Yvonne Vera, . . FSG, $20 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-374-27008-7

At times bordering on a prose poem, this dense, kaleidoscopic novel by Zimbabwean author Vera (Butterfly Burning) is set against the civil war that ravaged her country in the early 1980s, shortly after Zimbabwe won its independence from Britain. The story takes place largely in the rural outpost of Kezi, a small hamlet of mud huts 200 kilometers away from the city of Bulawayo. The heart of Kezi is Thandabantu Store, one of the few commercial establishments, site of the bus stop and Kezi's only phone booth (which has neither wires nor handset), and the town's unofficial gathering place. Here a young woman named Thenjiwe meets a worldly museum curator from Bulawayo and begins a tentative affair. The civil war intrudes, however. Caught up in the orgiastic killing frenzy, a soldier named Sibaso murders Thenjiwe and rapes and mutilates her sister Nonceba. Thandabantu Store is destroyed in a final conflagration, but Nonceba finds her way to Bulawayo and takes shelter with Thenjiwe's former lover, offering a pallid ray of hope. The story shifts between the perspectives of Thenjiwe, Nonceba and Sibaso. Vera's impressionistic writing can make it difficult to grasp the political context and chronology of the war, but it perfectly captures the terrifying chaos of the fighting, as well as the rhythms of provincial African life ("In truth, the bus drives from Bulawayo to Kezi.... But on the slim wooden plaque suspended next to the conductor's window, Kezi comes first, and in the minds of the residents of Kezi, of course, Kezi comes first: the bus, therefore, is seen as driving from Kezi to Bulawayo"). (Feb.)