Saturday, January 2, 2016

Q&A with Tendai Huchu

Tendai Huchu is the author of the novels The Hairdresser of Harare and The Maestro, the Magistrate and the Mathematician. He was born in Zimbabwe and now lives in Scotland.
Q: How did you come up with the main characters in The Hairdresser of Harare, Vimbai and Dumi, and why did you decide to set part of the book in a hair salon?
A: Writing the book was a spontaneous affair. It started with Vimbai’s voice, the first line: “I knew there was something not quite right about Dumisani the very first time I ever laid eyes on him,” and I was out of the gate after that…
I decided to use the salon as a microcosm of Zimbabwean society, a place where people from all walks of life can meet and interact organically without me needing to orchestrate those encounters.
Q: What do you think the book says about tolerance and intolerance in Zimbabwe?
A: I’ve discovered in the last couple of years that what the author intends of the work and what the reader deciphers are two very different things.
I never set out to write a polemic for or against one thing or the other. Instead, if the book demonstrates tolerance/intolerance in its characters, this is merely a reflection of the situation in that simulation. I think most societies fluctuate on who/what they will tolerate depending on historical, cultural, economic, political factors and so forth.
Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: I sort of knew what was what, but along the way there were a few surprises. The first draft was written quickly in a fortnight. I was so afraid of losing Vimbai’s voice in my head that I didn’t stop writing, only stopping to eat or sleep when my body couldn’t take it.
Q: You also have another new book out, The Maestro, the Magistrate and the Mathematician, which deals with Zimbabwean immigrants in Britain. Was your writing process similar with this book?
A: I wish that were the case, but no, writing the new book was a slower, deliberate process, because at a technical level – the architecture and brickwork required to produce it – it is a more complex work, more moving parts, etc., so it required a different methodology.
I have come to the conclusion that each work makes its own demands on the creative process, thus, having the idea is not enough, I must also figure out the correct way of expressing the idea in prose.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: At the moment, I am translating Ignatius Mabasa’s brilliant novel Mapenzi into English. I’m also taking tentative steps into a new novel – let’s just say it’s not going as planned at the moment. I just haven’t figured the damn thing out and it’s driving me insane. Call an ambulance!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Not really, no, but thank you for having me. Happy holidays.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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