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Absent. The English Teacher

The English Teacher

John Eppel

Publication Year: 2009

When Mr George loses his job teaching English at a private secondary school in Bulawayo, ëhis pension payout, after forty years of full-time service, bought him two jam doughnuts and a soft tomato.í When he backs his uninsured white Ford Escort into a brand new Mercedes Benz, the out-of-court settlement sees him giving up his house to the complainant, Beauticious Nyamayakanuna, and becoming her domestic servant. Through the prism of this engaging post-colonial role reversal, and spiced with Georgeís lessons on Shakespeare, John Eppel draws down the curtain on one particular white man in Africa. But before itís time to go, George will delight us with the antics of his literature classes; his various arrests ñ all timed to coincide with the police chiefís need for help with essays on Hamlet and A Grain of Wheat; his keen eye for flora and fauna; and the long trek back through the hundred years of his familyís Zimbabwean past, as he returns an abandoned child to her home. Eppel has satirized the racial politics of southern Africa in many of his previous novels. In Absent: The English Teacher he turns his gaze inwards for a generous and richly rewarding parody of the land of his birth.

Published by: African Books Collective

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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About the Author

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pp. v


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pp. vii

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Introduction: John Eppel and the Place of Literature in the Postcolonial World

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pp. ix-xvi

It is not often that one reads a Zimbabwean novel that provides such a wide range of pleasures to its readers. Absent: The English Teacher by John Eppel displays an exhilarating verbal agility (which lends the novel much of its humour); a powerful evocation...


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pp. xvii

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1. Pale Moon Rising

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pp. 1-4

When George J. George mistook his white Ford Escort for the moon, he knew that his time was up. He would turn his face to the evening star and, guided by the nests of white-browed sparrow-weavers, keep walking. Would he...

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2. A Glint of Copper

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pp. 5-12

That was some time before the event which began his rapid decline: the mischievous switching of portraits; and the event that accelerated his rapid decline: the accident in Robert Mugabe Way. George taught English at Boys and Girls Come Out to Play Secondary School, a private...

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3. A Weekend in Elsinore

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pp. 13-26

Scene 1: George J. George’s house, suburban Bulawayo, late Friday afternoon. George is lying on his back on the lounge carpet, a quart of Castle lager within reach, listening enraptured to his record player. The music is Richard...

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4. Wabenzi

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pp. 27-28

On his way home, George decided to buy some nanyute from C. Gauche (PVT) Ltd. His hen, Harriet, loved the shiny little seeds, which sounded like rain when you poured them into an enamel dish. He parked outside the shop, bought the seeds...

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5. Letting Slip

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pp. 29-32

Quick to learn from the new farmers, those patriotic sons of the soil who were in the process of expediting the mother of all agricultural seasons, Beauticious gave George forty-eight hours to move from his house (now hers) to his servant’s quarters...

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6. A Little Touch of Georgy in the Night

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pp. 33-38

One Sunday just before bedtime, George was sitting on the step outside his khaya enjoying the sweet honey of evening cestrum and the occasional call of a spotted eagle owl, when he received visitors, the twins, Helter and Skelter. They came bearing...

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7. For She My Mind Hath So Dispac'd

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pp. 39-44

George was an insomniac but, unlike the Macbeths, he enjoyed his habitual sleeplessness. His nocturnal routine seldom varied. If there was enough light he would read (at this time he was revisiting his favourite author, Charles Dickens) until his eyelids...

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8. A Hard Day's Night

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pp. 45-56

George’s duties as a domestic worker began promptly at 6 a.m., or sparrow fart in the local idiom. The madam expected, nay demanded, her coffee, white with six sugars, and a plate of vetkoek. The ritual was for George to place the tray...

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9. Deus ex Machina

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pp. 57-63

Joseph knocked off earlier than George so if he wasn’t away drinking with his friends, he could be relied upon, most nights, to make a fire, and get the sadza going. George, exhausted to the point of collapse, joined him at the fire. His portable wooden...

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10. Hope Deferred and a Longing Fulfilled

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pp. 64-68

George woke with a start and discovered the wide-eyed bundle next to him, looking straight into his dream-troubled eyes. “You must be so hungry,” he said, “and I have nothing to offer you.” Then he remembered the mulberries. He climbed out of bed taking...

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11. Reason Not...

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pp. 69-74

Later that morning the twins came for their lesson on King Lear. They brought George a roasted mealie purchased from a road vendor, which he graciously accepted, but put aside for the child (he still couldn’t think of it as a girl). The twins also brought...

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12. ...The Need

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pp. 75-81

George read to the boys for about an hour, paraphrasing nearly every line and thoroughly mystifying them with scurrilous assertions that ‘nothing’ (no thing) was a vagina (0). As if that wasn’t enough he linked Lear’s ‘darker purpose’ with Edgar’s ‘dark and...

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13. Words, Words, Words

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pp. 82-87

George was preparing potato fritters when Ultimate came into the kitchen with her copy of Macbeth. George smiled. The daughter of Beauticious was still at an age when everything interested her. She had not yet been overwhelmed...

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14. Return to Elsinore

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pp. 88-95

“Mr George?” “Yes? Oh, no!” George had taken care to lock the dogs in the garage. They were barking furiously. He wished now that he’d left them in the yard...

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15. Doing It

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pp. 96-101

“We stand back from the narrative and reflect on the Party: how it was born, how it grew, from the leadership of Waiaki at the turn of the twentieth century, through Harry Thuku in the 1920s, to Jomo Kenyatta in the 1950s, who took the party...

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16. The Enormous Turnip

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pp. 102-107

On his way back from prison, near Bradfield shopping centre, George was reminded that elections were imminent when a youth wearing a ZANU PF T-shirt handed him a flyer urging him to vote for ‘Unity, Piss and Development’. He folded the newsprint...

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17. Salmagundi

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pp. 108-113

Talk about coincidences! George had dug out his copy of The Matopos, edited by Sir Robert Tredgold, K.C.M.G. It was a revised edition of ‘A Guide to the Matopos’ by Dr E.A. Nobbs (all those abbreviations), and had been published by The Federal Department...

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18. A Sentence is but a Chev'ril Glove...

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pp. 114-121

“So George,” said the minister, wiping egg from his moustache with one of George’s grandmother’s linen table napkins still in its ivory ring, “have you decided whom to vote for in the forthcoming...

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19. Long Day's Journey

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pp. 122-128

Ajax and Hercules knew something was amiss. Both had begun to whine like puppies. George was wondering whether to go barefoot like the little girl, sockless in his tackies, or socked (Woolworths) in his Chinesemade reinforced cardboard...

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20. Into Night

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pp. 129-135

When they awoke, more or less at the same time, the sun was hovering on the horizon: a red balloon attached to a string of glowing clouds. George was in such pain that he needed to vomit; but he did not want to distress Polly. He crawled a way down the spruit...

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21. Westering

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pp. 136-141

When George opened his eyes Polly was already awake, examining the paintings on the wall of the cave. She seemed to be particularly interested in a stylised running man wearing an animal mask. George noticed the burned mud structures...

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22. George Jorge George of the Bushveld

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pp. 142-145

George awoke to a dawn chorus dominated by duetting sparrow-weavers being imitated, at a distance, by fork-tailed drongos. As he tried to sit up, a searing pain spread from his bowels to his head. Polly was still asleep, clinging for warmth and security...

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781779221155
Print-ISBN-13: 9781779220820

Page Count: 164
Publication Year: 2009

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