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