During a time of political unrest in Zimbabwe, schemer and dreamer Ndlovu, Jeremy Wohlers’ main character in his ambitious novel People of Skies, devises a clever way to make money by accumulating fuel despite severe shortages and then selling it on the black market. Enlisting the aid of “mad” Archie, an infamous dissident, and other friends, Ndlovu temporarily “borrows” corpses from his funeral parlour workplace. He then convinces fuel station employees to let him jump to the front of the extremely long wait lines to purchase fuel so he supposedly can expedite the body’s journey to its final resting place.
The petrol scheme proves to be risky business when a sinister, bearded man from the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) gets wind of what’s happening. Through severe beatings and threats, he convinces Ndlovu to give him a big cut of the profits. Meanwhile, Ndlovu’s mechanic friend Ngwenya, falls onto the wrong side of the political fence when this good Samaritan unwittingly aids a man beaten bloody by the ruling party’s thuglike Green Bombers. The man turns out to be a highly placed member of the government-hating Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and chaos ensues.
People of Skies tells a compelling and detailed story reflecting on the hard and dangerous times afoot when a government changes and political and police corruption arises. The characters reflected in this suppressed society are well drawn and the writing sparkles from the first page, where Wohlers describes passengers being sucked into a kombi (vehicle) “like pulling a stopper out of a sink.” The odd-looking, head-shaven Archie is crisply described as “thickset and squat” and “his eyes bulged and his eyeballs roved and ranged from side to side and up and down.”
Wohlers has written a gem of a story with a strong plot and subplots. He pulls all the critical writing elements into a substantial package that shines and is deserving of wide readership.
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