Mary Irvine’s Blog: Music and Literature



Mbira Music

Some thirteen years ago a friend, a Chinese doctor of traditional medicine, told me I was never too late to learn. An old adage which in this situation referred to starting tai chi. He was right as I still practice tai chi and have taken up ku fu fan and a couple of sword forms. Not very good at any but enjoy it and it’s healthy exercise – as opposed to unhealthy! The adage continues to be true as I have now discovered mbira music. It’s so full of life, whatever the tempo.   A variety of percussion instruments reflecting a long tradition and culture. All the exponents I watched and listened to on YouTube reflected the sheer enjoyment of its exponents. In one example it seemed to be almost jamming but maybe rules have developed over the ages. Don’t know enough about this genre so that is meant as a compliment! There was a unity and interplay amongst all the musicians .Am listening to it as I type although I keep wanting to get up and move. It has that almost hypnotic effect on you.

Also discovered sungara music which also makes you want to get up and dance as well, although not sure I could replicate such energy now – not sure I ever could move so fluently. The dance movements are as harmonious as the perfect song harmonies which come across as natural.

What am I on about you may ask? Well, I discovered all this new enjoyment as a by-product of reading:

‘The Maestro, the Mathematician and the Magistrate’ by Tendai Huchu


 How often are writers advised ’Write about what you know’? Mr Huchu certainly knows Edinburgh which almost becomes a character in itself. We walk the city with the characters. It becomes alive. The music is by no means a by-product but is very much integral to the novel as a whole, in particular the voice and character of the Magistrate who now lives in Edinburgh with his family and has to come to terms with loss of standing and cannot help comparing that life with his present life. Another M is a younger compatriot, the Mathematician, who takes full advantage of the life he can access in Edinburgh but does intend to return to his country. The third M is a young man who tries to escape a life with which he is not at ease through reading books.  Mr Huchu depicts a place where a shared nationality forms tenuous ties that do not necessarily equate to loyalty or kinship. A shared nationality, all dealing with a sense of loss or identity  but with different, contrasting values.

Three disparate men, three different voices. This could lead to confusion but doesn’t because Mr Huchu is in full control. The overlap of their lives may be surprising but totally believing for such is life. This intertwining is not foreshadowed, is cleverly devised and not at all contrived. The book has many layers and may be read on different levels. Serious matters are addressed but both subtle humour and incisive wit percolate. I loved the ‘cameo’ appearance at the party!

I couldn’t predict the ending at all with any certainty and had to re-read the book – after a space of a few weeks – to see it with fresh eyes. The fresh eyes led me to the conclusion that Mr Huchu is quite the philosopher.

How pleasing to come across a book of literary merit, an enjoyable read but one that does address modern issues. Thoroughly enjoyed it as I did ‘The Hairdresser of Harare’, also by Mr Huchu. Both very different books but both well worth a read.

The Maestro, the Mathematician and the Magistrate
Paperback £8.99 Kindle £0.99 Buy on amazon

Mary Irvine, 11 October, 2016

Goldenhand Waterstones Glasgow Sauchiehall St Monday 24 October, 2016
Spangled Cabaret, The Rio Cafe, Monday 10 October, 2016

This section: Books, Talks, Poetry and Creative Writing Events, Mary Irvine: Writer and Philhellene

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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

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