When 11-year-old Chimuka and her younger brother, Ali, find themselves orphaned in the 1990s, it’s clear that their seemingly ordinary Zambian family is brimming with secrets, from HIV/AIDS, to infidelity, to suicide. Faced with the difficult choice of living with their abusive extended family or slithering into the dark underbelly of Lusaka’s streets, Chimuka and Ali escape and become street kids.
Against the backdrop of a failed military coup, election riots and a declining economy, Chimuka and Ali are raised by drugs, crime and police brutality. As a teenager, Chimuka is caught between prostitution and the remnants of the fragile stability that existed before her parents’ death.
The Mourning Bird is not just Chimuka’s story, it’s a national portrait of Zambia in an era of strife. With lively and unflinching prose, Kalimamukwento paints a country’s burden, shame and silence, which, when juxtaposed with Chimuka’s triumph, forms an empowering debut novel.
Mubanga Kalimamukwento is a criminal lawyer from Zambia. She has been writing stories since she was 10 years old to cope with the grief of losing her mother at a young age. She is a mother of two boys and a fellow of the Young African Leaders Initiative (2017) and the prestigious Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program (2018/2019).