In my class Special Topics in World Literatures, a wide variety of favourite global narratives that have been presented. However, from the discussions over a variety of stories, poems, and novels, the short story Hitting Budapest has proven to connect themes and messages that remind us about the power behind African literature.
Hitting Budapest, the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing winner, is wonderful and strange. The weight of poverty and helplessness rests heavily on the narrative’s plotline. Courage proves to prevail in this harrowing tale about six runaway children who steal guavas to support themselves.
Eleven-year-old Darling and her siblings travel by foot to a place they call Budapest from a place called Paradise, which is thought to be the run-down neighbourhood they live in. Their goal is to steal guavas from rich houses so that they can have something to eat. They figure that guavas are easy to steal, as they swiftly jump from house-to-house.
In Hitting Budapest, the story’s author NoViolet Bulawayo portrays Darling as a narrator. Darling is a girl from Zimbabwe who bravely combats the struggles of Budapest and her sharp-witted siblings. Darling emulates the charm in her name. She’s wild but tames others. She’s feisty but sweet. Although the narration echoes an innocent and childish ring, the lack of quotation marks around dialogue does not pose any narrative issues. On the contrary—it allows us to realize that Darling’s narration grows strong throughout the story.
It was clear to me that by the end of the story, the narrative read like a poem. There are certain elements that a short story must consist of if it wants to be read in a poetic style. There’s a certain concreteness that it must achieve. It’s not what is being said, but how and why it’s being said.
There are two versions to the story that slightly differ from one another. In one version, we are told that Chipo, the youngest of the siblings, is pregnant. However, we do not know why or how. In the other version, a heavy piece of information slides through the text, as we find out that Chipo’s grandfather impregnated her. This either hinders the quality of the story, or makes it stronger, depending on your viewpoint. Although this vital fact is let out in the open, perhaps it was better to let that part in our imaginations remain empty.
The story ends with a claim that perhaps children are free when they’re just themselves: “And we are rushing, then we are running, then we are running and laughing and laughing and laughing.”