Monday, April 30, 2018

Three Men, Three Stories, One Novel

Tendai Huchu's The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician reviewed in The Herald

Tanaka Chidora Literature Today
Tendai Huchu

“The Maestro, The Magistrate and the Mathematician” is a dense novel. It’s that kind of novel whose publication makes you assume that the author has written his last book and would go on an eternal sabbatical.
It’s written in a way that makes you think that the author wanted to tell many stories at once: the story of Zimbabwe, the story of Edinburgh, the story of the Magistrate, the story of the Mathematician, the story of the Maestro, the story of a man trying to come to terms with all the books he has read and the emptiness of existence.
It is a novel that mixes soccer and bohemian excesses with very deep philosophies like those of Deleuze, Lefebvre, Derrida, Walter Benjamin and many other prominent thinkers, writers, politicians, artists and so on, sometimes without necessarily directly referring to them.
During the course of reading it, I had to visit some of the philosophies that the Maestro, one of Tendai Huchu’s intriguing characters, reflected on. My suspicion is that Huchu did a lot of research before writing this novel.
The novel is a story of three men who, throughout the course of the narrative, predominantly live separate lives.
The author seems to have no intention of making them meet, but when they finally do, the author makes sure that the meeting is mentioned in a nonchalant way, as if the author had not foreseen it, as if the meeting is of no consequence.
The covers of the Nigerian, German, American and Zimbabwean versions of the book
I actually liked this part. I liked the idea of three lives not being forced to be intertwined for the sake of telling a story. This makes it truer to life and less affected. I don’t like affectation. I don’t like it when I am watching soccer. I don’t like it when I am listening to the news. I even look forward to its absence in prayers and sermons. Lol!
So, we have these three men living in Edinburgh: one is a former Magistrate who, even though he is aware of the irony of the continued use of the title after his downward class traffic to the abject spaces of caregiving, has no qualms with being addressed as the Magistrate.
He is in a continuous search for somewhere to firmly plant his feet (physically and symbolically), an exercise that keeps him wandering, physically and mentally, along obscure paths of migrant life.
He only finds a modicum of purpose when he gets involved in the politics of the home he left behind, but this too is just fallacious.
We also have the Maestro: an enigma even to himself. His profuse love for books and cryptic philosophies makes those pages dedicated to him a thesis into the various philosophies that attempt to explain human life.
These philosophies are so deep that in the mind of the Maestro they even become more cryptic so that one day, the Maestro himself burns all the books and curls himself to sleep.
Then we have my favourite, Farai, a young man who dabbles in academic life and the bohemian mental and physical pleasures that it offers, especially when that academic life involves being a PhD student with research grants pouring into his account and rich parents back home (anxious about their son who is studying abroad) sending lots of money to him.
He is a likeable character, Farai. His presence in this novel allows Huchu to experiment with social media typography in a narrative of serious literary merit.
Another major highlight (for me) in the narrative of the Magistrate is that of occupying physical and symbolic spaces of Edinburgh by invoking the music of the home he left behind (Chibadura, James Chimombe, etc) and pasting it on the Craigmillar Rises of Edinburgh.
This demonstrates a level of creativity that comes when the writer is a reader.
To conquer vast swathes of space by just connecting rhythm to landscape is one of this novel’s major selling points.
Here is how the Magistrate does it: “He got on the bus, switched on his Walkman and caught a song halfway through. He laughed at the irony of Chimombe singing, ‘Zvikaramba zvakadaro, ndinotsika mafuta, ndiende Bindura, handina zvinoera.’
“Now this song would fix his memory to the 14 going past the Craigmillar high rises, which stood at the edge of the estate, a stone’s throw from Peffermill” (p. 71).
His sense of landscape does not only require this exercise, but also demands walking: “Travelling on the bus, he did not feel quite the same intensity traversing the city as he did while walking. It altered his perception of space at a mental and physical level.
“On his morning walks, he felt tiredness in his muscles, the full topographical awareness of how he was oriented on a gradient, a connectedness not possible at the same level of consciousness on the bus” (p. 48).
Huchu pulled this off effortlessly to the effect that I still suspect that he might have studied such philosophical iterations like those of Lefebvre, De Certeau and Walter Benjamin before writing this story.
I love reading narratives by writers who read and the truth is that Huchu is completely on another level. He reads. He writes.
My friend’s favourite is Alfonso. Alfonso is everything. He is the man to go to when you need a job in the UK. He is the man to go to when someone dies and no one knows what to do with the body.
He is the kind of man who turns up at your doorstep with a bottle of brandy in his pocket at a time when you are craving for some brandy. And oh, he is also capable of getting slain in the spirit and rattling of in that cryptic language of divine fervour right there in front of his drinking buddies whose wives can testify that Deacon Alfonso is a man of God. Lol!
I had read (and enjoyed) “The Hairdresser of Harare” before reading this 2014 offering. But the narrative strength and depth of “The Maestro, The Magistrate  and the Mathematician” came as a surprise.
This one is a completely different narrative and the way it was handled demonstrates Huchu’s versatility.

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