Vol 28 No 2 (2019): Nordic Journal of African Studies
Articles Social Studies

(Re)drawing the limits of marginality: 'Whiteness', disability and queer sexuality in Petina Gappah's The Book of Memory (2015)

Gibson Ncube
Department of Foreign Languages and Literature, University of Zimbabwe, Harare
Asante Lucy Mtenje
Department of English, Stellenbosch University
Published November 18, 2019
  • Petina Gappah,
  • marginality,
  • queer,
  • sexuality,
  • disability


Petina Gappah’s debut novel, The Book of Memory (2015), centres on the lives of two ‘white’ characters in post-independent Zimbabwe: Memory, the protagonist-narrator and a woman with albinism, and Lloyd, Memory’s adoptive father and a white, closeted gay man. Both characters are rendered to the margins of Zimbabwean society. This paper analyses how Memory and Lloyd are brought together by their respective forms of marginalisation. Memory is a person with albinism and her whiteness is perceived as dirty and a contagion. On the other hand, Lloyd is a white, closeted gay man in Mugabe’s homophobic Zimbabwe. Making use of Ann Cvetkovich’s reading of trauma and Robert McRuer’s concept of ‘compulsory able-bodiedness’, in this paper we argue that Gappah’s novel depicts a refiguring of the marginalised body as one capable of agency and existence in its own right. In the process, such refiguring destabilises race and sexuality as social constructs.