Friday, August 19, 2016

The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician, or the Lonely Scotlanders


Reviewed by Dami Ajayi (http://wawabookreview.com/author/dami-ajayi/)
Title: The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician Author: Tendai Huchu
Publisher: ‘amaBooks
Number of pages: 273
Year of publication: 2014 Category: Fiction



Zimbabwean writer Tendai Huchu’s second book, a novel, is called The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician, a rather mouthful title that enjoys the playful alliteration of a recalcitrant poet.
This novel follows his acclaimed debut novel called The Hairdresser of Harare (another title that is a subtle work of alliteration), which used the urban space of a beauty salon to explore themes of homosexuality, love, family life and other complications of modern life in Zimbabwe.
His new book also deals with Zimbabwe, but Zimbabweans in the Diaspora, in Edinburgh, Scotland, where the author himself currently resides. Through the eyes of three characters, who collectively lend their monikers to the book title, the immigrant experience is explored once again. The life of immigrants has been a fascinating topic for black writers from Samuel Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners down to Teju Cole’s Open City.
The aforementioned novels situate the experiences and the insights through which this novelist attempts to revisit the compounding problems of migration. In the intervening years, the home front has not become comfortable enough for the desired ‘Back to Africa project’. If anything, the egress of notable thinkers, intellectuals, skilled labourers and academics persists and Huchu tackles the experience of this ‘fortunate’ lot who leave the homeland in pursuit of better lives abroad.
His characters reside in Scotland, three men of different ages, backgrounds and temperaments. There is The Magistrate, a pot-bellied, stay-home husband and father of a 15-year-old daughter. He has a hard time assimilating to the new clime. Back home, he was a man of means, a judge, but in Edinburgh, he is the husband of an estranged wife, a nurse. The Magistrate takes long, winding walks around the
city whilst listening to Zimbabwean music on a walkman. These walks cast this
city whilst listening to Zimbabwean music on a walkman. These walks cast this character in the role of a flaneur through whose eyes the architectural edifices of the city are navigated. In this sense, he shares a kinship with Julius, Open City’s protagonist, but he is clearly more humane even if his view is equally jaded, skeptical and detached.
Through The Magistrate’s psyche, we experience the resigned alienation of middle- aged migrants whose pursuit of a better life in the Diaspora is at best illusory. His marriage suffers the brutal assault of the colder clime and anxieties about raising a daughter in an alien culture is the gnawing concern that eases in the denouement. He finds solace in drink and the music of his people. By pairing the music of his people with sightseeing in Scotland, he finds a balance between the old and new.
Farai is The Mathematician, a pompous man in his twenties. His Political Science doctoral thesis is on hyperinflation in African economies. He has rich and firm ties to the home country, and his scholarship is being lavishly funded by his family. He lives with his friends, Brian and Scott, a rabbit called Mr Majeika, and he indulges in playing television games. He dates Stacey, a working-class, white girl and ex-porn star. His character sketch is that of a smart man who loves the streets and enjoys the adrenaline rush that living on the edge brings. He is also flotsam in the Diaspora tide although he fancies himself as being in control; he remains dependent on his friends, his Mozambican colleague Nika, and his family to support his lifestyle.
The last of trio is The Maestro, a white Zimbabwean whose experience exacts the worst toll. He is a private person and an avid reader immersed in existential philosophy. His whiteness does not seem to ease his integration; perhaps it even fosters his alienation, which is ultimately self-destructive. Every attempt by his Polish lady friend/love interest to break his cocoon is rebuffed as he journeys deeper and deeper into himself, searching for his essence, till he fractures his mind in a psychotic spell.
These characters are connected by a pivotal character called Alfonso, an unscrupulous, self-proclaimed political organiser. He is, in a sense, the mediating character in this novel. He forces his friendship on The Magistrate and coerces him into participating in the political group he runs; he worked with Farai’s parents in the homeland and parted ways with them under questionable circumstances; he also plays a major role in the final home-going of The Maestro. Almost all major events revolve around Alfonso, either directly or indirectly, and he is indeed the portrait of the well-adjusted African in the Diaspora. Notwithstanding the estrangement and detachment that the immigrant experience presents, Alfonso and the possibilities of his political pressure group offers anchor to displaced Zimbabweans.
Told in stylish and dense prose, this novel subscribes to a certain American
aesthetic of interrogating the immigrant experience in Europe. Mr Huchu wears
aesthetic of interrogating the immigrant experience in Europe. Mr Huchu wears rather proudly the influences of some American authors, most notably David Forster Wallace with whom he could be said to share much more than a love for wearing bandannas.
His prose sometimes strives to be playful even though the weight of serious issues makes this deadpan. Again, there is that narcissistic authorial preoccupation with giving the self a cameo appearance, in this case as a lecherous disc jockey (giving a nod to music). It is not often that you find a novelist so immersed in the thrust of their story as well as in the desire to reflect the influences of previous writers in a certain literary tradition, but sometimes, ambition occasions overkill.
Existentialist tropes run through the characterisation. This is most obvious with The Maestro, is evident in the pace of the narrative itself and is glorified in the denouement. The meaninglessness of life as the antithesis of the immigrant experience is the basis of this cautionary tale.
At a time when the West is adjudged as being the shaper of African literature, this novel is a departure from the sensationalism of impoverished Africa – instead it interrogates the Western gore by showing, not telling, how African characters are broken by the whims and caprices of a well-governed society. Unfortunately, the wretched of the earth do not enjoy salvation when they transplant themselves to colder climes.
Here is an important novel about migration that negotiates to differentiate itself from tradition by approaching character development through an inventory of the minutest of details, psychological projections as well as existential concerns. The tempered voice of the author is remarkably American in inflection but the characters are deeply African, human.

In Fiction (http://wawabookreview.com/category/fiction/)

(http://wawabookreview.com/2015/07/24/the- maestro-the-magistrate-the-mathematician-or-the-lonely-scotlanders)

Monday, August 15, 2016

This Is Africa reviews The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician

Expats in Edinburgh – making a place your own

By Farai K. Dzvairo on August 15, 2016 — 

In his latest novel, The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician, Tendai Huchu follows the lives of three Zimbabwean immigrants as they strive for assimilation and a sense of place.


Identity, belonging and loss are the unholy trinity of the immigrant experience. Millions of Zimbabweans have emigrated throughout the world since the early 2000s. The very fortunate left by choice, to pursue further education; the majority left in search of a better quality of life for their families; the remainder for reasons known only to themselves.
In the novel The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician, the Zimbabwean-born writer Tendai Huchu introduces us to three Zimbabwean-born men living very different lives in Edinburgh in the early 2000s.
Tendai Huchu at Africa Writes (Photo:RAS News and Events)
When we first meet The Magistrate, he is struggling with accepting how his life has changed. Formerly a Someone, a man of means, in Zimbabwe, he is now living as his wife’s dependant, together with his teenage daughter. His storyline is steady in pace and it is to him we return every second chapter as a means of anchoring the overall story.
Farai, The Mathematician, is doing a Ph.D. in economics. His focus on high-risk, high-reward profiteering during short periods of hyperinflation is a nod to the unanswered questions surrounding how some senior Zimbabwean government officials managed to thrive while the nation’s economy buckled prior to the adoption of the United States dollar.  Young and carefree, he comes from a wealthy family and is the only character to enjoy his entire Edinburgh experience.
“If there is one thing I’ve learnt in the last few years, it’s that everyone needs a story. That’s all our lives amount to, nothing but stories that we hope will live on after we are gone.”
The mysterious Maestro is the last of the main characters. White, and possibly suffering from a mental illness, we meet him at the top of a cliff and periodically check in with him as he freefalls to the bottom. Although he was a member of a visual minority as a white man in Zimbabwe, the Maestro would have lived a very comfortable life by any standard, regardless of how humble his background. Given that he is now part of the visual majority in Edinburgh, we’d expect his assimilation to be the easiest of the three. Could it be that the author chose to use a sick mind as a narrative device to show the trauma associated with going from being a ‘baas’ to being the same as everyone else in the blink of an eye?
“But, if there is one thing I’ve learnt in the last few years, it’s that everyone needs a story. That’s all our lives amount to, nothing but stories that we hope will live on after we are gone.” Although uttered by a secondary character in the book, these words perfectly encapsulate Huchu’s goal – to tell a story that will linger with us well after it is over.

Leave Your Assumptions at The Door
Having thoroughly enjoyed The Hairdresser of Harare, Huchu’s debut novel, I was looking forward to more of the same humour and a clearly identifiable storyline in his second book. That was my first (but not my biggest) mistake. The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician is actually three almost independent novellas with no consequential links to each other until the very last moment.
The biggest mistake I made was to assume that because the protagonists and author were all African men living in Europe, the novel could be labeled an ‘immigrant novel’. Far from it – the real story happened in the background, in the mother country, with ‘immigrant tales’ distracting us in the foreground.
In an interview Huchu was asked how immigration affected his writing and his response was caustic: “The funny thing is that when some white dude writes a novel set anywhere in Africa or Asia, it’s never referred to as an immigrant novel. They just have the right to be where they want to be and to write what they want.” That’s exactly what Huchu did with this piece of work – he wrote the story that he wanted to write. If our assumptions and myopia created a certain set of expectations, then that was our mistake, not his.
“The funny thing is that when some white dude writes a novel set anywhere in Africa or Asia, it’s never referred to as an immigrant novel. They just have the right to be where they want to be and to write what they want.”
This is an ambitious work. Each novella has a unique tempo and tone and weaving them together was never going to be easy. Some of the transitions between the characters felt a bit jarring and, as enjoyable as the storytelling was, the middle of the book felt somewhat bloated – it was big, but missing something crucial.

Under the surface
Mark Twain said that “humour is the good-natured side of a truth”. Huchu uses humour as a means of social commentary. There are no sacred cows; religion, politics and relationships are all fair game. My favourite scene is The Magistrate’s first meeting of the Edinburgh branch of the Zimbabwean opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). In it, Peter, a hapless councillor, is sent to represent the Mayor’s Office at a meeting for an organisation he knows nothing about. He has the following conversation with Alfonso, a character who introduces himself as “Alfonso Pfukuto, first secretary of the MDC in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK, European Union”. (The book clearly pre-dates the Brexit vote.):
“So what’s your party’s philosophy?” Peter asked.
“Change, that’s all we want, that’s all we stand for,” Alfonso replied, fiddling with his camera.
“What do you mean? What sort of change?”
“Well, erm, democratic change. We are a movement, you see. What we want to do first and foremost is change the names of the roads. At the moment a lot of the roads are named after their people, and we have to change that.”
“I don’t think I quite follow.”
“It’s the same with the Heroes’ Acre. At the moment they put their people in it, but we want to put our own people in there as well. You wait and see, a lot of things are going to change.”

What appears at first glance to be a dig at the opposition party and their motives can also be seen as the expression of legitimate concerns around the gatekeeping and ownership of Zimbabwean history by Robert Mugabe and his party, Zanu-PF.
It seems fitting that The Magistrate is the character that is used to interrogate gender dynamics. His days examining evidence in court come in handy. On more than one occasion he wistfully remembers the maid they employed in Zimbabwe as he does chores around the house. He also spends time musing about the messages in Sungura music (a genre of Zimbabwean music that is the result of a melding of the brooding Rhumba sound from central and east Africa with local, percussive rhythms) and the irony that although songs about abusive marriages exist, they were sung by men pretending to be women, given that there were no female Sungura artists.

Conclusion
The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician isn’t a beach read. Although littered with humour and light-hearted moments, the layers of meaning require active reading to be appreciated. Huchu took a tremendous leap of faith in experimenting so much with tone, structure and storyline. While the novel didn’t quite reach what it was aiming for, it is certainly one I will reread in the future to see if hindsight is indeed 20/20.

from http://thisisafrica.me/expats-edinburgh-making-place/

The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician is available in North America from Ohio University Press, in Nigeria and West Africa from Kachifo, in the United Kingdom from Parthian Books and in Zimbabwe and elsewhere from amaBooks.


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Caine Prize for African Writing 2016



Congratulations to the 2016 Caine Prize for African Writing Winner, South African writer Lidudumalingani, for his short story, 'Memories We Lost'. A writer, filmmaker and photographer, Lidudumalingani was born in the Eastern Cape province in a village called Zikhovane. He’s currently based in Cape Town.
His winning story, “Memories We Lost”, explores mental health through the relationship of two sisters in a South African village, one of whom is schizophrenic and the other her protector. The sister’s situation deteriorates as her care is entrusted to Nkunzi, a local man who employs traditional techniques to rid people of their demons.
“The winning story explores a difficult subject – how traditional beliefs in a rural community are used to tackle schizophrenia,” said the prize chair, Jarrett-Macauley. “This is a troubling piece, depicting the great love between two young siblings in a beautifully drawn Eastern Cape. Multi-layered, and gracefully narrated, this short story leaves the reader full of sympathy and wonder at the plight of its protagonists.”
The Caine Prize is awarded annually to an African writer of a short story published in English. This year’s panel of judges consisted of Delia Jarrett-MacauleyAdjoa AndohMuthoni Garland,Robert J. Patterson and Mary Watson. Five writers made the 2016 shortlist: Abdul Adan(Somalia/Kenya), Lesley Nneka Arimah (Nigeria), Tope Folarin (Nigeria) and Bongani Kona (Zimbabwe) and of course Lidudumalingani.

The Zimbabwean edition of this year's Caine Prize anthology, The Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things, has just arrived at 'amaBooks from the printers. The collection features the shortlisted stories together with those written by writers participating in the annual Caine Prize workshop, including previous winner NoViolet Bulawayo from Zimbabwe.



Tuesday, June 28, 2016

On Tendai Huchu’s The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician: A Peep into an Existentialist’s Mind

Tendai’s The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician is not a book one starts reading and then discards. It is also not a book just riddled with beautiful lines and expressions. Simple in language and easy to comprehend, in what seems a full representation of Zimbabweans in the diaspora, Tendai Huchu, himself a diasporan, takes it upon himself to talk of Zimbabweans far away from home. The Magistrate, a man clearly in love with his roots and desirous of home, relives the experiences of his country by listening to its musicians, he finds himself walking through the streets and modernity of Edinburgh with Zimbabwe booming in his ears. Tendai, in an unflinching and unsentimental way, makes us realise the power of losing power and importance. The anchor this book holds on to is the capacity to make the characters friends with the reader. The most distinctive character being the Maestro. The most comedic, Alfonso. It is difficult to find something wrong to pin on this book.
One should not be deceived by the title of the book and restrict the book to three characters. There is a ring of more characters around these three Ms and it is these other characters that Tendai uses to create a Zimbabwean community. Remove the three Ms from the book and all the talk about Sungura music and Zimbabwean traditional musicians, as well as the long walks and descriptions of the roads of Edinburgh, are simply page fillers and nothing else.
The Magistrate, The Maestro and The Mathematician are apt representations of the lives of immigrants, especially African immigrants and the challenges and changes they face. Most importantly it highlights the common denomination that all immigrants face: survival. And when life is a matter of survival, nothing is too low to do, including coming as high as being a magistrate to going as low as ‘wiping bums’. But it is in the Maestro that we find the questions that many fear to ask themselves, what is life all about? Thinking becomes almost a fearful thing, and to quote the Maestro, ‘once you started thinking for yourself, you were lost.’
Too much thinking is sometimes associated with too much walking, going round and round just as the person thinks more and more. And this, Tendai exemplifies well in the many walks and morning jogging the Maestro engages in. A sort of abandon in one’s self comes up and the world all of a sudden becomes a tiring place in which to be and loneliness becomes a craving. The-world-should-leave-me-alone attitude is developed and people are pushed away, sometimes with the hope that one person won’t give up on you. And when it gets worse, a sort of comprehension of the unknown is sought, and answers are looked for everywhere. This is the perfect representation of the Maestro, and this character, though seeming unimportant in the whole weave of the story, plays that important role of representing lost immigrants who find companionship in themselves, and later on in death.
‘At work, he was friendly, exuding something resembling warmth, but outside of work he kept to himself. There was something safe in the white pages of a book,’ this, in reference to the Maestro, can’t be captured better, but it doesn’t end there because even ‘his running was a solitary thing; he did not want to be part of the herd. It was a way of tapping into himself, which meant the discovery of his own limits at a time when he was beginning to accept the idea of his own mortality.’ Tendai further strengthens the depth of this character by introducing to us the works the Maestro reads; works that are a peep into his consistent questioning mind. First the Maestro misses work, three days in a row, something he’d never done in four years. Then ‘the arbitrary division of time into seconds, hours, weeks, months and seasons’ becomes meaningless. The disposal of his furniture and television and eventually the burning of his books, the one thing he treasures. This is the turning point.
It is the way Tendai works out the gradual decomposition of the mind of the Maestro, from a sane looking man, to a man whose thoughts are scary and complex and questioning, to a man who runs away from his past and into a mind not his own that makes one wonder what strange thoughts might be going through the minds of those close to us.
The Maestro is a representation of the philosophical and intellectual part of this book despite him being an O’level certificate holder; whereas, the Mathematician, a PhD student, whom we’d probably expect more intellectuality from, displays hedonism. Tendai made his book a collection of contradictions.

Tendai’s Three Ms might not jolt you out of your chair, but it will definitely leave you laughing and contemplative.
Reviewer: Socrates Mbamalu


http://www.olisa.tv/2016/05/21/on-tendai-huchus-the-maestro-the-magistrate-and-the-mathematician-a-peep-into-an-existentialists-mind/

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Tendai Huchu at the Balham Literary Festival

Tendai Huchu is at the Balham Literary Festival at 12.00 on Saturday 11 June, discussing 'Landscape and atmosphere' with Will Cohu and Sarah Hall.
"Will scrutinises ordinary working lives in his most recent novel and Tendai wonders why we mention landscape at all given the novel’s interiority; they are joined by award-winning Sarah Hall whose novel 'The Wolf Border' takes us into a more violent wilderness."

For information about the event and to book tickets please look at https://balhamliteraryfestival.co.uk/artists/tendai-huchu/

'A Way of Being in the World', the Balham Literary Festival takes place from 10-12 June 2016 at the Bedford Pub in Balham, London SW12

"We are all connected to our landscapes, whether urban, rural or those inside our heads, but how do we bring them to life? There are people – writers, photographers, musicians, artists across all genres – who describe and animate our surroundings with insight and verve, and we are delighted to welcome some of the greatest of these to our festival in June 2016.
"Whether it’s Robert Macfarlane on the English Eerie, Helen Macdonald on flying H is for Hawk around the world, Inua Ellams leading you on a Midnight Run through South London, Ruth Potts and Molly Conisbee introducing you to Bread, Print and Roses, China Miéville skewing the picturesque, Lauren Elkin on flâneurs, Tendai Huchu on why we include landscape in contemporary fiction or Sarah Hall taking you into the wilderness of The Wolf Border, we urge you to join us for a dazzling approach to the worlds around and within us."

from https://balhamliteraryfestival.co.uk

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Pathisa Nyathi's 'Zimbabwe’s Cultural Heritage' discussed in the Sunday News



Zimbabwe’s Cultural Heritage (2005, amaBooks, Bulawayo) is a collection of essays on the culture of the Ndebele, Xhosa, Tonga, Shona, Kalanga, Nambya and Venda ethnic groups of Zimbabwe.
The author offers a brief historical background for each group providing the reader with a contextual framework to appreciate and understand the various cultural practices under review. According to Nyathi, in the book’s introduction, “Zimbabwe’s Cultural Heritage was born out of a desire to promote and preserve for posterity our nation’s cultural traditions.”
In the years following Zimbabwe’s independence, literature tended to sketch out grotesque images of colonial rule while also being a conveyer-belt of optimism for the better days ahead (Waiting for the Rain), the constructed history eulogising the newly born “nation”
However, other writers began to express deep disgruntlement, to them all they could see was a “Long Time Coming”, rather a delayed dawn of Uhuru. In the contested terrain of identity and belonging, Pathisa Nyathi, decided to “decriminalise” the subject of ethnicity, thus validating Brilliant Mhlanga’s call for the celebration of ethnicity and not criminalising it through narrow nationalist discourses. Zimbabwe’s Cultural Heritage offers a unique contribution to the subject of belonging in Zimbabwe. It avoids both the idea that “patriotic history” should take the lead in constructing the national image, and the anti-nationalist narratives. Hence Nyathi’s work steps away from the literary norm of this time.
He states on the back cover that “the emphasis of this book is not on the histories of the groups, but on their cultural practices.” This substantiates the unique character of the text and makes it a relevant point of reference in cultural research. It is outstanding discourse compensates for the limited narratives of its kind in Zimbabwe where literature is often politicised and ethnic narratives further polarise the nation. Though Zimbabwe has a variety of cultures, it has inherited a legacy of a domineering culture, resulting in the younger generation being ignorant of their cultural roots. Nyathi’s work clearly sets out the differences and the commonalities of the cultural practices of the groups considered in the text, demonstrating that there is a “Zimbabwean Cultural Heritage”. Nyathi searches into the empirical depths of ethnic values and norms and how these define belonging and identity.
When Nyathi speaks of the Ndebele it is clear that he is an insider. Here oral tradition is still alive in the 21st century and can be used as a research method. At the same time written history validates his submissions. The language and tone is not discriminatory, it speaks to all age-groups. Nyathi’s style of inter-marrying English with local languages helps in articulating the key issues. The indigenous terms used give life to the isiNdebele, Venda, Kalanga and other groups’ practices.
There is more of an emphasis on the Ndebele than on the other groups; perhaps this is to balance their relative absence in other historical narratives of the ‘nation’. Not all ethnic and racial groups in Zimbabwe are considered in this text and one would hope for a second volume to give consideration to these.
Above all, Nyathi has shown that ethnic groups are pillars of national consciousness and that they must be celebrated in order to dismantle any leanings towards intolerance.

by Richard Runyararo Mahomva
Sunday News Online: May 8 2016
An excerpt from http://www.sundaynews.co.zw/nyathi-and-mathema-turning-to-afrocentric-paradigm-of-conceptualising-the-nation/

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Tendai Huchu in Germany

 Tendai Huchu has recently finished a ten-day reading tour of Germany, promoting his novel The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician, or Maestro, Magistrat und Mathematiker.

The photos below are from the event held in Dresden in Kreuzberg.

Thanks to the German publishers Peter Hammer Verlag, Dante Connection and Dirk Naguschewski.

The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician is available in the United Kingdom through Parthian Books, in North America through Ohio University Press, in Nigeria through Kachifo, in Zimbabwe and South Africa through amaBooks and in the rest of the world through the African Books Collective.