Caine Prize winner Brian Chikwava tackles the realities of life in London for Africa’s dispossessed in this fearlessly political and very funny story of an illegal Zimbabwean immigrant seeking a better life in England — with a past he is determined to hide.
Brian Chikwava is a Zimbabwean writer and musician. His short story "Seventh Street Alchemy" was awarded the 2004 Caine Prize for African writing in English; Chikwava became the first Zimbabwean to do so. He has been a Charles Pick fellow at the University of East Anglia, and lives in London. He continues to write in England and put out an album titled Jacaranda Skits. Chikwava won the fifth Caine Prize for African Writing in 2004 with his short story "Seventh Street Alchemy" (which was published in Writing Still, Weaver Press, Harare, 2003),the first Zimbabwean to win the prize. Making the award, the chair of the judges, Alvaro Ribeiro, described the story as: "A very strong narrative in which Brian Chikwava of Zimbabwe claims the English language as his own, and English with African characteristics.... A triumph for the long tradition of Zimbabwe writing in the face of Zimbabwe’s uncertain future!"
The narrative in Harare North is unique; it dealt away with the entire grammatical caboodle that burdens the writer when using a character who is not versed in the English syntax because it is not his first language; or even if it were, because he has adopted and adapted it to suit his daily needs. Brian Chikwava's protagonist is not burdened with the flowery, indulging, and literary complications of the English language; he has given the layman's English as it is spoken and understood by the majority of non-English speaking folks whose formal education was cut short before they could imbibe the whole grammatical rules. In this way, Chikwava has created a character who is not only believable in his actions but also in his speech and thought. Perhaps this is the closest, and the boldest, one has come to delineating between the two levels or standards of spoken English. The Nigerians do it a lot, but mostly in the dialogue. However, since Brian's narrative is in the first person, this sort of language - again not Pidgin as in the case of most Nigerian authors, but of one struggling to speak English as it is known - runs through the entire 230 pages.
"Do you have enough ginger..." to read Harare North. "Do you have enough ginger..." is our unnamed narrator's favourite phrase. He who ran away from home escaping capture by the police only to be "imprisoned" in a foreign country on another continent.
Yes. You do need ginger to survive in Harare North, London. Harare North is a story of surviving London as an immigrant with no papers. Too afraid to apply for asylum because venturing outside of the "squat" without papers is too risky. Feeding people left behind stories of prosperity and dreams in the making.
Harare North is the story of living in squalor and filth till piece jobs disappear then the rationing of food stops and survival kicks in. Harare North is about jobbing menial and degrading jobs to save toward a flight ticket back home to Zimbabwe but rent, food, water and lights keep on eating into your savings. Harare North is about keeping the dream long enough till the lines between reality and fiction are blurred. The extended metaphor of the suitcase will break your heart. "Carrying your dreams in your suitcase". Harare North is available from all good bookstores. This was a gift from a friend. Thank you my book fairies, I see you seeing me👀👀👀 #lorrainereviewsbooks #lorrainerecommends
A book with a difference! Written by a Zimbabwean living in London it kept me interested enough to keep reading although at times I found the Zimbo-lingo (read pidgin English) irritating. However, it all makes sense if you read it as an African listening to an African............
As a person who was born and grew up in Harare I was thrilled to stumble upon this book because who doesn’t love a book written by one of their own right? Much to my dismay I found the author’s writing style painful to read. I think the character’s themselves and their stories are interesting but I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone.
It took me several attempts to read this book. I kept getting mired in the speaker's language, but when I finally got past page 50, I was in the mode and thoroughly enjoyed the book. Quite an amazing exploration of a psyche gone awry. Now I want to read it a second time.
A truly brilliant and thought-provoking read but the ending totally caught me off guard!! I think I would have given it 5 stars if the huge plot twist had been more than a few lines long. Would have made it easier to understand/digest.
This book is so powerful. I grew up white and middle-class (and British) in London and it was heart-breaking and fascinating to see my hometown through completely different eyes. I’d highly recommend this book, and if you’re very familiar with London I’d recommend it even more.
Got me laughing. It's a pretty sad story, but only feels that way at key moments. The narrator's sense of humour is great. Author has done a decent job of capturing the classic struggle of navigating immigration, and the systemic oppression around it.
I know some people have issue with the voice of the narrator and how it's written, saying it's a negative portrayal of Zimbabweans - I don't disagree in that it could be, but I also like to consider that the author himself is from Zimbabwe and wrote it this way intentionally. Up to personal interpretation I guess!
Not mystery, but pure Zimbabwean-in-Britain noir (though I expect it is termed literary), this was quite extraordinary. Language that flows and jumps just the way people speak it and with those rhythms you can find in English as borrowed and reinvented language, Chikwava sure spins them smooth jazz numbers. But darkness lurks beneath; only gradually do you piece together what kind. It is the brutal life of the newly-arrived immigrant, banal, and yet so utterly chilling I could hardly read it at times. It was almost a relief when it all exploded and the pieces of it began to fall from the sky.
You have no idea how amazing this book is if you don't read it. Chikwava writes a witty and dark book and it leaves you laughing and terrified when you're done. Crawling deep into your duvet terrified.
The language used by the author was painful if not annoying. I have never heard of this language in Zimbabwe or outside. This really put me off as the portrayal I feel is not representative of how Zimbabweans speak.
This book was about a illegal alien with a bad history which has to deal with the government of Zimbabwe who moves to England to get a job to pay off someone in his home country of Zimbabwe. He first moves in with his cousin and his wife. The wife treats him like he is 3rd world trash. Through out the story the protagonist is exposed to racism which is being displayed by things like people giving him weird stares. He is unable to get most jobs because he doesn’t have a work permit. He meets up with his friend in Brixton who has other roommates. The protagonist ends up living with his friends and roommates. The protagonist does things with them that show that he is a bad person which contradicts with his good intentions of coming to England. For instance he says he going to pay rent but doesn’t. Or he eats food from what other Tenets. He even manipulated his original friend on how to get with one of the roommates, really causing the relationship between the friend and the woman to get further and further apart. His friend gets in a scuffle and gets stabbed in multiple places in his body, leading him to go to the hospital, coming back home then the protagonist has to take care of him, which he does taking care of his phone calls, finances (sending money back to Africa). This shows the good side of the protagonist. The protagonist gets a phone call from a cousin of his friend (with the stab wounds) causing him to sets up a time to meet only to postpone it over and over again. This story reminds the reader that because of a immigrants background , with cause and effect, can represent how he relates to other people in more developed countries country most likely is always negative. The protagonist most of the time has bad altercations with the white people in the book because of how he was conditioned in Zimbabwe. The protagonist also has a bad relations with other people because he is a supporter. But I have to say most of his employers were bad .Because of-the way the protagonist talked it was sometimes hard to follow the structure of the plot.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
This book is different, if great art is meant to inspire emotion in someone then this book does so in spades, in terms of style it is simple to read and the writer doesn't employ any overly techniques (except for a time jump in the very first chapter). It has pretty much the same themes as most post colonial African literature I.e Hopelessness, despair a growing realization that your expectations for the future and your faith in established structures and the people who represent them were misplaced etcetera. Another common theme in this type of literature is a clash of cultures, however in "Harare North" most of the African residents seem to have adapted to some degree, especially with the way the characters speak their own dialect of English and even practice African mysticism to some extent. The setting however is in Brixton, and the narrator does a very fine job of describing just what life is like in that part of the world in fact I would argue that he does too good a job of it, cause on more than one occasion I found myself empathising with the despair and rage depicted in the book. It's even more incredible when you realise that the main protagonist is an unlikable, unreliable and often times dishonest narrator. Whose world views and actions are ignorant at best and villainous at worst. One interesting fact about the book is that the conflict is not a result of some external force like racism, or the Immigration authorities. But instead mostly comes from the protagonists themselves whether to themselves or to each other. Infact all of the main characters tend to exhibit a self destructive behaviour of some kind. It kept me wandering just how the author views the world. All in all an engaging read and masterfully done, but not for someone looking for a story about the greatness of the Human spirit or something encouraging.
Quite a hard read. A bit of a stretch because no one speaks English like that in Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans may not speak the best English nor do they have to but no one speaks it like that so it didn't feel authentic. Story could have just made sense written properly. The writing style added nothing but confusion to the story
I am no Zimbabwean. But most every Zimbabwean I know speaks and writes the Queens English better than Brits. Which is a gross over generalisation, but one that coloured my preconceived notions enough to really detest reading this book written in a lazy pidgin.
Just couldn't get into the characters when my eyes and brain suffer fatigue page after page.
Finally finished last night. Set in Brixton in areas I know, lived a group of African illiegal immigrants. Two were from Zimbabwe another was a woman with a baby. All lived in an awful, rat infested squat and tried to make a life together. It gave a good insight into the struggles of finding 'graft' and living hand to mouth. The discovery of the food bin behind Marks and Spencers led to violence. The politics of Africa and the status they had back home comes into play here, where people held court underneath the chestnut tree in the middle of Brixton. The text is written with Zimbabwe dialect which at times makes sense and at others lost me. Overall at interesting enough insight into another world in Brixton and the harsh realities of surviving in an alien world, in territory I am familar with. I was happy to finish it as it is quite difficult read.
I really wanted to like this novel. It's in one of my favourite places in the entire world (London). It has lots of references to my favourite place to read about (Sub-saharan Africa). But I couldn't do it. It just didn't work for me. I felt it started out strong, but by the end, I had no investment in any of the characters. The fatal flaw is the protagonist. He's unlikeable, which in and off itself isn't a problem, there are plenty of unlikeable protagonists, but that Chikwava doesn't give him enough emotional depth that I felt interested in how his story would play out. He just does stuff without any real sense of consequence, and I just didn't care by the end.
In Harare North Brian Chikwava introduces us to a wholly original voice emanating out of a South London squat. The nameless Zimbabwean narrator is recently arrived from Harare, with a questionable past involvement as one of President Mugabe's youthful thugs, clutching a briefcase - the contents of which are not fully revealed until the end of the novel. Our narrator hustles, cheats and scrapes his way round South London introducing us to a cast of characters surviving perilously close to the bread line. This is a novel that will introduce many readers to a new world of illegal immigration, hand-to-mouth living and the unseen trauma many who arrive in Britain bring with them from pervious experiences.
The novel Harare North exposes the unheroic harsh realities of life as an Immigrant in London through the precarious lifestyle of his unnamed and his best friend Shingi. This is a novel that boldly touches on the struggle for identity when living in a diaspora. A post-colonial novel that really has an impact on its readers. It was hard for me to get used to Chikwava's narrative but through the mix of south London slang and Zimbabwean street English, I think the language did well in exposing the dual identities that immigrants must adopt when residing in the western world.
entertaining, looks like the 'struggle' is in every london community. Relocating , Migration...what ever you might call it. There are some lessons to learn from every city, mum, dad or school could never prepare you for.