Chatora’s Harare Voices and Beyond is a welcome addition to the crime novel cannon
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 like Bryony Rheam’s All Come to Dust and CM Elliott’s Detective Sibanda series (Sibanda and the Rainbird, Sibanda and the Black Hawk Sparrow, Sibanda and the Death’s Head Moth) being prime examples. While these novels are primarily set in the southwestern region of Matebeleland, Andrew Chatora’s Harare Voices and Beyond is a welcome addition to the cannon.
Set in the capital Harare and narrated mainly from the confines of the maximum security prison of Chikurubi, Chatora’s novel is very reminiscent of Petina Gappah’s A Book of Memory. An interesting twist to Harare Voices and Beyond, which would make it more of a suspense novel than a traditional crime novel, is that the plot opens with the main protagonist Rhys Williams on trial for killing his brother and Williams never denies the murder , instead choosing to allude to extenuating circumstances leading to the deaths, making Harare Voices and Beyond a “whydunnit” rather than a “whodunnit”. Such a theme is featured prominently in detective novels which often ask the reader to weigh what they feel is good, bad, and morally drab.
That’s it for me and my mother. Will we die? There is no other way the courts are going to get us out for the murder of my brother Julian, my mother’s youngest son who went rogue.
Rhys Williams tells the story of his brother’s death, starting with the moment his family traumatically lost their farm in Mazowe at the time of the land reform project in Zimbabwe. 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 entire family. However, the novel as a whole is narrated from the point of view of multiple characters.
As Chatora wrote this story, she showed all sides of Julian’s addiction, highlighting the circumstances that often lead to drug use and abuse in Zimbabwe which is 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 notes:
“Actually most of my kind in our downtown Harare gang had similar lives like me, stemming from broken homes with no father figure. Those who ran away from home, living on the street. Ben was one of these guys , grew up without a father, his mother struggled to make ends meet, so he’d do anything for a living.”
This opens up the wider conversations about addiction in Zimbabwe as many young people are recruited into the drug rings early. 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 high. Chatora deftly describes Julian’s downward spiral of stealing from his family to feed his meth habit:
“But I needed a fix. How else can I get my fix if I can’t steal Doris’ jewelry or any other household valuables that have come my way? One has to do what one has to do. What people seems not to know “Drugs in downtown Harare weren’t cheap. And listen folks, you really don’t get what it’s like when one needs one’s fix, do one? Now, don’t tell me you do, because you clearly don’t. “
On the other hand, Rhys Williams meets sultry Marina Thompson, a vivacious mixed-race British girl. While Julian’s story is that of a privileged young man who turned to drugs after surviving trauma, Marina represents the other side of the coin as she grew up in the British foster care system as drug addiction made her only parent a unfit mother. Despite her disavowal of recreational drugs, Marina finds herself entangled in this world with no choice. Perhaps Chatora chose to include Marina as a character to embody the long-term consequences of drug abuse in society.
Chatora also looks at other themes such as belonging. While her previous works position Zimbabweans in the diaspora and provide social commentary on their adjustments to life in the UK, Harare Voices and Beyond questions the place that white Zimbabweans and immigrants (Malawians and Mozambicans) occupy in their nation and how this speaks to their emancipation. or lack thereof, asking the reader the question of who he should belong to and what criteria (in any) guarantee nationality.
Harare Voices and Beyond asks its readers to actively participate in conversations about important topics such as substance abuse and belonging as it takes the accessible form of a suspense novel and thus brings these topics alive for both literature enthusiasts and the casual reader.
Harare Voices and Beyond is published by Chicago-based Kharis Publishing — an imprint of Kharis Media LLC and will be released on February 27. Million, Walmart, Target Christian Books and other online booksellers.
The book adds to Chatora’s growing stable of contemporary fiction/migrant literature. It is a welcome addition to her catalog, Diaspora Dreams and Where the Heart Is, also published by Kharis Publishing and available on Amazon.
Andrew Chatora is a Zimbabwean novelist, essayist and short story writer based in Bicester, England. Lui grew up in Mutare, Zimbabwe and moved to England in 2002. His debut novel, Diaspora Dreams (2021), was met with acclaim and nominated for the National Arts Merit Awards (2022). His second book, Where the Heart Is, was published that same year to considerable acclaim.
Chatora’s forthcoming book, Born Here, But Not in My Name, is a brave, humorous and psychologically insightful portrait of post-Brexit Britain. Chatora is known for his harsh and honest portrayal of the migrant experience.
Heavily influenced by his own experience teaching black English in the UK, Chatora probes multicultural relationships, identity politics, blackness, migration, citizenship and nationality.