Sunday, 27 November 2011

Harare North by Brian Chikwava

In an astonishing, revelatory original debut, Caine Prize for African Writing winner Brian Chikwava tackles head-on the realities of life as a refugee....
When he lands in Harare North, our unnamed protagonist carries nothing but a cardboard suitcase full of memories and an email address for his childhood friend, Shingi. 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 squat. This shocking, powerful first novel is the story of a stranger in a strange land—one of the thousands of illegal Zimbabwean immigrants seeking a better life—with a past he is determined to hide. From the first line the language fizzes with energy, humor, and not a little menace. As he struggles to make his life in London (the "Harare North" of the title) 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; 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, this novel is an arresting account of London as it is experienced by Africa's dispossessed.

The unnamed narrator of Chikwava’s alternately funny and appalling novel is an émigré who arrives in London with little more than a cardboard suitcase. He’s on the run from trouble back in his native country of Zimbabwe, where he ran into difficulties as a member of President Robert Mugabe’s Green Bombers youth militia, who meted out violent punishment to those perceived to be enemies of the state. He finds his old schoolmate Shingi living in a squalid flat in Brixton along with other hapless émigrés, including Tsitsi, who makes a living renting her baby to women out to scam social services. Worry about being taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers and of being deported by immigration services alternates with the desperation of running out of food and money. And yet, the book is often darkly comic as the narrator, employing a vivid vernacular style, struggles to parse the strange ways of Londoners. This striking debut novel offers a wholly distinctive voice and an up-close view of the plight of illegal immigrants. --Joanne Wilkinson


"The darkest of comedies, fueled by an electric, wholly convincing voice."  —Observer

"An hilarious and wrenching examination of immigrant life . . . from a prodigiously talented and uncompromising writer."  —Ali Smith, author, The Accidental

"Chikwava has created an utterly compelling anti-hero . . . mesmerizing."  —Guardian

"A perfectly original and true narrative voice . . . Full of surprises, delicious little tics, and real fire-in-the-belly creativity . . . but importantly, the voice comes off as effortless, and therefore true . . . it’s a major accomplishment."  —Tod Wodicka, author, All Shall Be Well

About the Author

Brian Chikwava is among the exciting new generation of writers emerging from the African continent. His short story "Seventh Street Alchemy" was awarded the 2004 Caine Prize for African Writing.

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