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Navigating Zimbabwe and her Diaspora: Through the Years Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories

When it reaches the bookshops in your neighbourhood this February 2024 you may see that Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories offers a fine assembly of different tones, voices, and settings, giving a view of a Zimbabwe and her Diaspora that is multifaceted writes Tariro Ndoro.

Zimbabwe’s socio-political landscape and the acutely complex circumstances of the Zimbabwe diaspora informs the eleven stories that form Andrew Chatora’s fourth book and debut short story collection, Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories. Told from the viewpoints of several narrators living in diverse locales, Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories touches on the themes of turmoil, tenacity, broken society and sometimes sheer desperation.

When it reaches the bookshops in your neighbourhood this February 2024 you may see that  Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories offers a fine assembly of different tones, voices, and settings, giving a view of a Zimbabwe and her Diaspora that is multifaceted writes Tariro Ndoro.

The collection opens with the scene of a man being thrown “kicking and screaming” into a Harare jail cell in the title story, “Inside Harare Alcatraz” which takes place in Harare’s maximum-security prison. The prison is nicknamed ‘Alcatraz’ after the now defunct impenetrable and infamous Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary Prison off the coast of San Francisco. In this story, Chatora weaves the tale of an unnamed man who is assigned to go to this prison and pretend to be a prisoner in the same cell as two “infamous” political prisoners, highlighting the harsh and politically abused environs of Zimbabwe’s correctional services. In this story, Chipendani the protagonist must make difficult and surprising choices that will change the shape of his life forever.

However, the bulk of the book is set in Dangamvura, a township in Mutare, Zimbabwe’s third largest city. Although Chatora has affectionately mentioned both Dangamvura and the greater Mutare in his first two books, it is in Inside Harare Alcatraz that he fully pays homage to his hometown.  

“Estelle the Shebeen Queen and Other Dangamvura Vignettes,” for instance, is the  story of a Dangamvura  shebeen queen who runs a not so covert brothel in which she employs her own daughters:

I was privileged enough to be neighbours with Estelle and only lived two doors away from her. Estelle was an unmarried woman in her late fifties with a brood of daughters, who mostly were single mothers crowding at her famed 4 roomed house; kwaMagumete as it was called; though it beats me how they were able to live comfortably under such squalid conditions of overcrowding, constantly stepping on each other’s toes. The irony growing up in my hood, Estelle’s house was termed four roomed house but in reality, they were two bedroomed houses itself an indictment of the colonial regime which never seem to take into account the big number of African families and how they could benefit from corresponding adequate housing.

Navigating Zimbabwe and her Diaspora: Through the Years
Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories

Chatora fully describes the underbelly of township life as he details Estelle’s and her daughters’  methods of ensnaring hapless patrons and then mortgaging their debts to the hilt. These women are villains but, like in Yasher Kemal’s Memed My Hawk, the villain can as well be a plausible hero. Estelle and her daughters must be hitting back at society that has always disposed women.

In one other story in this book, one family, the Chatikobos, barely survives. Later on, Chatora delineates the foibles of the newly rich black middle class in “Of Sekuru Kongiri and Us” as one man sacrifices his cultural upbringing at the altar of upward mobility. His wife is a louder expression of what Kongiri is able to hide about himself. After the sinister matter-of fact tone displayed in “Estelle the Shebeen Queen,” “ Of Sekuru Kongiri and Us,” one has already experienced a more playful side of both Dangamvura and the author.

Chatora then uses the template of court hearings and legal procedure to illustrate gender politics and the violence that often surrounds sex. Two such stories are “A Snap Decision” and “Tales of Survival: Avenues and Epworth.” The former takes place in the United Kingdom, in which a woman; Pamhidzai has been accused of killing her mother’s lover. The story is, in many ways, reminiscent of Jag Mundhra’s 2006 film, Provoked, which tells the story of a young Indian woman who migrates to the United Kingdom for an arranged marriage and yet she only face years of abuse at the hands of her husband. Seeing no other way out for herself, she snaps and burns him alive. Chatora has a knack for steeping his stories in legal complications. You may want to coin a term legal-literature around Chatora’s works.

In “A Snap Decision,” the protagonist, Pamhidzai, endures abuse at the hands of a revolving door of men who date her mother. In the end, she stabs the last one to death. Pamhidzai’s story also highlights the effect of emigration on African families, a theme Chatora often visits in his other books:

It was moments like these when I felt myself spiralling into a dark pit of despair, I was unable to extricate myself from or to claw myself out of. Why did I have to belong to such a dysfunctional family as ours? I hated mummy more and blamed her for driving dad away in the first place.

 “Tales of Survival: Avenues and Epworth,” on the other hand, describes the life stories of several sex workers living in one of Harare’s diciest ghettoes – Epworth. Herein Chatora highlights the social and economic ills that force young women to take to sex work when they are robbed of other choices. But the most important thing is that several key people try to put a stop to all this. Whether this is achieved or not, is for the reader to decide.

Andrew Chatora’s Short stories remind me of what Elizabeth Bowen’s words that the short story, more than the novel, is able to place man alone on that “stage which, inwardly, every man is conscious of occupying alone.”

 Chatora’s other books, Diaspora Dreams,  Where the Heart Is, and Harare Voices and Beyond are set in Thames Valley, England with several scenes set in Zimbabwe. The three  books have the story of one family told in long form fiction over a long period of time. Not so with Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories. In this instalment, Chatora uses more characters to inhabit more locales and the greater part of the book is set in his native Zimbabwe. From the jail cells of Chikurubi to the leafy suburbs of Harare, Chatora methodically reveals the desperate lives of the base.

Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories is available through and major online retail sites such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble,, Walmart, etc., or by contacting the author at: Order your copy today!

Reviewer Biography

Tariro Ndoro is a Zimbabwean poet and storyteller. Born in Harare but raised in a smattering of small towns, Tariro holds a BSc in Microbiology and an MA in Creative Writing. 

Her work has been published in numerous international journals and anthologies including 20.35 Africa: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry (Brittle Paper, 2018), KotazNew ContrastOxford Poetry, and Puerto del Sol. Her poetry has been shortlisted for the 2018 Babishai Niwe Poetry Prize and awarded second place for the 2017 DALRO Prize. Agringada is her debut collection

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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

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


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”


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