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David Chasumba’s Behind the Facade & Other Short Stories: A review

David Chasumba’s latest short story collection sweeps through immigrant lives, racism and moral duplicity. Chasumba is a master of understatement, keenly alert to his society’s flaws and follies without strongarming the reader into ready conclusions.

Zimbabwean writer Andrew Chatora.



David Chasumba’s Behind the Facade & Other Short Stories: A review

Publisher: Carnelian Heart Publishing (2024)

Author: David Chasumba 

I relate with David Chasumba’s latest short story collection, Behind the Facade and Other Short Stories, in a personal way as I have watched him grow as a writer. Boasting of ten stories which are short and crispy, this book is in keeping with the Chasumba trademark, an engaging and conversational style of writing which has the reader sold from the onset and sustains interest throughout. 

I started waiting for a whole book of short stories from David Chasumba back in the 1990s. Then, Zimbabwe’s leading weekly, The Sunday Mail, always carried a short story by David Chasumba or his contemporaries, Wonder Guchu, Memory Chirere, the late Stephen Alumenda and Stanley Ruzvidzo Mupfudza also deceased. You searched the paper to find a story from these literary pundits, and it went down well with a Sunday tea and biscuit.   


Behind the Facade and Other Stories is Chasumba’s second offering. His debut, The Madman on First Street and Other Short Stories, merited its fourteen-piece range with stories that went from the nationalist struggle and the land reform programme to diaspora lives and digital voyeurism. In the new collection, Chasumba is still locked into nation-building blues with all the distance and nuance that goes into the work. 

Chasumba is a master of understatement, keenly alert to his society’s flaws and follies without strongarming the reader into ready conclusions. The UK-based author particularly loves a good laugh, even as he courses through heavier material like racism and bigotry. In “We Must Talk”, a white man who does not want a black son-in-law, summons the young suitor and harangues him sarcastically:

‘Where have you come from?’  

‘Brixton, London.’

‘Were you always there?’ 


‘No. I moved to Brixton when I was five.’  

‘Where from?’ 


‘Zimbabwe. Mugabe, farm invasions, poverty, corruption, and HIV/AIDS.’ 

Another heavy blow: “I don’t want my Chloe sleeping around with a Black man and bearing brown babies…” And, finally, the gauntlet: “But the fact remains, I disapprove of you marrying my Chloe. You should go back to your black land and marry your own kind. Besides, I don’t think you can afford to look after her.”


The last statement is loaded with the West’s stereotypical view of Zimbabwe and Africa as the embodiment of social ills. The beholder cannot look past his own cataract to appreciate the complex fortunes of a people struggling for meaning like everyone else. “We Must Talk” is, for me, a beautiful short story which is potentially prize-winning. 

David Chasumba: Photo credit- David Chasumba:/Facebook official

Also conspicuous in Chasumba’s collection is the story, “Out of the Lion’s Den”, in which Lawrence is released from Chikurubi prison after serving time for politically motivated charges. The story gives us useful vistas of Zimbabwe’s and Africa’s sometimes cruel politics. Inversely, this is a story about the minute details of what goes on with Lawrence’s wife and family when he is away. They creep all over the place like little creatures on the frying pan. Then … bang; Lawrence is released after a successful Supreme Court appeal by his lawyers which sees the judge quash his conviction!

There are heart rending scenes in “The Homecoming”, in which a woman gets a last-minute reprieve from deportation to Zimbabwe whilst the plane is still on the tarmac at Gatwick airport. The short story itself shines minutiae light on the British home office and its cruel inhuman treatment of failed asylum seekers and refugees whom it has sought to criminalise in recent years in cahoots with the current Tory government.

There is pathos galore in the short stories Chasumba deploys at will. That goes for the story about, Andrew deported to Zimbabwe, a country he no longer has a connection with, underscoring the sense of uprooting many an immigrant is familiar. To add to the poignancy of this story, as a result of his deportation, Andrew is inadvertently eviscerated from his girlfriend and toddler daughter.

In “Dark and Lovely”, the protagonist, Viola, has her light-bulb moment in England, her newly adopted home. After so much personal trauma experimenting with skin-lightening creams, Viola decides all she needs to navigate a tough world of racism and bullying is a little more personal belief and self-confidence. Grudgingly, she concurs with her mother’s wise counsel that black is beautiful. It is like waking up from a dream.

Racism runs through Chasumba’s new collection. In “A Sobering Encounter”, he tackles the nuances of racism subtly as a black motorist is racially profiled and stopped by police officers who condescendingly ask him how he could have afforded his brand-new BMW X5. The motorist’s offence is what the black community in England derisively called the DWB! driving while black offence. 


The titular story, Behind the Facade, is a beautifully written novella which displays Chasumba’s exquisite craft and mastery of language. Readers are welcome to immerse themselves and become part the narrator’s world. Right from the onset, though, readers can sense something is off with the Pentecostal pastor Nehemia’s roving, lecherous eyes which keep on feasting on Rose, a new congregant, much to her discomfort.

Rose looked down or away when their eyes met. His eyes focused on her like a searchlight. This unhinged her.

This is Chasumba’s way of signposting to the reader the delicatessen  about to imminently unfold. True to form, the novella doesn’t disappoint as it shifts in leaps and bounds with the crooked pastor caught up in a cat-and-mouse dalliance as he preys on his vulnerable new member. This story can be viewed within the broader context of the #MeToo movement which gave women the world over a voice as they fought back rich and powerful sexual predators, cloaked in their own respectability. 

The Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements have forced people in positions of power to acknowledge that they must personally step up to make institutions more fair and inclusive. Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash.

Pastor Gumbo reflects on how his marriage is failing due to lack of intimacy and the respect and subservience he expects from his wife. Poignantly, Gumbo’s wife also introspects on how her marriage to her pastor husband is floundering even though she isn’t ready to give up the luxury which comes with being married to the philandering pastor. Chasumba’s representation of the complexities and contradictions of this  power couple chimes with that of Sue Nyathi in her remarkable book; A Family Affair (2020). Just like Sue Nyathi’s Pastor Abraham Mafu and his wife Phumla, Chasumba’s Pastor Nehemiah and his wife Mai Gumbo publicly present a united front, hiding under the façade of a picture perfect family. However, the duo are clearly on a mission to create and maintain a picture consummate to their status as founders and drivers of their megachurch. Famous Victorian author George Eliot also raised a similar theme in her critique of Nicholas Bulstrode the banker a religious hypocrite in her seminal classic Middlemarch text (1871-72). 

Chasumba is deftly critiquing what lays beneath the façade of religious zealots and seeming paragon of virtue advocates. The erudite William Shakespeare termed it appearance as opposed to reality. Charles Dickens is renowned for this recurrent motif in his body of work in which he satirises and lampoons it as False respectability and philanthropy which seeks to conceal the insidious nature and true machinations of these so called virtue signallers.

In one standout episode, Pastor Gumbo is challenged on his duplicity and how he reconciles it with his Christian piety. He unflinchingly replies: ‘‘All of us are sinners, Rose. We are always showing a beautiful facade of ourselves to the outside world but underneath there is a volcano of sin waiting to spew out like lava.’’ Which is surprisingly true of Rose, herself living a secret life with compartments of a shady past. As she quietly rationalises to herself, ‘‘Life is a game of poker, you win or lose.’’ Behind the Facade is a sublime story in its own right. My only gripe is Chasumba did not develop it into a fully-fledged novel. 


The pacing of the narrative has the reader on tenterhooks. One salient example being the anticipation whether or not the last-minute dark-horse witness Chengetai will make it to court within the additional 15 minutes grace period granted by the presiding magistrate, with she does just two minutes before the expiration of the deadline. 

Chasumba is in top form in crafting this complex, captivating story imbued with rounded characters and villains. Just when you thought you’ve had it, in pops another red herring, this time, Rose’s vindictive ex, Rodney Nkomo, out to exact his pound of flesh. And it doesn’t help matters that the magistrate refuses to throw out Rodney’s witness statement, ominously stating: ‘‘I will allow the testimony because it shows Rose’s character…’’ Another suspenseful cracker is the vile Pastor’s disappearance on the day of the court delivering its judgment only for him to turn up ominously the next morning outside Rose’s flat, wielding a gun!

Chasumba is a master storyteller who takes you on a fluctuating journey tugging and toying with your emotions all the way. There is a well-deserved reward, though, for sticking by the narrative from start to finish as he sure leaves you satiated as a reader.

Reviewer’s Biography

Andrew Chatora is a Zimbabwean novelist noted for his counterintuitive approaches to diversity politics. He has written Diaspora Dreams (2021), Where the Heart Is (2021), Harare Voices and Beyond (2023), Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Stories (2024) and Born Here but Not in My Name (forthcoming). Amid polarizing reception, the UK-based writer continues to distinguish himself as an able and implacable champion of African diaspora literature and the socially excluded. Chatora was recently awarded the 2024 Anthem Silver Award for Harare Voices and Beyond. 


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