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Book Chapter

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Africa World Press


Commentators inevitably remark upon Yvonne Vera's prose and upon its startling application to the violent episodes she recounts. Some find it inappropriate, self-conscious, more suited to poetry than to prose. Others (and sometimes the same folks) describe it as by far her strongest suit, wherein descriptive powers overtake narration and plot becomes inevitably amorphous - but lovely. In this essay I wish to analyze why this conflicted response would not have concerned the author and why, in fact, she would have sought to discomfort the reader while bringing pleasure. Many writers before Vera have struggled over the applicability of art to horror ( e.g. writing novels about the Holocaust; playing in orchestras in concentration camps, etc.), and some have refused to transmogrify suffering into a thing that brings delight - so this aspect of the criticism that Vera has faced is not new. She was one of the most accomplished, though, in walking an ephemeral line between sadomasochism and social criticism and in frequently confusing her readers regarding their role or complicity in the creation. I will focus principally on The Stone Virgins, her final novel, and seek to discover the results of trauma and how their presentation offers daunting challenges to an author. This will be set against a larger backdrop of African literature that has been understandably fixated on violence - a fact that strikes home when any number of African novels are read along with postcolonial literature from many other parts of the world, regions that have suffered in their colonial days and later, but that seem less indelibly marked by that violence in the literature that has come to represent their new nation. I will also make reference to generic questions that arise in discussions of testimonio as a literary form, and will also ask about the role of women in the confrontation with violence, and possible consequences of a "gendered" narrative.

Chapter of

Emerging Perspectives on Yvonne Vera


Helen Cousins
Pauline Dodgson-Katiyo


Copyright © 2012 Africa World Press. Reprinted with permission. Reproduction is not permitted without explicit permission from Africa World Press.



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