Stefanie Zweig

Vivian and A Mouth Full of Earth

Stefanie Zweig
München: Langen Müller, 2001
207 S.
ISBN 3-7844-2842-8
(Original paperback edition)

"A Mouth Full of Earth" is the first African novel of the best seller author Stefanie Zweig. It was published since 1980 and received many literary awards. The novel is preceded with "Vivian", an autobiographical introduction in which the author in approximately 50 pages describes her personal relation to the maiden's image in her first novel. Vivian is an orphan and lives with her father alone in Kenya.

Nevertheless there are many similarities to Stefanie Zwieg's biography. The author confirms among others that she herself is also bound by a close childhood friendship and infantile love with a young kikuyu, as implied in "A Mouth Full of Earth". The friendship ends abruptly as the circumcision and initiation of the 14 years coincides with the departure of the family to Germany: Jogona passes his last night before the close of the initiation with Vivian and disappears without a trace.

In the autobiographical part of the book "Vivian", Zweig confirms, that the separation was not only difficult to overcome by the young Kenyan but also herself. In a retrospective view she describes how she, in a totally strange "native country" Germany, for a long time felt a similar nostalgia like her father in Kenya, after the flight of a Jewish family from Germany. The German maiden who grew up in Africa doesn't feel at home in Germany but in Kenya; and in the autobiographical part of the text the author herself acknowledges that not only her literary figure but also she herself as a seven years old maiden had prayed that the great kikuyu- god Mungu should allow her "to become black and make her a respectable kikuyu lady with a big hut and four daughters".

The title of the book, "A Mouth Full of Earth", acts upon the covenant friendship of both children and the kikuyu custom through which the honesty of an oath is strengthened by swallowing earth - an attached coughing stimulus is a sign that the one taking the oath is not speaking the truth.

    Stefanie Zweig: Vivian und Ein Mund voll Erde
    (Vivian and A Mouth Full of Earth)

    Just as in Stephanie Zweig's novel "Nowhere in Africa", "Vivian and A Mouth Full of Earth" also presents a wide and many-sided picture of European life in Colonial Kenya. Through the example of Jewish emigrants, English adventures like Klinghorn or the family of burish settler of DeBruin, similarities as well as differences and tension between different groups of settlers and the English colonial masters become clear.More ...