Music and food are transporting to the diaspora community.”The Maestro, the Magistrate & the Mathematician” are emigres to Scotland from Zimbabwe. The authoritarian rule of President Mugabe is a contributing factor, though none sought amnesty. The novel is overtly more social than political, particularly as succession in Zimbabwe is again in the news.
Sungura is the music that reminds the Magistrate of his upper middle class life in , Zimbabwe, now that he is working as a health aide in Edinburgh. At the country club in Zimbabwe that background Sungura music “wasn’t his style, rather something in the background of the culture that could not be avoided, but after a while this peasant music with its whiny guitars and hard drums had grown on him.” The societal differences and change in economic class require adjustment.
” ‘Aika, Alfonso, you are here.’ Her familiar tone bothered the Magistrate. Back home he would have been Babamudiki or VaPfukuto at the very least. This western business of calling people by their first names riled him. He reasoned it was the consequence of an individualistic culture, as though everyone had simply sprung up from nowhere. Some utopian ideal of equality- calling Her Majesty, Liz! The Shona way, the right way, stressed the nature of the relationship. The individual was the product of a community and had to be placed in relation to the next man. It was the glue that held them together, giving each value.”
The diaspora is a great equalizer. Alfonso, a servant in Zimbabwe, is a hustler and huckster. He worked for the upper class family of the Mathematician in Zimbabwe and is under suspicion about their downfall and economic losses there. In Edinburgh, the Magistrate has to come to Alfonso for a job as a health aide, which because of need he accepts. The Mathematician is a PhD candidate in political economics and continues to live a relatively privileged life in Edinburgh, with an undercurrent of conflict with some members of the Zimbabwe community.
The Maestro is a man with an unknown past who works as a stock clerk at Tesco. He is killed by love of literature. “What are books if not vessels containing minds? Conscious thoughts comes in words, and, if a book contains an idea, then it contains something of a writer’s soul. The Maestro saw that, for all his time in the flat, he’d not once been alone. He had been at the centre, playing the moderator for conversations between a thousand other minds. At the fore were those who had written the works he’d read, but, in the shadows, lay other thinkers, other minds that had influenced them. A slew of minds linked through time and space had resided in the flat with him, challenging one another, contesting, arguing, seeking a higher truth. But, these minds had not done it alone. It happened through him, with him, in him.” He divorces himself from the world, becomes homeless, and indirectly as a reader, dies for someone else’s art.
Mr. Huchu in 2014 was shortlisted for the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing. Ohio University Press selected this novel as one, from a number of African writers, in part because it is commentary about Zimbabwe and Western society. The novel has a surprising twist at the end.
“Sungura was the music of the time, focusing mainly on social issues in an age of hardship and despair. Macheso and his band Orchestra Mberikwazvo were a soothing balm to their fellow Zimbabweans, for who but a man who grew up on a farm, a man with little education, could speak in their voice, to their experience? And he could use his lyrical mastery, this gift of poetry, in Shona, Chichewa, Sena, Vena, and Lingala, the languages of the working-class poor.”
This novel entertains while imparting knowledge about Zimbabweans. A sample of Sungura can be heard at:
Macheso is currently being criticized for his support of Mugabe.