The novel 'Glory' is inspired by 'Animal Farm' and based on the 2017 coup in Zimbabwe
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
"Glory" is a novel openly inspired by Orwell's "Animal Farm" about the rivalry, tumult and disenchantment that follows the fall of Old Horse, who has led the country of Jidada for 40 years - out of colonialism but into an iron-horse rule all his own. He governs a nation of horses, goats, donkeys, dogs, cats and sheep in an age of Twitter and Siri. NoViolet Bulawayo, winner of the PEN Hemingway Award and a finalist for the Booker Prize, joins us now from Zimbabwe. Thank you so much for being with us.
NOVIOLET BULAWAYO: Thank you for having me.
SIMON: And inspired not only by Orwell's "Animal Farm," but is it fair to say Robert Mugabe's long rule in Zimbabwe, too?
BULAWAYO: Absolutely. So the challenge for me as a fiction writer was to find a way to both claim the story as my own and to make it fresh and new and interesting. Around the time I noticed that, you know, "Animal Farm" was popping up on Zimbabwean social media spaces, people would randomly assign, you know, animal characters to our politicians. And, of course, something clicked. I think I also owe my upbringing, my upbringing on my grandmother's folktales, stories of animals.
SIMON: How does using animals to depict and comment on human behavior work artistically? I mean, for one thing, horses are the rulers. Dogs are the military. Cows, goats, pigs, sheep - the citizens. How do you decide what animal becomes what?
BULAWAYO: Well, I took the larger animals to represent, you know, the powerful. Horses are in charge. They run the country. Dogs are vicious. They are the security forces - the army and the military. And goats, sheep and chickens are the ordinary citizens. And, of course, you know, there was no strict formula, but I just came up with a way that I thought would work. It also has to do with character development. And as long as I try to be believable...
SIMON: Mmm hmm.
BULAWAYO: ...It could work. I could pull it off.
SIMON: You were born in Zimbabwe and, I gather, came to the U.S. for college, including Kalamazoo Valley Community College, Texas A&M, Southern Methodist, then Cornell. Did that sharpen your view of your homeland, being outside of it?
BULAWAYO: Oh, absolutely, because with that distance comes better perspective. You are able to reflect. You are able to stand outside the niche and sometimes comfortable books. And most importantly, you are doing so from a space, like United States, that is so full of everybody from all over the world.
SIMON: Mmm hmm.
BULAWAYO: Yes, that kind of enriches your sense of self in a way that...
BULAWAYO: ...Doesn't always happen if you don't leave the comfort of your own home, if you don't cross borders.
SIMON: At one point, a former revolutionary is asked, what's the best thing about ruling? He says, wealth. And what's the hardest thing about ruling? He says, spending it. How and why do revolutions begun in hope, railing against colonialism, begin to resemble what they struggle to overthrow?
BULAWAYO: Yeah, so many ways to answer that question. There's no correct way. But where "Glory" is concerned, it is simply an issue of the leadership kind of forgetting what they signed up for, kind of forgetting why the people they - that fought to serve made the sacrifice that they did.
SIMON: Forgetting the sacrifice.
BULAWAYO: Absolutely. Absolutely.
SIMON: Yeah. What are your thoughts as you look on events in Ukraine this week as your novel is coming out?
BULAWAYO: It's heartbreaking. I am following, but I'm also - I've also been trying to give myself the distance because there's this sense of helplessness, of how can this be happening while the world is watching?
SIMON: And what's the answer to that?
BULAWAYO: Frankly, I have no answer. Yes, but I have a question. And the question is, what and who have we become, you know, as a global community to have this happening in 2022?
SIMON: NoViolet Bulawayo - her novel, "Glory" - thank you so much for being with us.
BULAWAYO: My pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.