I read Tendai Huchu’s Hairdresser of Harare many years ago and the thing I remember most about it was its sense of atmosphere and colour and brightness and heat. The man makes you feel and that makes reading easy, makes you forget you’ve been on this train for an hour and a half, or that you’re tired. So I was excited to try The Maestro, the Magistrate and the Mathematician and I bumped it up my TBR list pretty soon after I received it.
The book tells the story of three Zimbabwean expats in Edinburgh. It introduces you to their family and friends, pinpoints their lives at a moment in time and watches how they run parallel, interweaving occasionally in unexpected ways. I don’t want to say too much about the plot of this book as I came to it thinking it was one thing, enjoyed it for what it was and was fascinated towards the end to find it was something else entirely.
Though Huchu’s native Zimbabwe is everywhere in his work, it never feels like a cultural lesson. Songs are not translated, terminology is not explained and I like that sort of thing. It’s not always practical perhaps but I like to learn language by context. It’s how children learn their native tongue and it’s how big readers get a good vocabulary, find words in their brains they know the meanings of even if they don’t quite know how they got there. In a world where so many half-hour TV shows offer a five-minute recap at the beginning of every episode, it doesn’t hurt not to have everything spelt out for us.
In this book, Tendai Huchu writes varied voices masterfully. I imagine him as the sort of person who listens to other people’s conversations on buses, catches snatches of them over his shoulder in coffee shops, listening to the lilts and language choices and filing them, perhaps even unconsciously, for future use. I suppose I’m one of those people too and that’s why I enjoy his work. It’s a tangled web of connections with some satisfyingly twisty turns. His characters are funny, sad and frustrating at times and his book is people-watching in paper form.