The suspicious death of a Zimbabwean general radiates in ways overt and subtle in the lives of five couples in Harare.
George’s debut novel is a remarkable juggling act for a relatively brief debut, involving 10 lead characters, from a variety of cultures, intricately woven into the fabric of a corrupt and often violent state. So if it stumbles, as it does, it’s not for lack of ambition. Among the players are Jerry, a nurse and husband of April, a British diplomat stationed in the country; Shawn, an American joining his native-born wife on her return to her home country and trying to insinuate his way into the gold-mining rackets; Mandiveyi, a political insider involved in the death of Gen. Rex Hnongo (who plays no direct role in the story aside from the introduction); and Patson, a poor taxi driver who comes into possession of a gun involved in the intrigue. George has a keen ear for the cultural divisions between Africa and the West: “Our economy collapses, money’s worth nothing, HIV… and we still get up in the morning,” a man tells Jerry. “You guys with your insurance and credit and pensions and welfare state, I think you have plenty of time to worry.” And George crafts some intriguingly ominous interludes involving Shawn’s young daughter and her worldly-wise conversations with her invisible (and malicious) friend. Most of the story’s intrigues, though, turn less on geopolitical complications than on garden-variety infidelity. Just about everybody seems to be managing both a young child and an affair, which helps intersect the characters but doesn’t necessarily illuminate them. George is striving for territory that’s been mastered by Graham Greene and Norman Rush; with fewer characters and a deeper dive into the economic and political tangles of his setting, his novel might’ve competed with that company.
A story that promises global reach but settles for narrow domesticity.