While the literary novel dominates the Zimbabwean scene, genre fiction is no stranger to the nation. The crime novel is a particularly guilty pleasure with titles such as All Come To Dust by Bryony Rheam and Detective Sibanda Series (Sibanda and the Rainbird, Sibanda and the Black Hawk Sparrow, Sibanda and the Death’s Head Moth) by CM Elliott being prime examples. Although these novels are mostly set in the south-west region of Matebeleland, Andrew Chator’s Harare Voices and Beyond is a welcome addition to the canon.
Set in the capital Harare and mostly narrated from Chikurubi maximum security prison, Chatora’s novel bears a strong resemblance to Petina Gappah’s Book of Memories. An interesting twist in Harare Voices and Beyond, which would make it more of a suspense novel than a traditional crime novel, is that it opens with the main protagonist Rhys Williams on trial for the murder of his brother and at no point does Williams deny the murder, preferring instead to allude to mitigating circumstances leading to death, making Harare Voices and Beyond a “whydunnit” rather than a “whodunnit.” Such a theme is well represented in crime novels, which often ask readers to weigh what they consider good, bad, and morally gray.
That’s it for me and my mother. Are we going to die. There is no other way the courts will let us go for the murder of my brother, Julian—my mother’s youngest son who has become a vagabond.
Rhys Williams tells the story of his brother’s death, which begins when his family traumatically lost their farm in Mazowe to the Zimbabwe Land Reform Project. Traumatized, his younger brother, Julian, turns to drugs to numb his pain and it is this addiction that ultimately leads to the destruction of the family as a whole. However, the novel as a whole is narrated from the point of view of several characters.
While Chatora was writing this story, he showed all sides of Julian’s addiction, highlighting the circumstances that often lead to drug use and abuse in Zimbabwe, an important topic as drug abuse in Zimbabwe is on the rise due to youth unemployment and poverty. As one of Julian’s drug dealers noted:
“In reality, most of my kind in our gang in central Harare had similar lives to me coming from broken homes with no father figures. Those who ran away from home, living on the streets. Ben was one such guy, he was raised without a father. , his mother was barely making ends meet, so he did everything for a living.”
This opens up a wider conversation about addiction in Zimbabwe as many young people are recruited early into drug circles. Another ugly aspect of the drug trade is the way it tears families apart as addicts care less and less about the people around them as they chase the next drug. Chatora skillfully describes Julian’s downward spiral into stealing from his family to feed his meth habit:
“But I needed a fix. How else can I get my fix if I don’t take Doris’ jewelry or any other household valuables I found? A man’s got to do what he’s got to do. What people don’t seem to know? Medicines in downtown Harare aren’t were cheap. And listen people, you don’t really understand what it’s like when someone needs their medicine, do you? Don’t go telling me you do, because you obviously don’t.”
On the other hand, Rhys Williams meets the sultry Marina Thompson, a lively British girl of mixed race. While Julian’s story is that of a privileged young man who turns to drugs after surviving trauma, Marina represents the other side of the coin as she grew up in the British foster care system as her only parent’s drug addiction made her an unfit mother. Despite her renunciation of recreational drugs, Marina finds herself entangled in this world through no choice of her own. Perhaps Chatora decided to include Marina as a character to embody the long-term consequences of drug abuse in society.
Chatora also looks at other topics such as belonging. While his earlier works situate Zimbabweans in the diaspora and provide social commentary on their adaptations to life in the UK, Harare Voices and Beyond interrogates the place white Zimbabweans and immigrants (Malawians and Mozambicans) occupy in their nation and how this speaks to their disenfranchisement or lack thereof of the same, asking the reader the question to whom it belongs and what criteria (in any) guarantee nationality.
Harare Voices and Beyond asks its readers to actively participate in the conversations surrounding difficult topics such as substance abuse and belonging, while taking the accessible form of a suspense novel and thus making these topics alive for literary lovers and casual readers alike.
Harare Voices and Beyond is published by Chicago-based Kharis Publishing — an imprint of Kharis Media LLC and will be released on February 27. Copies will soon be available to order in digital, paperback, and hardcover from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books a Million, Walmart, Target Christian books, and other online booksellers.
The book builds on Chatora’s growing stable of contemporary fiction/migrant literature. It is a welcome addition to his catalog, Diaspora Dreams and Where the Heart Is, also published by Kharis Publishing and available on Amazon.
Biography of the author
Andrew Chatora is a Zimbabwean novelist, essayist and short story writer based in Bicester, England. He grew up in Mutare, Zimbabwe and moved to England in 2002. His debut novel, Diaspora Dreams (2021), was critically acclaimed and nominated for the National Arts Merit Awards (2022). His second book, Where the Heart Is, was published the same year and was a great success.
Chatora’s forthcoming book, Born Here But Not in My Name, is a bold, witty and psychologically penetrating portrait of post-Brexit Britain. Chatora is known for his sharp and honest description of the migrant experience.
Strongly influenced by his own experience as a black English teacher in the UK, Chatora explores multicultural relations, identity politics, blackness, migration, citizenship and nationhood.