her mother after all the turmoil in her life. The book begins with the mother walking out on her children and alcoholic husband leaving Sandra and her 2 siblings to fend for themselves. Sandra feels abandoned by her mother after the parents split up and throughout her life our heroine struggles to understand the reason why her mother completely cut ties with her family. Sandra never stops searching for an answer and she gets the opportunity to ask her mother the difficult question at the end of the book. Speaking of mothers, I was quite surprised that the author chose to portray Sandra’s step mother as an ally in her journey through life. One would have expected the step mother to add to Sandra’s misery which makes the reader feel a bit guilty for expecting a step mother to be totally horrible!

This book is not all about sad and serious issues but there is an adequate serving of comic relief. You cannot help but chuckle at the author’s portrayal of the bus trips through rural Zimbabwe and how the Bus Conductors treat innocent paying passengers. The father’s antics after a drink are also something one can laugh off. If I was a fly on the wall in the lobola scene I would have laughed my wings off at the father’s impatience and the “encounter” with the mother who acted like a money-hungry debt collector! The scene where teacher Sandra is summoned to the Headmaster’s office to “identify” the love-letter-bearer-boys from her lover was just the funny, and uncomfortable, destruction the story needed.

In my view, the biggest triumph for Sandra was overcoming all the obstacles in her way to achieve her professional qualification as a Teacher, which is the profession that she is passionate about. It was not an easy battle but she managed to turn that spark, her husband’s support, into a flame. This teaches us all that as long as we are focused on our goals we can overcome all the obstacles that life throws in front of us. Just like the cover of the book that shows a sunrise to support the theme “Never give up”; because with every passing night there will always be a brighter day.

A review by Gerry Dorrian

I ordered A Life Steered after reading a review of it on author Bertha Mukodzani’s blog by Deswell Chitewe, who champions Zimbabwean authors.

A Life Steered begins with a distressing scene in which the main character’s hard-drinking father finally throws her mother out of the house after many fights. From such a beginning I could not have imagined that the novel would go on to be an uplifting testament to the strength of the human spirit – demonstrating that while our beginnings are always with us, the wings of our hopes await.

The travails of Zimbabwe are expertly understated through the course of the action and are braided with signposts non-Zimbabweans will be able to orientate themselves by. Not that you need to be from Zimbabwe to appreciate A Life Steered: when you focus down on a small group of people and look at the different ways they choose to overcome their obstacles, you never fail to find the universal interplay of suffering and hope, and which one triumphs is often due more to how people approach them than to random interventions of fate.

What struck me particularly is that A Life Steeredis set at a time when girls and young women were looking beyond the traditional lot of females in Zimbabwean society, not least the complex politics of polygamy which, whenever that practice arises, seems to favour men. Heroine Sandra’s glass ceilings come not from corporate structures, but the society Bertha describes so lovingly and with such humour. In the UK I don’t think we’ve been totally successful in maintaining what was best about our traditions while we removed our glass ceilings, and would be interested to hear what Bertha thinks. Perhaps food for a future novel?

A Life Steered is Bertha Mukodzani’s (right) first novel, and I was gratified to read on her blog that another one is in the pipeline. I look forward to following her career and to collecting her works.

Gerry’s blog http://300wordtheses.blogspot.co.uk/

More reviews on http://www.amazon.co.uk/A-Life-Steered-Bertha-Mukodzani/dp/1452053456.