Harare North, By Brian Chikwava

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The Independent Culture

"Harare North" is London (just as "Harare South" is Johannesburg), which is where our anonymous first-person protagonist fetches up, with all his belongings in one suitcase, sharing a squat in Brixton with other assorted Zimbabwean refugees. His mission: to keep his head down and not be noticed, to say nothing about his past, and to return to Zimbabwe to perform a ceremony to allow his dead mother's spirit to return to her place of birth. But first, he needs to get some money.

Harare North is a story of the struggle to survive in a world where nothing is legitimate: all work is untaxed and underpaid, all trade is black market, everyone's papers are missing or fake.

The plot is thin, but the novel's strength lies in its energetic, often laugh-out-loud funny customising of the English language. ("He also have bum that bounce about in his trousers in disorganised way like bunch of firewood that have not been tied properly.")

The hero is not, on the face of it, a sympathetic character, being a killer, blackmailer, Zanu-PF supporter and apologist for Robert Mugabe. Yet, by the time you reach the end, you really do sympathise with him.

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