Harare Alcatraz and other short stories
of publication: 2024
I am privileged to reveal that this February 2024, Andrew Chatora, the UK based Zimbabwean novelist, is set to release his debut short story collection called Inside Harare Alcatraz and other short stories.
The author of Diaspora Dreams has temporarily quit the novel to give us this charmed confluence of the novella, the short story, the vignette, and the poetic essay.
A collection of shorter forms usually allows the artist to tell his story in tit bits and with more varied urgency than what a novel allows.
This book of eleven
pieces, is made up of briefly fleeting and powerful scenes. In his best moments, Chatora shows us the kaleidoscopic experiences of what it means growing up in
Zimbabwe’s Dangamvura, Mutare, which breathes like Leopold Senghor’s Harlem.
One should not
miss the exciting series of short pieces under the title Estelle, the Shebeen Queen and other Dangamvura vignettes because Estelle
rules here. She arranges and re-arranges
everyone in Dangamvura, without having to leave her seat! She can toss over the so-called man’s world the way a gambler tosses a coin.
Much early in
the story, we are told that; “Estelle was a woman in her late fifties with a
brood of daughters, mostly single mothers, who crowded her infamous four-roomed
house – kwaMagumete as it was
It is early
days into Zimbabwe’s independence and most mavericks necessarily have to belong to
the ended war, the party, the suburb, the market, the shebeen and to… Estelle!
is a catalogue of characters. There is, for example, the police officer, Wabenzi who deliberately encourages
gruesome tales about himself to float around, trying to cultivate a legendary
folklore status in order to cow the community into submission. A cult hero in a
city in a nation that is emerging from a gruesome war of liberation.
Then there is a
respectable church man, Baba Makuwaza,
who is dragged from Estelle’s shebeen half-naked, with his torn boxers on display,
as Estelle hurles invectives to both hapless Makuwaza and his wife.
Do not miss the other
story, Tales of Survival, which is
set in Harare’s Epworth. Each woman’s narrative in that series carries the day with pathos,
contradictions and humour. That way, the vignettes bring to life the plight of low-class Harare women and how they gradually find ways of grabbing at least
little victories from their miseries.
They are struggling to struggle! And they
Of Sekuru Kongiri and Us is a touching story. For me, it could be the best story in this whole collection.
It is potentially a prize-winning short story! It takes the reader through various
The most delicate part of the story goes: “It’s important
that I make it clear he was not always Sekuru Kongiri. First, he was Uncle
Alfred…the once generous man increasingly became so tight-fisted and miserly
with money, only to his side of the family of course, that Dr. Watson nicknamed
him, “as tight fisted as concrete…” and so Sekuru Kongiri he became up to this
The story has a
unique pace and amazing African cultural depth too. This tragic-comic story will
not fail those interested in the vicissitudes of African culture.
The other story
to look out for is Smoke and Mirrors.
It is set in the UK. At Wendover Heights care home where Zimbabwean man, Onai,
works, looking after vulnerable adults, he meets Iffy, a Nigerian woman, and as
workmates from Africa, they bond easily.
But, one day,
Iffy brings an exciting business plan to Onai: “I know about your wife and
family, I’m not an idiot. It’s not a real marriage I’m talking of here, Onai. You
have dual Zimbabwean-British citizenship, don’t you? Right. So that’s perfect
for us; we would pay you whatever amount you want to falsely get married to
someone from any of the African countries we deal with. It will be a sham
marriage. The idea is to get them into the country, allow them to settle into
their own life; they get a job, acclimatize to their mundane lives here, after
which you file for divorce. Or sometimes, it may be someone already in the
country, and they don’t have legal status. Dead easy, Onai; all parties win.
She gets her papers; you get your money. It’s a win-win for everyone. Easy
In the end, one
of them gets into agony for all this! This story stinks! You may need a towel
as you read it.
Fari’s Last Smile is a
story that reads like something from the pages of Thomas Hardy’s The Distracted
Preacher and other Tales. A man keeps on falling, but rising each time that he
falls… in order to fall again. But each time that he falls, he does it in a
more novel way than before. He is even conned by people back home in Zimbabwe. They
tell him that they are using the money he is sending them to build a house. The
story teaches through tears.
In the title
story itself, which is an intriguing mixture of fact and fiction, there are the
heart-rending experiences of political prisoners, ironically in independent and
contemporary Zimbabwe. You stagger as you watch how those with power in Africa
scuttle the chess board, forcing us to doubt African beauty, African pride and African
wisdom. But the so-called terrible man actually confesses in that story. He is the story. He is the only hope we have. You want to kiss
that story in the end. A terrible beauty is born.
But Andrew Chatora
is relentless. He crosses the English Channel and marches into the African
diaspora community of England and gives us a snap survey of racism which sits at the very core of contemporary
England’s psyche. In one of the stories, which is actually an essay short
story, child narrator, Anesu, bemoans the exigency of systemic and
institutionalised racism. He is a first-generation Zimbabwean-British immigrant
who confronts a system his parents submissively put up with.
you want to puke because the land which purports to be the quintessence of
Democracy is itself rotten at the very core and is full of "white savages!"
In the story A Snap Decision a girl, Pamhidzai, has
to contend with the question: “Why did you stab your mother’s lover?” What
follows is a mixture of the past and present and Andrew Chatora is back to his quintessential
theme of the struggles between men and women in marriage especially at the
instigation of a foreign environment.
Then there is a story in which you are sitting with your daughter in England and the fool
innocently asks you, from nowhere: “Why don’t you use Shona names, since you
are from Zimbabwe, and you are always banging on about preserving one's cultural heritage and identity?”
Then in explaining
to her who you are, you take one winding road that unravels Britain’s long but
pitiful relationship with the migrant. For this story, dear reader, you will
have to put on your spectacles!
I say that
because here is a subliminal, meandering but enlightening treatise on race,
class, gender and identity politics in the diaspora. You are caught up in the rough
and tumble of Britain’s diverse cityscapes, names, ethnicity and place of abode.
One has to deploy them tactfully in the politics of survival.
There is a
somewhat sombre tone in First Wave, a story where a Zimbabwean nurse; Shumirai,
working in the British national health service; takes a poignant tour de force
of how she and her fellow colleagues fought and conquered a global pandemic
which wreaked havoc on lives in its early days.
measure, in a moving tribute, Shumirai mourns and lauds the passing of her work
colleagues, patients and family as she grapples with the government’s
mishandling of the crisis.
charts new territory by offering dual perspectives from different black
narrators’ lived experiences in both the former colony; Zimbabwe and its
colonial master Britain; in a new normal shift, i.e. post-independence reverse
migration cycle of citizens to the former colony.
Andrew Chatora is a noted exponent of the African diaspora novel. Candid, relentlessly engaging and vulnerable, his novels are a polarising affair among social critics and literary aficionados. Chatora’s forthcoming novel, Born Here, But Not in My Name, is a long-run treatment of race relations in Britain, featuring the English classroom as a microcosm of wider society post-Brexit. His debut novella, Diaspora Dreams (2021), was the well-received nominee of the National Arts Merit Awards in Zimbabwe, while his subsequent works, Where the Heart Is, Harare Voices and Beyond and Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Stories, has cemented his contribution as a voice of the excluded. Harare Voices and Beyond has recently been nominated for The Anthem Awards (2023).
+ Previewed by Memory Chirere, University of Zimbabwe