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Andrew Chatora’s Debut Novella “Diaspora Dreams” Stares Back at the White Gaze

Zimbabwean writer Andrew Chatora stares back at the white gaze and immigrant alienation in his debut novella, Diaspora Dreams. The English-teacher narrator is increasingly alone between a host country that cannot validate him and a home country that is too damaged for rear-view dreams.

James Joyce played us into a looped reading of his unreadable last novel by starting mid-sentence and ending with a comma. Andrew Chatora’s grammarian precision and endless dishing of relationship drama could not be further away from Joycean obscurantism. But the ending of his novella takes us right back to the introduction: “I have capacity. How else have I managed to keep my thoughts consistently in my secret diary, and yet the powers that be here continue to misrepresent my persona…” We first encounter this self-affirming opening statement seemingly out of place as Chatora forays into his fascinating story as an immigrant English teacher in England. We reread the introduction with new eyes when we notice, towards the end of the book, that Chatora was writing from a mental asylum all along. This device is crucial for a layered story that must not only stand at attention to the white gaze but also pick apart alienation to a point where England becomes the madhouse.

Diaspora Dreams follows the main character, Kundai, through England as he goes through career transitions and failed relationships that ultimately cost him his sanity. Kundai is a sincere, if not hypersensitive, narrator who feels like a departure from the madcap personae and self-mystifying diction favored by diaspora novelists. The build-up of the story is dragged down by journalistic cliche as the narrator got it coming for “bloodthirsty occultists with an unbridled sense of entitlement to pillaging Zimbabwe’s resources ad infinitum” and the political games that prop up “the same old, the clueless dinosaur establishment.” Close thematic counterparts of the novella, say Alain Mabanckou’s Black Bazaar, which shares its themes: racism, cuckoldry and diaspora alienation, would have typically hidden the narrator behind exaggerated self-mockery and black humor, but we emotionally locate Chatora’s protagonist from the start.

Kundai is always looking over his shoulder to defend his abilities from fellow teachers, students and parents. His department head and the white kids’ parents cannot make peace with the fact of “a non-white teaching their children English,” not to speak of his “heavy Zimbabwean accent.” “I don’t know whether I was initially naïve, or I chose not to see it, or perhaps my awareness grew as the scales increasingly fell from my eyes, but I found myself having to increasingly prove to my new colleagues I was worthy to be called an English teacher…” The head of the English department “was exceedingly pedantic and believed in needless micromanagement where she would patronise and subject me to humiliating microscopic gaze of my practice as if I was a novice in teaching.”

“This could be the first manuscript about what it means to teach English to English pupils when you are actually from a former [African] colony”

Writer and literary critic Memory Chirere loves where Chatora is going with all this. “This could be the first manuscript about what it means to teach English to English pupils when you are actually from a former colony! We grew up listening to narratives about how awkward it is for a white man or woman to teach in an African school. Here you give us new insights. You have said things that are yet to be said through literature. Another first!” The first “first” got to be Chatora’s courage to write with one foot in a feminist gulag, putting his women on blast in this high tide of political enlightenment. Kundai never seems to get it right with love life. His first wife, Kay, and her mother go from materialist to vindictive; his white girlfriend, Zet, cheats him with his brother; and his last wife, Jacinda, sends him down with her secrets, manipulative moves and social-media drama. 

For all his moralistic self-writing – we know Kundai’s standing with the Black Lives Matter Movement, the overly correct scruples of his white girlfriend, his insistence on being socially and professionally “enough,” and just how many effs he gives for judicious employment practices – he seems rather chilled about the bad rap he picks up from his romantic fallouts. He has a broad back for the criticisms he rightly and wrongly gets, from his own infidelity to being framed on social media. Is this a masculine refusal to be vulnerable or an attempt to desexualise the libertine aspects of the novella?

This is a powerful contribution to emerge from a debut novelist, and Chatora may just as well have fired a robust salvo signaling the advent of a fresh voice in African Literature.

“I will always maintain our (immigrant) stories should never be forgotten, the heroism, the desperate struggles that many of our people have had to endure in their adopted homes the world over should forever be kept green in the memory of posterity, and this is the remit Diaspora Dreams seeks to achieve,” Chatora says in his Foreword. The judgements, confessions and silences of this debut novella build a layered consciousness necessary for telling these stories. This is a powerful contribution to emerge from a debut novelist, and Chatora may just as well have fired a robust salvo signaling the advent of a fresh voice in African Literature. 

Diaspora Dreams is now available from Kharis Publishing and on Amazon to order both as eKindle and paperback format.

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About the Author

Andrew Chatora

Andrew Chatora

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 novella, Diaspora Dreams (2021), was approvingly received and nominated for the National Arts Merit Awards (2022). His second book, Where the Heart Is, was published in the same year to considerable acclaim. Chatora’s forthcoming book, Born Here, But Not in My Name, is a brave, humorous and psychologically penetrating portrait of post-Brexit Britain. Chatora is noted for his acerbic and honest depiction of the migrant experience. Heavily influenced by his own experience as a black English teacher in the United Kingdom, Chatora probes multi-cultural relationships, identity politics, blackness, migration, citizenship and nationhood.

''Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories affords Andrew Chatora to tell his story with more urgency than before. Chatora roars into centre stage with this charmed confluence of the novella, the essay, the treatise, the short story and the vignette. Here is a collection to startle you out of your complacency.'' – Memory Chirere, University of Zimbabwe

In his fourth literary offering, Andrew Chatora gives us eleven stories written in a wide range of settings and painting the lives of Zimbabweans from different walks of life. From the impenetrable Harare prison to the working class Mutare and its domain of shebeen queens to suburban Harare and a politically charged United Kingdom in a post Brexit world, Chatora takes the reader on a grand tour of outrage. Notwithstanding the shifts in scene and setting, these stories have one pervasive theme in common - they capture the suffocation and desperation of Zimbabwe and her Diaspora and fully describe the precariousness of living in environments that are increasingly hostile.

Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories transcends the grass is never greener perspective with a nuanced interrogation of the socio-political realities of its characters. Chatora fashions a diverse cast of characters whose complexities and eccentricities evoke the utmost in us.
"Where The Heart Is offers a nuanced view of one family’s struggle to negotiate cold Britannia as they face dicey neighbourhoods, sketchy liaisons, and perennial ill-fate. Chatora’s diaspora is not the glorified El Dorado; it is an honest place of grit and survival. A stellar contribution."

– Tariro Ndoro, Author Agringada: Like a Gringa, Like a Foreigner

For migrant Fari Mupawaenda, life cannot be complete without quitting the back breaking struggle for survival in the UK and returning to the laid-back streets of a warm Harare… but does it make sense for him to want to return to the periphery once more? The man who returns, why does he return? To what does he return?

His wife, a zealous cosmopolitan, the daughter, a conflicted bed-hopping undergraduate, and the son, a budding homosexual, will not follow Fari in his trip to what they see as the back of beyond. They have decided to invest fully where they are.
Fari’s reverse trip is a story about the human body, a tight memory test and a duel between geography and anticipation…

Masterful in style and form, the narratives in Andrew Chatora’s Where the Heart Is are intensely provocative.

-Memory Chirere- University of Zimbabwe
“Chatora gives us an honest account of the migrant’s experiences in a world that seeks to silence him. Diaspora Dreams is simultaneously suffocating and isolating. Battle after battle, the reader is constantly thrown into the unforgiving world of a black man in a white man’s world.” – Tariro Ndoro, Author, Agringada: Like a Gringa, Like a Foreigner

Diaspora Dreams is Andrew Chatora’s debut novella. It details the life and struggles of Kundai Mafirakureva, a Zimbabwean immigrant living in the United Kingdom. When Kundai departs a failing Zimbabwe for the greener pastures of England, he is convinced that his luck will immediately change. Yet what he finds in the UK convinces him that all that glitters is not always gold.

Chatora takes us on a journey that acquaints us with Thames Valley, where Kundai must negotiate his place and his voice in a world where African men are not welcome, a world where racial prejudice is still rampant. Set against the backdrop of petty classroom squabbles that constantly remind Kundai of his lower status as an immigrant and as a black man, Diaspora Dreams exposes the tensions of working in the diaspora and the complicated dynamics between community and authority experienced by black men.

The pressures of Britain also bear down on Kundai’s family and relationships, threatening, in the words of du Bois, to “tear his soul asunder.” This is a novel with comedic elements gleaming with personal values and beliefs, sometimes an aching story to read, but never without excitement and hope as you watch this black man’s life unfold.
“Harare Voices and Beyond takes us on a journey through the dark recesses of the human psyche.”

─Sue Quainton, Bicester, United Kingdom

A drunken confession exposes a dark family secret. Rhys appears to have it all. A white Zimbabwean living in affluent Borrowdale Brooke area he gets involved in a freak traffic accident. Therein unfolds a confession which unleashes a cathartic chain of events in the family’s hitherto well-choreographed life, a family whose lived experience becomes microcosmic and an eye opener to Zimbabwe’s seemingly closed, forgotten, white minority community.

Through offering a rare insight into lives of the white community in post-independence Zimbabwe, Harare Voices and Beyond explores the dynamics of love, money, family feuds, identity politics, false philanthropy, and respectability inter-alia. Two families’ lives are inexorably linked in this fast-paced narrative which not only traverses multiple locations, but also juxtaposes the seedy underbelly of Harare with the leafy northern suburbs, and little-known Marina Thompson from UK Durham University all appear linked in a drama-infused finale that will shock and numb the reader.

Today in Literature

The Breaking of Our Tribe: A Review of Where the Heart Is by Andrew Chatora


Charles Lovemore Mungoshi – Eulogy to Greatness


Navigating New Identities – A Review of Andrew Chatora’s “Diaspora Dreams”


‘‘Home is Where One Is’’ – A Review of Andrew Chatora’s Where the Heart Is


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