🌻 BOOK REVIEW 🌻
Diaspora Dreams by @andrewchatora is about Kundai, a Zimbabwean man who migrates to England to be with his pregnant wife, Kay. We also follow him through his journey of being a black teacher, teaching English in England. Kundai realises that life in England is different from that back in Zimbabwe, as he struggles to fit in due to race, misandry, immigration issues, betrayal and him also having mental health issues.
• Racism: Kundai is met with racism as soon as he steps his foot at Heathrow Airport. It is also evident at his workplace as a teacher. He misses out on promotions because of race. Even though the story is in the first person, one can tell that he is deprived of opportunities due to systematic racism.
• Misandry: The writer shows that women can be evil (nothing to do with feminism). I like how African writers are showing this side of women e.g Iya Femi in The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives. Kundai faces women who are quite mean at his workplace and also his 2 wives ( he married twice) would lie about domestic violence so the law would be on their side. His wife’s sister also kicks them out of the house on his second day in the U.K, even though she had agreed to take care of them for a few weeks.
• Immigration Issues: The protagonist comes to the U.K on a very restrictive visa. He found it quite challenging to be taken care of by a woman, which I think was due to his background of always bring a provider. He ended up working illegally and was being mistreated because the employers knew his situation. This is something that is happening in the U.K. It reminded me of Obinze from Americanah when he was in England as an illegal immigrant before being deported. However, Kundai does not get deported but later gets his papers and becomes a teacher. On top of that, he was also the breadwinner so he took care of many of his relatives. The black tax was explored in this book and that is something most Diaspora’s can relate to. This was one of the main reasons that led to his divorce.
• Betrayal: Kundai is betrayed by his girlfriend, Zettie (after he gets divorced from Kay) when she sleeps with his brother. I found this hard to swallow because the character seemed to be more lenient towards Zettie than Kay. To Kundai, Zettie appeared to do no wrong and it piqued my interest to know the reason behind his reasoning. He is also betrayed by his brother Kian and his second wife Jacinda, who did not tell him about her H.I.V status. He is also betrayed by the system which fails him for example, at the mental health institution, the Thames Valley police and at times, the Court of Law.
• H.I.V: The protagonist finds himself in a difficult situation when his second wife (Jacinda) does not disclose her status. She becomes defensive and even ends up fabricating lies which end up almost defaming Kundai’s reputation as a high school teacher. As a reader, I was eager to know if his mental health issues were due to H.I.V but he was negative. I also learnt a bit more about the disease, disarming some of my biases.
• Mental Health Issues: Although Kundai’s condition is revealed at the end of the book, one can tell that something is amiss due to the inconsistency of events. I found it quite hard to follow as I was not aware of his condition until the last chapter. This could be a turn off for a new reader or a mood reader (depending on your mood) but it was a different take. It also opened the room to discuss mental health in men. How they are ignored or not effectively attended to when they are depressed (blame that on patriarchy) or going through something detrimental. Kundai missed out on bonding with his children as he was restricted after his Kay took him to court, missing opportunities due to race and having to endure certain micro-aggression daily.
There are more topics and themes, for example, the Black Lives Matter movement which is what drove the writer to write this book.
However, personally found it very difficult to relate to Kundai. Despite his mental health issues, he appeared to see himself as one who could do no wrong. He did not take account of his part in a remorseful way. He embodied a typical Zimbabwean man and he reminded me of the nameless and unreliable protagonist in Harare North by Brian Chikwava. They possess the same ego and conservative, primitive thinking, especially towards women. As I mentioned before, I found Kundai to be a bit more lenient towards Zettie than Kay, which amplifies the narrative that black women are expected and taught to endure suffering than white women. Maybe due to being a mood reader, I took it personally (I usually do e.g I have a grudge with Akin from Stay With Me) because as much as Kay was begrudged, I feel the character drove the narrative of the angry black woman. As opposed to Zettie (who he cheated with on Kay) was always jovial, accepting (which I felt was from a tourist and adventurous view) and “sassy”.
The writer’s style was quite different as one ends up realising they are reading Kundai’s diaries whilst he is in a mental health institution. I also found myself laughing at times because his style portrayed how as Zimbabwean we love using big words. This could also be due to him being an English teacher but I found it funny and it reminded me of home.
Diaspora Dreams can be found on Amazon.