Thursday 5 November 2009


Critical Literature Review gladly presents another review of Caine prize winning author Brian Chikwava's début novel HARARE NORTH. This short review is by fellow Zimbabwean author Christopher Mlalazi whose story collection 'Dancing With Life: Tales From the Township'  was recently given a Honourable Mention award in the 2009 NOMA Awards.

Harare North comes with a warning. Do not read it in a crowded bus or in a queue, because the other people will be wondering, judging from the laughter that will be erupting from you, whether you are going nuts, or pretending to be sophisticated but over doing it.

Harare North, the title of the book, refers to London, and also inferring to the fact that London has been accorded the status of being regarded as the capital of Zimbabwe in the Diasporian northern hemisphere for Zimbabweans seeking exile in the wake of the much publicised political unrests in their home country.

An incisive and open political satire of the Mugabe government, and written in the first person narrative, the book tells the story of an unnamed protagonist arriving in ‘Harare North’ to seek work to try to raise money to pay a debt he owes back in his home country, and to also hold an umbuyiso ceremony for his late mother ‘to bring back her spirit which is still wandering in the wilderness because family squabbles prevented the ceremony from being held.’ 

In his escapades in Harare North, the protagonist is constantly claiming that he does not have a civilian mind, but a military one, for he is a former Green Bomber (the Zimbabwean government youth militia). The military mind that is referred to is employed in making decisions in Harare North that range from blackmail and deceit, to the exhibition of clear callousness. He blackmails his cousin’s wife whom he finds in an uncompromising position with a lover, he deceives his best friend Shingi (who is providing for him after he leaves his cousin because of a frosty reception there from the cousin’s wife) into thinking that he can seduce a female housemate, whilst his real intention is to make the housemate dislike his friend to the extent of  leaving their squat – the protagonist wants the housemate to leave because he feels she is a burden on their resources.

The protagonist also has a speech impediment, and the narrative is almost in baby talk: ‘me I tell them I have been harass by them boys in dark glasses because I am youth member of the opposition party.’ ‘He have forget that me I can give one powerful look.’

Taking into account his speech impediment and the claims he makes of ruthless past crimes whilst still in his ‘jackals’ unit with the Green Bombers, what is revealed in the book is a character that raises goose bumps – a psychopath who believes that civilians have no other voice but need only to be pushed into a ‘yes or no’ situation so as to make things clear on which side they stand before retribution can be meted out on them, which is what he had been trained whilst in the militia.

What is also amazing about this book is the consistency in the narrative voice considering the language employed to write it, and Chikwava maintains it throughout the whole story, proving once again after his prestigious 2004 Caine Prize Award that he is a master story teller.

[Christopher Mlalazi is the co-winner of the 2008 Novib PEN Freedom of Expression Award at the Hague and he has recently published his first novel 'Many Rivers' with LION PRESS UK. His short story collection 'Dancing With Life: Tales From the Township' which was published by Ama Books Publishers was awarded Honorable Mention in the 2009 NOMA Awards].

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