In Only This Once Are You Immaculate, the debut novel from the Zimbabwean writer Blessing Musariri, two twins flee their war-torn home in a secluded valley. The two, Afya and Aftab, along with their adopted brother Khaled, must contend with a centuries-old army of shadows. These supernatural forces endanger the new world they’ve emerged into, and the trio—with help from their uncle—must restore order.
Musariri’s storytelling blends dystopian elements and contemporary social issues. The book’s publisher, flipped eye, describes the result as “a rich universe rooted in African landscapes that recasts the realism of our world in uncannily resonant new light.”
Musariri told Open Country Mag that she initially “wanted to marry the drama and sensation of a female pirate, off the east coast of Africa, to a carefully sculpted treatise on guns, war and the nature of conflict.”
But the story took her elsewhere. “I am intrigued by matters of a metaphysical nature,” she said. “Ultimately, the inspiration was my desire to have been a kind of superhero to whom no one told any rules until it was too late to make me less than everything I have been.”
Blessing Musariri was born in Harare, in 1973. She’s a poet, screenwriter, and author of children’s books. She co-authored the young adult novel, My Totem Came Calling, and has published essays and short stories in The Guardian, Granta, and Poetry International.
Nii Ayikwei Parkes, founder and editor of flipped eye, praised Only This Once Are You Immaculate as “a speculative reconfiguring of not just the world, but the imagination. It’s one of those manuscripts that comes across your desk and reminds you why you love stories.”
The Amuse Tech described it as a “darkly comic tale of adventure during wartime,” writing: “The setting is breathtaking, and there are memorable characters.”
Before starting it, when she had to present the novel’s idea to a writer’s group, Musariri likened it to Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, which also has four narrators.
“I watched it all unfold in my head as live action,” Musariri said. “I experimented with the language as I wrote, trying to imagine what it would sound like to tell a story when one has never before needed words.”
Only This Once Are You Immaculate is “a book about the life we don’t live,” she said. “Other times it’s about living beyond what we understand of ourselves. I would also say it’s about a journey. It is, ultimately, a story about good versus evil.”