In many ways there is nothing startlingly original about this story. It is presented as a schoolhood memory and in particular of a couple of fellow students whose lives became mysteriously intertwined, culminating in a tragic event many years later. I also don't want to make too much of how it is interesting to get a peek into life in an African school, as in many ways there is a lot more that is generally familiar than distinctive here. But I found the way the story was written to be quite delightful. Clearly Gappah has a strong talent for storytelling. It is good that she does not make too much of unraveling the mystery of the relationship between the two main boys, because I found it easy to guess at least some central aspect of it fairly early on. I am sure most readers will as well. Instead the story is really one of the variety of positions of power and privilege and the changing attitudes that come naturally from occupying those different roles. I also quite like how without belabouring the question, the story does leave us wondering just how we ultimately should feel about Zaka. He is clearly a more complex person than the glimpses the other boys at the school got of him. I did wonder after I finished the story whether the blackmail plot really should have been as effective as it was. After all, had Zaka been accused he could have simply denied everything and accused the other boy of slander. But of course, it was not as simple as that. Even the mere accusation, once made, had the potential to destroy his life and so it would have been quite a risk for him to take that chance.
New short story by Petina Gappah, "A Short History of Zaka the Zulu," reviewed at The Mookse and the Gripes
This review is in the comments section of Mookse. I am sure there will be more comments and reviews in the coming days.