Diaspora Dreams by Andrew Chatora is about Kundai, a Zimbabwean man who migrates to England to be with his pregnant wife, Kay. The book explores themes such as race, misandry, immigration, betrayal, and mental health by following Kundai’s journey as an immigrant black teacher, who was also struggling with his relationships.
- Racism: Kundai is met with racism as soon as he arrives at Heathrow Airport. He is also racially sidelined from promotions at his teaching workplace. Despite the story being in the first person, you can clearly see that systematic racism deprived the lead character of so many opportunities.
- 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 leading to being taken advantage of by employers who discovered his lack of proper documentation. This is something that is happening in the U.K every day. It even reminded me of Obinze from Americanah who was later deported from England. Kundai is fortunate as he does not get deported. He gets papers and becomes a teacher. “Black tax” was also explored in this book because Kundai was the breadwinner who took care of most of his relatives a complicated situation that later led to his divorce.
- Betrayal: Kundai is betrayed by his girlfriend, Zettie (after getting 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. Furthermore, he is 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 his H.I.V status but he was negative. I also learned 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 wife 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.
Diaspora Dreams verdict
However, I 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 realizing 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 Zimbabweans 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.
Review by Rudo D. M Manyere
Diaspora Dreams can be found on Amazon.
This Article first appeared on a http://basicgirl.blog/blog/