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Changing Shadows: compelling read

Author: Henry Musenge
Number of pages: 288     Title: Changing Shadows
XILIBRIS Publishing Corporation in the UNITED States (US) has republished the book titled Changing Shadows by Henry M. Musenge. The novel was first published by Zambia Publishing House in 1983 and set as a text for Cambridge School Certificate Examinations.
Changing Shadows traces life experiences of Mwila, a former head girl, after her expulsion at a rural missionary girls’ boarding school following the discovery of a love letter in her locker, from Chibale a headboy at a neighbouring boys’ boarding school.
The content of the letter was a terse proposal that Chibale would like to marry Mwila after finishing school.
Ironically, the letter was sneaked into her locker by a trusted carrier but it fell into the hands of the head of the school, a catholic nun, during routine dormitory inspection.
Mwila, when tried by the school head, denied that she had not seen the letter but the head insisted that it was hers and she read the contents to Mwila to drive home the obscene discovery.
According to the rules, exchange of love letters was inexcusable and carried the maximum penalty of expulsion from school. Both Mwila and Chibale were expelled and they never met.
From there on, Mwila’s life took a downward spiral, girdled by helplessness of what she could do with her curtailed schooling.
Back in her village, she had parents and other neighbours to face and to whom she would have to defend her innocence and honour among conservative villagers.
Later she realised that it was not worth defending herself for what had happened because of the disappointment that the loss of school brought to the family and all those who looked at her as a role model.
Mwila migrated to Lusaka, the capital city and entered a journey characterised by misuse and abuse at the hands of prying lovers. First, she began a life of job-hunting and after several regrets, she managed to get a job through an arrangement by her lover. Second, friends slowly introduced to her the night life of Lusaka. Entry into night life was rather awkward for Mwila because of poor village dressing.
Third, friends introduced her to the idea of having a sugar daddy, which set her on a new trajectory. She got lured by a car robber who led her into the life of dinning out. He left her when she became heavy with his child and forced her to abort.
Mwila was also disappointed when she caught him red-handed with another lover. Moving on, she became a mistress to Kangwa, an under-secretary in a Government ministry.
Kangwa, like most Lusaka sugar daddies, was old enough to be her father. The relationship endured and had its own sad ending. He provided for her and she had a child with him, but he later passed on and left her outside his will.
She got dispossessed of the house left to her. She also tried some other relations which were short-lived.
This journey of life enamoured Mwila. With rural naiveté, she tried to navigate many hurdles while undergoing transformation socially and emotionally.
She triumphed over her tribulations by making up her mind to undertake   training in Mass Communication at a college in London and came back as a television broadcaster at a private television studio.
Everyone noticed that Mwila returned home culturally transformed; which Henry Musenge terms CHANGING SHADOWS.
Overlying this theme of a young woman caught up in the shadows of a modern life, are themes of western versus African life, masculinity versus femininity, love versus abuse, and misapplication of justice in the school system.
Urban life in Zambia is imitative of western culture full of intrigues, chicanery and deceit while  rural life comes through  as one characterised by trust, preservation of custom, traditions and family affinity; things that urbanisation has eroded from urbanites without values, drifters with sight on self gain,  particularly in male-female relationships.
Despite experiencing town life in Lusaka and London, Mwila drew strength and courage from her rural upbringing that taught her to stay steadfast in the face of hardships and temptations and never to break away from the family.
She brought her brother from the country that excelled and remained a source of family support while she was in London. At the time, she found a lover from a different ethnic group to marry her and she took him home for parental approval. At that time, the suitor’s family was reluctant to accept a girl from another culture as a wife.
Mwila was caught up among forces of power and dominance, stirred by men in whom men emerged as hunters and women as prey with subtle ways of hunting too.
In the book, Mwila glided the wavelength with some skills and strength that included judicious use of contacts, situation analysis and perseverance.
She graduated to stardom by challenging a rigid tradition, by refusing to go through sexual cleansing and opting to take symbolic cleansing instead, following her will to pursue education and grew from docility to assertiveness and control of her life.
It was a triumph of hope against hopelessness. Changing Shadows is a story about wisdom, loyalty to one’s own upbringing, love and bravery in making difficult decisions.
The big question that the author raised at the beginning of the novel was about the unjust school system that gave too much power to school heads. If Mwila was tried by a school disciplinary committee or some school council with wider representation, would justice not have been better excised?
The author does not offer an answer to this injustice but shows the consequences only. However, in between the lines, the author is teasing the reader to reflect on injustices in schools at the time; how could Mwila have a love affair with an admirer she never met?
Structurally, the plot is linear rising from the time of Mwila’s expulsion from school with minor climaxes for job search, to the full climax when she fell in love with Kangwa to the point of trying to mend her broken life by going to London where she met Hamaundu, a Zambian who she brought back home and got married to, despite initial hindrances based on tribal prejudices.
It is a novel lucidly written in crispy dialogue, change of scenes and actions.  Some scenes and actions could have been developed more to give the novel a wholesomeness centered on the main character.
The book is available in most bookstores in the country.
Dan Travers of the US also reviewed Changing Shadows and described it as ‘a compelling read.’
Travers has also written a 90-minute movie based on this book. It is therefore possible that Changing Shadows might one day hit the big screens.

Dickson Mwansa (Prof.)
Former Vice Chancellor ZAOU and Judge for Commonwealth Literature Award.