a fragment on Butterfly Burning

by zunguzungu

Yvonne Vera’s Butterfly Burning is a difficult book to read, a difficult book to describe, and a hard book to like. Terrible things happen, and the narration isn’t kind to readers schooled in naturalism or unused to “experimental” writing styles, whatever that means. But my students feel it. Every semester I teach this book it surprises me; I expect them to struggle, I expect them to complain, and they do, a little, but they also respond. The novel touches them, in ways neither I nor they seem to understand. I’d like to write something about it, but every time I start I feel the inadequacy of summing up gestures. My students feel it too, and in office hours they complain that they understand nothing, yet feel so much. How to write their papers? The complaint is only partly motivated by grades. Or perhaps I only wish their comments were motivated by a kind of love the book inspires in its readers. In any case, at least they are recognizing “thesis statements” are not the way into this book. It’s the detail, through the half-seen image brought into consciousness mediated by the half forgotten, the half obscured, and the half unknowable. How to write that? I’m not sure, and neither are they.