Book Review: Send Her Back and Other Stories
Reviewed by Genevieve Hartman
Sharp and incisive short stories that interrogate the varied experiences and cultural quandaries that stem from being a Zimbabwean immigrant in America
Munashe Kaseke’s Send Her Back and Other Stories is a short fiction collection made up of fifteen stories, each revolving around Zimbabweans who have lived in or are living in America.
The characters in these stories face many challenges: differing social and cultural expectations, financial hardship, difficulty obtaining permanent legal papers, and racism.
Americans and Zimbabweans both have stereotyped understandings of what the other country might be, and often the women in these stories are caught between these beliefs, bent in impossible ways, and struggling to bear under clashing ideas and realities.
The titular story, “Send Her Back” follows a Zimbabwean woman named Vimbiso who was arrested for living undocumented in America. Vimbiso has just been accepted to medical school at the time of her arrest, and she is the sole provider not only for herself, but for her husband and their expended family still living in Zimbabwe.
Vimbiso hires a lawyer to help her appeal her case, but the defense requires her husband in Zimbabwe to get in on a scheme to plead asylum. When she explains the dire situation, Vimbiso is met with her husband’s distrust and anger. And later, as she brainstorms ideas to help defend her case, Vimbiso witnesses a Trump rally chanting “Send Her Back” in reference to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. This serves as Vimbiso’s breaking point, for if they do not want a Congresswoman here, she reasons, why would America want her?
Another story that encapsulates recurring themes in the collection is the opening story, “When Zimbabwe Fell For Wyoming.” Recounting a whirlwind romance between a young Zimbabwean woman and a white American man, the couple in the story seems to fall for the “otherness” of their partner. The narrator recalls, “It was his paleness that was most ravishing.”
On the other side, the narrator’s partner marvels at how exotic it sounds to be Zimbabwean, how well the narrator can cook, and how she is Black, but not “the regular kind of black.” The relationship sours quickly, as the narrator grows increasingly discontented with the veritable mountain of personal differences—political, cultural, sexual, to name a few—and her partner’s speech and behavior becomes more micro-agressive and dangerous.
Guileless and straightforward, these stories cut to the heart, with no time for niceties or mincing words. America does provide opportunities for immigrant Zimbabweans—but there are steep costs. Relationships between families and partners are strained, work opportunities are lost because of expiring documents, people marry almost-strangers or endure the infantile and demeaning questions of their American peers.
Kaseke’s writing is frank, unapologetically calling out the American immigration system by pinpointing the many ways its brokenness harms hardworking and innocent people who are simply trying to improve their own and their family’s lives. When the stories don’t zero in on the immigrant experience in America, they are exploring the ways that Zimbabweans experience sexism and racism, both at home and abroad.
At times the stories do feel somewhat repetitive: multiple relationships break apart because of cultural differences, numerous people struggle to remain in America after graduating college, people work themselves to the bone to send money home to their families in Zimbabwe.
These repetitions seem intentional, however. Far from anomalies, these are all-too-common experiences that many immigrants face. Each new story is another condemnation of a culture that is hostile to people perceived as “other” or “illegal.” It’s hard to read them all at once, so sharp and exacting is this criticism.
Send Her Back and Other Stories holds up a mirror to the numerous ways in which America fails immigrant people. The broken legal system, racism, few work opportunities, and lack of cultural consciousness all create a place where the so-called American Dream remains just a dream for many. Those who succeed are still required to navigate the treacherous waters of American exceptionalism.
For those familiar with the problems that exist in the American immigration system, this book is a crucial reminder of the harsh realities that many face. For those unfamiliar with the stories of immigrants, Send Her Back is an important starting place—put this one next on your reading list.
Publisher: Mukana Press
Genre: Short Story Collection / Black & African American Fiction
Print Length: 204 pages
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