Brilliance! A novel after a long while that makes you work, that takes you by the throat, and brings you in closer, closer, closer till you see the world reflected in the eyes of its writer, Yvonne Adhiambo Owour. The opening paragraph sets the tone and tension of the novel, a multiverse of Kenya laden with metaphor, of subtle hues and brilliant skies, varied vegetation and landscapes juxtaposed to its current place in time, its history, and a microcosm within a macrocosm.
‘He leaps over two fire-painted blossoms resting on the stark cracked city pavement. Roused, these unfurl into late-Christmas-season orange-and-black butterflies that flutter into the violet shade of a smog-encrusted roadside jacaranda tree. A thrum becomes a hum becomes thumping footsteps, and soon he is entangled in a thicket of jeers and tossed grey, black and brown stones as he flees toward a still distant night. It is said that in combat some soldiers shoot over their enemies’ heads in order to avoid killing them. Some don’t even fire at all. Moses Ebewesit Odidi Oganda’s fingers tremble on the trigger of an old, shiny AK-47. He hurls the gun away with an “Urgh!” The weapon spills across the road – a low pitched, guttural noise.’
The author Owuor does not hold back in her novel as Ajany her central character travels with unfolding secrets from Brazil, where she is a practising artist, to her home in Kenya beyond the city and capital of Nairobi to a rural scape where she buries her brother, who fiercely encouraged her to draw, paint a sea, on which to set sail and usher in a new world. She is back at the request of her father Nyipir, who has simply asked her to return home, as Odidi, her brother has gone. Back in Kenya we will meet her family, the past, the present, the future including ghosts of the British Empire and an Indian origin trader who missed the boat to England and calls Kenya home.
The novel defies categories and the author is clearly writing her story, about herself, her Kenya and her world. The grief in the narrative is palpable as a mother cries out at her husband ‘bring my son home,’ as he looks on to bury his son’s coffin.
The characters reflect the world within which Kenya stands looking forward and back in history as it watches Mau Mau uprisings, an independence from the United Kingdom, the battle for power, the chaos, the assassination of Tom Mboya and the swearing in of a president ushered in with speed as the streets erupt in chaos and bloodshed and the story starts with the death of a young man whose hopes, ideals, a better Kenya, and the hopes of his parents to be a brilliant Engineer and build a better world, buckle and crash under the weight of corruption culminating in him spattering three bubbles of blood as he breathes his last, when running and deciding to return home.
This is <g data-gr-id="30">an eloquent</g> and at times sublime novel, where characters come alive and die, of memory, of words, literature at its best that transcends borders, histories, thought and space.
Conceived by Kalyan Mukherjee, Consulting Editor, Africa Rising
Research & Advertising by Aman Ramrakha