A girl from Zimbabwe finds new ways to read the stars in Novuyo Rosa Tshuma’s second novel after House of Stone (2019). When Athandwa Rosa Siziba is born in 1994, her astronomer father leaves her and her mother, traveling to the United States to participate in the Program, a mysterious and highly selective astrophysics program for radical and non-Western approaches to science.
Athandwa’s father finds great success at the Program and even takes a ride on a billionaire’s rocket into space. He teaches Athandwa to appreciate the beauty of the cosmos as well and eventually tries to bring her to the U.S. These plans fall apart when he returns to Zimbabwe with the intention of convincing Athandwa’s mother to let her move but is killed in a car crash. Over the next few years, Athandwa works hard and eventually gets accepted into the Program, where she can finally fulfill her father’s dreams of researching Indigenous astronomies and perhaps uncover the truth behind his death.
Tshuma writes beautifully about the stars and the people who watch them, mixing poetic prose with tangibly emotional descriptions. In the first part of the book, when Athandwa visits the U.S. and stays with her father and his new family (his new wife is a Haitian immigrant), Athandwa’s childish jealousy provides a hilarious and touching counterpoint to the vexing complexities of immigration. While her father tries to convince her mother to let Athandwa become a U.S. citizen, Athandwa mocks her stepmother and pinches her stepbrother, unsure where her anger is coming from but nonetheless expressing it—showing the depths of her displacement and her desire to belong. This palpable emotional confusion continues in the later parts of the book when Athandwa returns to the U.S. to join the Program. While she feels welcomed at first, she finds that her father’s reputation looms large, and soon she is forced to carve her own niche in astronomy while finding a way to continue honoring her father’s legacy.
The layered nature of Digging Stars allows readers to uncover new ideas and emotions well into the book. Between Athandwa’s desire to follow her father, the rejection she faces from American society and the distressing backdrop of a war-torn Zimbabwe, this book re-creates an intricate web of immigrant life. Tshuma traces multiple stories of family, immigration and self-discovery into a thrilling and beautiful constellation.