The wait is over. A Time To Remember has finally been published. Now, the book is available on an online shop Amazon.com.
This is an autobiography of Malawi’s literary hero Felix Mnthali who is yet to be celebrated despite his impeccable achievements as a writer, poet and academician.
A Time To Remember offers that opportunity to take a break from the buzzing world and contemplate, reflect, or meditate on Malawi’s history from colonialism, State of Emergency, Cabinet Crisis to the present multiparty dispensation.
Such a rich history is told through the life of Mnthali, a retired professor of English, who has seen it all since 1958 as a 25-year-old student at Dedza Secondary School.
“We struck the blow and died. The blow boomeranged, badly,” says Mnthali in his first chapter (Dedza Crisis) of the memoir, coining an expression from John Chilembwe’s words during the uprising against the colonialists in 1915.
But the 1958 ‘Dedza Crisis’ goes beyond Chilembwe’s words, to “strike a blow and die.”
The students lived the words by revolting against placement of a teacher who they perceived to be a spy planted by the colonial government at the school.
“Following this incident, the school was closed and the whole student body was expelled,” says Mnthali.
Such an incident, according to literary critic Albert Mtungambera Harawa, is a direct revolt against the colonial government.
“The book paints a picture of disillusionment with colonialism. The characters, including the narrator himself, are discontent with colonialism,” says Harawa.
Apart from the uprising, the book tackles issues of defiance, detention and freedom.
For instance, the Dedza Crisis equipped Mnthali with courage to take part in the 1959 State of Emergency.
By then, he had picked up a teaching job at Karonga Secondary School (now Chaminade).
“It was interesting to take part in the acts of defiance against the British government,” he says.
This is the period when the then governor of Nyasaland, Sir Robert Armitage, declared a nationwide State of Emergency on March 3 1959 after persistent resentment against the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.
In 1960, Mnthali left Karonga for Pius XII College (now National University of Lesotho) for undergraduate studies. The following year, he enrolled for postgraduate studies at the University of Alberta in Canada.
After the studies, Mnthali joined the Chancellor College of the University of Malawi (Unima) as a lecturer where he rose in ranks to become the pro vice-chancellor of Unima—the first Malawian in history.
However, the year 1976 remains etched on his memory as he describes it “a taste of hell.”
“Nobody knows why I was arrested. There were many accusations, but most of them were false. I have never really come to a conclusion on why I was detained,” he says about his four month-detention at Zomba Maximum Prison during Kamuzu Banda’s regime.
However, he says at the institution, tribalism had taken root as staff members faced arrests for belonging to a particular ethnic group.
After his release from prison, Mnthali was a visiting fellow at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria in 1979 and 1980. He then moved to the University of Botswana in 1982 as professor of English up until he retired in 2010. He headed the English Department for 14 years.
Now 84, Mnthali’s work has been published several times including a 1982 collection of poems When Sunset Comes to Sapitwa and a 1998 English novel Yoranivyoto.
For the autobiography, Mnthali says it has been published by Amazon.com. He says Amazon prints the number of copies ordered by customers.
“Our booksellers may wish to order directly from Amazon.com,” he says.
The autobiography has taken three years to see light of day. Mnthali had challenges finding a reputable publisher through whom he can reach a wider readership.
“It means a great deal to me that the autobiography has finally been published,” he says.
The memoir will be followed by two novels and two plays. One of the novels is called Dawn At Last and the other Sanganani’s Wake. One of the plays is called Bwana! Bwana! The other is The Year Of The Drought.
These are expected to be released within a month, he says. However, a book of poems Just Imagine Rain appeared earlier also on Amazon as did an open volume of poetry for which readers do not pay, he adds.
“I hope readers will get back to me with suggestions on how to improve my narrative design and/or factual details,” says Mnthali who comes from Mlowe, Traditional Authority Mwamlowe in Rumphi.
Literary critic Ayami Mkwanda describes Mnthali as a sociable and humble man who “reaches out freely to the youth of the younger generation”. n