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Fiction Friday: Two Excerpts from The Maestro, the Magistrate and the Mathematician, the New Novel by Tendai Huchu

The Maestro, the Magistrate and the MathematicianThis Fiction Friday, read two excerpts from Tendai Huchu’s latest novel The Maestro, the Magistrate & the Mathematician.

Huchu’s first novel, The Hairdresser of Harare, was released in 2010 to critical acclaim, and has been translated into German, French, Italian and Spanish. Huchu is a creative writing PhD student at the University of Manchester, and was shortlisted for the 2014 Caine Prize. In their review of The Hairdresser of Harare, The Guardian called him: “An unusually astute and unflinching writer.”

The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician was released this year by Parthian Books in the United Kingdom and amaBooks Publishers in Zimbabwe. It will be available in the United States next year through the University of Ohio Press and it is to be translated into German and Italian.

In her column “It’s All Write” for Botswana’s Mmegi newspaper, author Lauri Kubuitsile said of the book:

The three storylines might work well alone, but are made more by being woven expertly into and through each other. The writing is beautiful, in places stunning. The descriptions of Edinburgh are from the pen of someone who loves that city and it can’t help but show through his words. There are many books about Africans in the diaspora, many books that appear similar after a while, but not this one. This one stands apart.

Jeanne-Marie Jackson recently interviewed Huchu on the Good Book Appreciation Society. She asked him about the “downward mobility” in the novel, where “former officials and highly educated people” from Harare “end up working low-wage jobs at nursing homes and grocery stores” in Edinburgh, and how that social reality corresponds to form.

Tendai Huchu: I envisioned the novel as a book of illusions. It is kinda hard to get stuck in without spoilers, but here goes. The title of the novel itself is a misnomer. It is presented as a literary novel but it is actually a genre novel of a very specific kind, The reader will find that though the narrators of all three novellas are reliable, they are still being lied to. So in that sense, looking at the “downward mobility” thing, I suppose most of the novels I read about diasporas are about folks on a sort of upward trajectory and I kind of wanted to go in the opposite direction to those narratives.

The question of form is a little trickier.

The final structure and language in the text were because of the failure of my first drafts of the damn thing which envisioned a more integrated, conventional narrative. When that didn’t work, I riffed off Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy and decided to have the three characters in the same city, but inhabiting distinct universes.

Read two excerpts from The Maestro, the Magistrate & the Mathematician, shared by Huchu on The Zimbabwean:

The air shimmered there, tar melted and buckled. People walked with beads of sweat rolling down their backs. Yet, even in this small town, there were two suns. In the low density suburbs the sun was wondrous, a joyful gift of warmth and light, but one had only to cross Chipindura Road from the east or Chipadze Road from the north into the high density suburbs to find the sun fierce and angry. There it assailed the residents, wilted the few patches of grass, stripped everything bare, revealing brown, cracked earth. If the sun infused life’s essence into the low density suburbs, in the townships it drained this very same essence away.

When he thought about home, the Magistrate often looked to Arthur’s Seat. He left the loch, tracking back up the road. The gorse gripping the sides of the hill was the bright yellow of the Bindura sun. The plants were strong, aggressive, making a niche on the bare sides of the hill. There was a hill in Bindura too, right in the middle of the town. It was made of granite that had formed deep in the bowels of the earth, patiently waiting until wind and rain had, slowly, over many millennia, stripped the soil off and left the hill high above everything else. Arthur’s Seat was a volcanic creation. Magma had pushed violently up from the belly of the earth, sculpting itself by sheer will.

“I have my own night nurse,” the Magistrate replied, buttoning up his suit. Mai Chenai wore a sombre black outfit that matched her mood. Their last few weeks had been busy with visits to the midwife, meetings with the school and the social worker.

Autumn crept in regardless. The remaining vegetables in the garden were dying. The trees were crowned with orange leaves that they shed with each passing day. The wind blew the leaves along the street where they gathered in piles in the gutters and blocked drains.

“We have to face this together. That boy’s father is coming soon. We must look respectable.”

“What kind of man lets his son run around like a wild buck sticking his…” The Magistrate straightened himself. He could not finish his train of thought.

“They are both children and they’ve made a big, big mistake. We have to deal with the consequences now. There’s no changing the situation.”

But they had tried. Mai Chenai had taken Chenai to the GP, to see if there was still a chance. It was too late. The Magistrate had been relieved. He’d sent away a few women in his day for terminations. Even here, where it was permitted by law, he still had been unable to face the idea, preferring instead to let Mai Chenai deal with it. He was ashamed of his cowardice, like Pilate washing his hands.

He held Mai Chenai’s hand and kissed her cheek. She laid her head on his shoulder and wiped a tear with a handkerchief. The air was suffocating, a heavy silence settled on the house.

There was a knock on the door. The Magistrate opened it and Alfonso burst in. He grabbed the Magistrate’s arms and looked at him.

Related stories:

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    Author image courtesy of The New York Times


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