Thoughtful, insightful and compelling, Granite is a well-executed imagining of what happened to cause the collapse of the civilisation of Great Zimbabwe (called Zimba Remabwe in the book). While adult historical fiction has experienced a recent resurgence in interest, narratives are mostly drawn from European history; Granite is refreshingly African, illuminating a relatively unexplored area in fiction. It also shifts “fictionalised history” away from the European centre: in the story, Zimba Remabwe exists as a sophisticated African city state well integrated with the rest of the mid-fifteenth-century world. It is a world in which Arab scholars travel from China and India to Europe and Britain, filing their chronicles in the revered library of Timbuktu.
The narrative method is worth noting: because he cannot write, the story is dictated by a young nobleman called Mokomba — one of few survivors of his city’s downfall. The penman is Shafiq, a learned Arab traveller who is a father figure after the passing of Mokomba’s own father. Each chapter relates a series of events from these two characters’ perspectives, as they fill in what the other might have glossed over. The result is a finely rendered narrative of two distinct voices.
The story is rich in detail and significance: the battle of Mokomba’s twin sister Raii against the status quo that will trap her in an arranged marriage; the bizarre prejudice experienced by the non-witches; the absolute power that corrupts the king; the tragedy of the most innocent of Mokomba’s family inviting in the pest that will kill them all; the tentative peace between nobles and commoners, which falls apart in times of peril.
Granite is a stimulating, thought-provoking and exciting flight of imagination, grounded in a historical perspective that paints Africa as anything but the “dark continent”.