For the Joy of Reading: The Maestro, the Magistrate and the Mathematician

Tendai Huchu is a young Zimbabwean writer, living in Edinburgh, whose first book “The Hairdresser of Harare” convinced me that he is someone to follow.   It was written with such verve that you were carried along in the maelstrom of the story, taking you places that you may not wish to go.

“The Maestro, the Magistrate and the Mathematician”, on the other hand, seems to be a collection of three disparate stories held together by a location, Edinburgh, and some mutual friends.   It is not.   The concluding chapter strikes you like a thunderbolt, giving a fear-inducing indication of what it can be like to be a member of the Zimbabwean diaspora.   So I will say no more about the brilliance with which the story is constructed.

The story revolves around three Zimbabweans, two black and one white living in Edinburgh, whose lives intersect, in ways which they had not planned and in ways that they do not necessarily want to happen.

The Maestro is white, and is living in Edinburgh because he does not feel any connection with his country.   He is working as a shelf packer in a supermarket (shades of Samuel Best) and the only solace he has in his life is books (shades of Andrew Raymond Drennan).   The Maestro has clearly been psychologically disturbed by his experiences as a white man in Rhodesia, and you probably will not find him easy to sympathise with.   But Tendai Huchu’s skill in writing is such that you probably will, against all your instincts to the contrary.

The Magistrate was a man of some influence in Zimbabwe being exactly that – a Magistrate.   He fell foul, in some way, of the authorities and had to leave the country with his family.   His wife is now working as a nurse, and his daughter is exploring adolescence in ways that horrify him.   His own job, working nights in a care home, is not fulfilling, and he fills his time with Leopold Bloom-like wanderings of Edinburgh’s streets.

The Mathematician is a young man, brimming with the confidence of a devil-may-care, certain that his academic future will be bright, and enjoying the pleasures that come with his youth and his virility.

None of them think that their lives will be affected by the other two, and all of then are wrong.   Tendai Huchu uses his eye for the significant detail, his undoubted descriptive power and his storytelling talent to weave a tale that will leave shocked, but more deeply understanding the problems of a diaspora community.

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