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Hungry for Books

[ 2011-05-24 14:33]     字号 [] [] []  
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By Kate Chambers

The policeman peered[1] in through the open window of our car. “Can I borrow...?” he began. My heart sank.

This was our sixth police checkpoint in an hour. We were in Marange district, Zimbabwe’s eastern diamond heartland.[2] The sand, silhouetted baobabs, and the ever-present security forces made it an eerie place.[3]

Diamonds were first found in the area in 2006, sparking a massive gem rush.[4] Students threw schoolbooks into the bushes in their hurry to dig, their teachers following them in a crazed search for instant riches.

In late 2008, President Robert Mugabe ordered a controversial military clampdown to reassert state control.[5] The authorities have been battling ever since to get the diamonds certified blood-free[6]. Foreigners venturing[7] into the area are viewed with suspicion: They might be diamond buyers or illegal dealers.

With the policeman’s eyes upon me, I steeled[8] myself. I knew that like most of Zimbabwe’s civil servants, policemen are badly underpaid. (In fact, public service unions are clamoring for a share of the state’s diamond wealth to be put into long overdue salary increases.)[9]

“... one of your books?” the policeman finished. He pointed to the dashboard[10].

My books! I’d almost forgotten them. Before leaving home, I had bundled three paperbacks into the car, hoping to while away a hot journey with a pleasant read.[11]

New and once-read books have reappeared on Zimbabwe’s flea markets and in city bookshops since a coalition government was formed between longtime President Mugabe and former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in February 2009, putting a tentative stop to 10 years of economic downturn.[12] Perhaps understandably, motivational books[13] now appear to be the biggest sellers.

Not long ago, buying a good book in Zimbabwe was almost impossible. The government booksellers Kingstons sold flags and pens instead, its sparsely stocked shelves mirroring adjacent near-empty supermarkets.[14] Our two favorite secondhand bookstores in Harare closed down, forced out of business by hyperinflation that topped 231 million percent.[15]

Sometimes I felt I was starving for a nice novel. I wasn’t the only one. Friends here begged to borrow magazines or novels sent to me by family members overseas. “Haven’t you got anything for me to read?” they’d say. “Give us this day our daily bread”[16] took on a whole new meaning: I realized that Zimbabweans around me didn’t just want food, they also craved[17] new texts to read, digest, and discuss.

Newspapers were not satisfying enough. The local library offered little help. It was “seasonal,” I was informed: Because of a leaky tin roof,[18] the library closed during the rainy months. Unfortunately, the authorities had discovered the leaks too late, meaning that many of the books were destroyed.

A habitual flick-reader, I have learned the pleasures of rereading, savoring over and over again sentences I might once have skimmed.[19] I found echoes of Zimbabwe’s shortages in British novelist Helen Dunmore’s The Siege, an imaginative reconstruction of the blockade of Leningrad in 1941.[20] I recognized protagonist[21] Anna’s joy when she unexpectedly found an onion for her starving family: While we were never that hungry, I, too, had felt a sudden surge of elation when fruit disappeared from the shops but a neighbor invited us to pick mulberries from her tree.[22]

When flour was hard to find, I was soothed by Miriam’s Kitchen, Elizabeth Ehrlich’s account of her attempts to integrate her Jewish heritage into daily life. Ms. Ehrlich’s meticulous recording of the way to make her Polish mother-in-law’s apple cake reminded me that hardships teach us to cherish simple things.[23]

But here on a road in Marange, a policeman was waiting. I looked at the three books on my dashboard. Each one was precious to me: Each had a story. Naomi Alderman’s prize-winning novel Disobedience I had snapped up with glee when I saw it at a Harare flea market a few days earlier.[24] I bought The Vintage Book of Cats soon after we acquired our first cat in 2002. As the tribe expanded, I enjoyed reading extracts from this anthology of cat literature to my husband by candlelight (frequent power cuts have taught us you need a minimum of four candles to read by).[25] My son’s former teacher gave us The Fox Gate, a wonderful collection of stories by children’s author William Mayne. Sam and I had just read the tale of a mouse who found his way to its destination.

I looked again at the young officer. Behind him, wet laundry[26] hung on the ropes of a police tent. With Zimbabwe’s economy far from flourishing, graduates are joining the force in droves.[27] There are few other jobs available.

“I just want one,” the policeman pleaded. I heard the echoes of my own book hunger and knew there was only one thing to do.


1. peer: 费力地看,仔细看。

2. Marange: 马兰吉,津巴布韦著名的钻石矿区;heartland: 心脏地带。

3. 漫漫黄沙、黑色剪影似的的猴面包树(一种热带树木),还有常设的保安部队,使该地显得阴森恐怖。silhouetted: 呈黑色剪影状的;eerie: (因阴森怪诞而)可怕的。

4. spark: 触发,发动;gem: 宝石。

5. Robert Mugabe: 穆加贝(1924— ),1987年任津巴布韦总统至今;controversial: 有争议的;clampdown: 压制,取缔。

6. certified blood-free: 鉴定自己的钻石并非“血钻”。血钻也称冲突钻石,是一种开采在战争区域并销往国际市场的钻石,由于销售钻石得到的高额资金会被投入反政府或违背安理会精神的武装冲突中,故而得名。

7. venture: 冒险,敢于。

8. steel: 使坚强。

9. clamor: 大声抗议或要求;overdue: 延误的。

10. dashboard: 仪表板。

11. paperback: 平装书;while away: 消磨,打发时间。

12. coalition government: 联合政府;tentative: 尝试性的;downturn: 下降。

13. motivational book: 励志书。

14. sparsely: 稀疏地;stock: 存放;adjacent: 临近的。

15. Harare: 哈拉雷,津巴布韦首都,下文中还有几处该国的地名,因不影响阅读,故不一一加注;hyperinflation: 极度通货膨胀。

16. 原为《圣经》主祷文中的一句,出于《马太福音》第6章11节。

17. crave: 渴望,热望。

18. leaky: 有漏隙的;tin: 锡。

19. 身为一个惯于快速翻阅的读者,我已经学会了重读的乐趣,一遍一遍细细品味先前我可能会跳过的字句。

20. 在英国作家海伦•邓莫尔的小说《围困》里,我找到了津巴布韦匮乏现状的再现——小说虚构了1941年(苏联)列宁格勒市(遭德军)封锁后的情景。下文中也提到了几位作家的几部作品,因不为中国读者所熟悉,故不一一加注。

21. protagonist: 主人公。

22. surge: (感情等)洋溢,奔放;elation: 兴高采烈;mulberry: 桑椹。

23. meticulous: 极其仔细的;Polish: 波兰的。

24. snap: 猛地抓住;glee: 欢喜,高兴。

25. tribe: 此处指“猫咪家族”;anthology: (诗、文等的)选集;candlelight: 烛光。

26. laundry: 洗好(或待洗的)衣物。

27. flourishing: 欣欣向荣的;in droves: 成群结队。