Turning her back on what is considered conventional, Makhosazana Xaba engages with her subject-matter on a revolutionary level in Running and Other Stories. She takes tradition – be that literary tradition, cultural tradition, gender tradition – and re-imagines it in a way that is liberating and innovative. Bracketed by Xaba’s revisitings of Can Themba’s influential short story, The Suit, the ten stories in this collection, while strongly independent, are in conversation with one another, resulting in a collection that can be devoured all at once or savoured slowly, story by story. By re-envisioning the ordinary and accepted, Xaba is creating a space in which women’s voices are given a rebirth.
Running and other stories
When Phil entered my bedroom, he was breathing heavily, carrying a parcel in old newspaper, folded as neatly as only Phil could fold. It was the suit. I was shocked he had even remembered to bring it with him. But that was Phil. He thrived on detail. From “Behind The Suit”
“The collection is also haunted by the same fears and threats that beleaguer all women who live in a society where patriarchal violence is endemic. The worlds Xaba creates in these short stories are courageous; they are also playful and brimming with curiosity.
The stories leak into one another here because Xaba’s girl/women characters speak unfashionably, think for themselves, re-arrange the world with their chosen expressions of desire.
This is a collection that unapologetically centres women’s voices and experiences, at the same time as pushing the boundaries of what this ordinarily means. Xaba has never been content in her writing to simply present the unconventional – she re-imagines the very notion of what we expect from a short story, from a woman, from a girl. In Running and other stories, she raises the bar on what is conceivable for creative writers and imaginative readers.
With the generosity of a novelist and the precision of a poet, Running and other stories is a gem of a collection. I am thrilled it is now exists in the world.”
Reading the ten stories in Makhosazana Xaba’s inaugural collection is a breath taking experience, not only in the kaleidoscope of themes and plot structure but also in the innovative way she consistently transgresses the mould of conventional perceptions of the socio-political issues she portrays. She lifts the veil of secrecy on controversial subjects such as homosexual and lesbian relationships, relishes the tantalising impact of mutuality when a female gazes on a beautiful female form/body and alerts readers to the existence of backyard/secret abortions across different classes.
The texture of the stories is highly enriched by intertwining theme, character and structure. One case in point is the complexity of the layered multiple intertextual references within the two “The Suit” stories which hinge on the dialectics of conflicts of gender roles/betrayals even within and between lesbian and homosexual relationships that are considered taboo by society. Makhosazana Xaba imbues her characters with an unfailing sense of agency and fortitude (a knack she seems to flaunt with ease) even when they are in a vulnerable position.
Writing in a language that is clear and lucid, in a style that is flowing and smooth as well as exploring difficult, diverse experiences and occurrences that many writers would rather keep silent about, Makhosazana Xaba has achieved a rare feat. She should, once again, be applauded for her immense artistic contribution to South African literature and adding to the growing number of writers who make readers think about the socio-political conditions in our country.