An intersection of roads and relevant landmarks in Harare is the area popularly called Rotten Row. Petina Gappah’s collection of 20 short stories does not only share the same name as Rotten Row in Harare, but they also share its intersected nature. The stories intersect various aspects of the everyday life of Zimbabweans; those at home and in the diaspora – sexism, justice (its absence and presence), colonialism, poverty, sexual violence, democracy (and its absence), corruption and familial affairs. Rotten Row is an insightful social commentary in general. The subjects raised in Rotten Row are nothing unique, what is unique and impressive are Gapah’s storytelling and her deft writing skills.
As usual with almost every Short Stories collection, there are misses but with Rotten Row, there are lots of hits. Stories like The Dropper, Copacabana, Copacabana, Copacabana, In The Matter Between Goto and Goto, In Sad Cypress and A Small House in Borrowdale Brooke were particularly excellent Short Stories. While Copacabana, Copacabana, Copacabana was my favourite story in the collection (there is always something endearing about a well-told story that is set in the middle of a city centre with a lot of commuting in the mix), I was pleasantly impressed by the format of In The Matter Between Goto and Goto. It read like a factual judgement in a court case. It is full of twists, humour and thoughtfulness. Within a few pages, it dealt with a lot of social issues with deftness. Also, the tightness and minimalist narrative of The Dropper was breathtaking. It read like one was sitting across from a veteran who was recounting a past life that was largely not enviable but all the same eventful. In all, the Rotten Row collection is an impressive collection.