Sooner or later, every country experiences moments of upheaval. Some moments, however, are more consequential than others, such as the 2017 coup that ended the regime of Robert Mugabe as the president of Zimbabwe after four decades in power.
That ouster is the inspiration for Glory, NoViolet Bulawayo’s follow-up to her 2013 debut novel, We Need New Names, a finalist for the Booker Prize. Bulawayo has found a clever if familiar way to tell the story of a fictional African country and the fall of its leader: Clearly inspired by George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the population consists entirely of animals.
Known as the Father of the Nation, Old Horse is the leader of Jidada. He held a leadership role in the War of Liberation during the 1970s and has been in power for the past 40 years, his reign “longer than the nine life spans of a hundred cats.” In one of many witty touches, Bulawayo writes that Old Horse’s authority is so great that the sun twerks at his command and blazes with the intensity he desires.
Also in power, in her own way, is Old Horse’s wife, a donkey known as Dr. Sweet Mother, who denounces the “depravity” of the Sisters of the Disappeared, a group that demands the return of regime dissenters who have mysteriously vanished.
The novel’s action takes off from there, with a pack of dogs known as Defenders determined to protect the current regime; a vice president, also a horse, who schemes to take over; an Opposition convinced that the overthrow of the government will lead to better days; and a goat named Destiny, long exiled from Jidada, who returns after a decade’s absence to reunite with her mother and tell the story of her country’s struggles.
Glory is an allegory for the modern age, with references to contemporary world politics, chapters written as a series of tweets, and animals checking social media for updates on fast-changing developments. Animal Farm is the obvious parallel, but some readers will also note the influence of works by Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, especially in Bulawayo’s extravagant storytelling and critique of colonialism.
Late in the novel, Destiny notes “the willingness of citizens to get used to that which should have otherwise been the source of outrage.” As this wise, albeit occasionally repetitive, book makes clear, that’s a cautionary message all countries should heed.