Huchu’s intriguing mental journeys

Memory Chirere Correspondent

I admire the parallel process arrangement of this novel. Three separate stories running together like three fine novellas from one shelf, only “confluencing” together at the very end. Running dutifully together like three weaving cords. Maybe in that regard, this is the first novel of its type by a writer from my country, Zimbabwe.

Title: The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician

Author: Tendai Huchu

Publisher: AmaBooks

I don’t know why I initially found it difficult to find time to do a nonstop read through Tendai Huchu’s second novel, “The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician”. Months! Going, stopping, going. Stopping! Then I was happy to be finally going on forever for the rest of the week!

I was even able to read through Tinashe Muchuri’s new Shona novel, “Chibarabada” in between “The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician”.

Maihwe-e! I was carefully feeding into their two different feel for life, place and people. Warning: I have always been ambidextrous with books! I do funny things when you surround me with books.

I was even emotionally flattered to learn that there is a character in “The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician” itself, who reads like me, two or more novels at the same time! But unlike me, he starts to lose his bearings and decides to burn books!

That is the maestro for you. The reason: After reading many books nonstop, he finds that “each of these books was just a jumble of words with which he had no connection. . .” And after burning them, “he curled up on the carpet and cried himself to sleep.”

There is a way in which “The Maestro, The Magistrate and The Mathematician” asks you to go slowly, cross-checking details, underlining whole passages for closer reading in another time and another place. This novel allows you to use the page marker and do other things, read other things even, until you are able to ‘return to the source’ and take another dose to last you another whirlwind tour. The references to Geography, Music, History, Architecture etc. are laden with nuggets that demand further contemplation and investigation.

What I am telling you is that this novel is compact. I had a similar experience with Bryony Rheam’s “This September Sun” and Allende’s “The House of The Spirits”. The book tells you: You can’t deal with me in one gulp, because I was written slowly, over time and. . .you can never really go away forever from me.

Now that I have finished reading it, I feel that I have been paid. I chat with friends at home and abroad about this novel and they marvel at the comments I make.

I admire the parallel process arrangement of this novel. Three separate stories running together like three fine novellas from one shelf, only “confluencing” together at the very end. Running dutifully together like three weaving cords. Maybe in that regard, this is the first novel of its type by a writer from my country, Zimbabwe.

Now that Alfonso is not exactly what I thought he was in the beginning, I have learnt a lot about the power of holding out a key detail. I must now go through this whole story again, mentally, laughing at myself for having been led down the garden path. Alfonso is not exactly that drunken fool who enters the novel through the Magistrate’s door one morning.

Through him, you learn that this novel does not underestimate what the establishment in Zimbabwe can achieve, miles and miles away. That is why I am still laughing every time that I read the very last page of the novel. Alfonso! O, Alfonso!

At the heart of this story are three Zimbabwean men, residing in Edinburgh, Scotland, far away from Harare and Bindura. They are named the Maestro, the Magistrate and the Mathematician.

The way these men think and go is typically Zimbabwean. Although they are far away from it, turbulent Zimbabwe of around the year 2000 is their recognisable fulcrum. Their thoughts on Zimbabwean politics are not bitter but careful.

But the Maestro is my man. Through him, Tendai Huchu makes the most poignant contribution to literature and philosophy: “I went on a journey of discovery, trying to find the meaning of life, he said. I discovered that it is many things to many people at many times, and that , for me, and for me only, because you can only discover the meaning of your own life and no one else’s, that the meaning of life lies in giving a bit of yourself to someone else. . . And he lay there and told her everything: wide open spaces, blue skies, laughter and the sound of sweet rain falling on zinc metal sheets, the brown puddles the rain makes, splashing in the puddles under the moonlight, cups of tea in the sunshine, cricket pavilions, of time that is measured not by the tick-tock of a clock, but by its nearness to eternity, how the crickets sing their song in the night and birdsong picks up the refrain at dawn, all these things and more. . . ”

Here is a man who goes far away from home searching for his lost soul. Then he starts to read book after book after book, until he discovers that if a book contains an idea, then it contains something of the writer’s soul. . .

I must add that I enjoy disliking the Magistrate. It is because despite his huge social loss that comes through leaving Zimbabwe and the privileges he used to enjoy, he still has the holier than thou air around him, like most government officers everywhere whom I have learnt to loathe.

His wandering around Edinburgh; taking in the environment and dreaming of little and far away Bindura, tells you that here is a bully from Zimbabwe, looking for a new pedestal to sit on in order to start to bully other people all over again.

I am startled that the opposition sees method in him! I can reveal that I like it when that fatherly pride of his is constantly punctured for him by his no longer submissive wife and unsympathetic daughter.

However, I catch myself wallowing in and enjoying his deep appreciation of Zimbabwean music. He turns all the remembered songs into a map of his good and bad memories of Zimbabwe. I am also like that.

I don’t know what to do with the young Mathematician and what finally happens to him. I honestly think that he wanted an opportunity to find meaning out of life, love, sex and friendship.

Tendai Huchu’s second novel is a serious work of art, meant to accompany you through three different mental journeys of travellers from one country to a foreign city. This is a novel about cities through the eyes of newcomers.

I think you may want me to say that this is a novel about migrants and how they peer into their souls from behind totally new cultures and infrastructure. But I will add: You come closest home when you travel further and further from home! — KwaChirere

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