Book Review : Harare North

An unnamed protagonist carries nothing but a cardboard suitcase full of memories and an email address for his childhood friend, Shingi, when he lands in Harare North. Finessing his way through immigration, he spends a few restless weeks as the very unwelcome guest in his cousin’s home before tracking down Shingi in a Brixton squat.

An unnamed protagonist carries nothing but a cardboard suitcase full of memories and an email address for his childhood friend, Shingi, when he lands in Harare North.

Finessing his way through immigration, he spends a few restless weeks as the very unwelcome guest in his cousin’s home before tracking down Shingi in a Brixton squat.

Harare North is the story of a stranger in a strange land, one of the thousands of illegal Zimbabwean immigrants seeking a better life in England with a past he is determined to hide.

As he struggles to make his life in London, which is referred to as Harare North and battles with the weight of what he has left behind in a strife-torn Zimbabwe, every expectation and preconception is turned on its head.

The inhabitants of the squat function at various levels of desperation, Shingi struggles to find meaningful work and to meet the demands of his family back home, Tsitsi makes a living renting out her baby to women defrauding social services; and Alex claims to have an important job in Croydon. Fearlessly political, laugh-out-loud funny and with an anti-hero whose voice is impossible to forget?

The nameless narrator of the story is a former militia who got caught up in the in-fighting between the Zimbabwean police and the Green Bombers, the notorious militia, and has to flee Zimbabwe when he is charged with murder. He seeks political asylum in the UK but is planning to make the equivalent of US$5,000 in London and fly back as he is sure that with that kind of money he can buy his way out of the criminal justice process.

His struggle to raise the money sees him resorting to the low-paid jobs in the underbelly of London, but he also takes advantage of Shingi, his friend and squat-mate and blackmails his cousin’s wife when he discovers that she’s having an affair.

The struggle intensifies as the narrator realizes that he has to get back to Zimbabwe as soon as possible for a ceremonial ritual for his deceased mother. His mother’s grave, in a rural village, may soon be destroyed the Zimbabwean government which is evicting the villagers to roll in mining operations since valuable minerals have been discovered there. With events becoming increasingly fractious, the story comes to its denouement towards the end when the narrator’s mind begins to unravel and, simultaneously, he and Shingi become a single entity.

His past life as a youth militia trained to kill ‘enemies of the state’ taught him about survival of the fittest in the tough foreign world. The Book is not just about Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe but also about an immigrant’s life in London and how a hunter can also become the hunted.

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