Books Issues Non-Fiction Reviews

Sometimes, life commands death to stay its hand

TITLE: Hop Skip and Jump

AUTHOR: Scholar V. Akinyi


AVAILABILITY: Nuria Bookstore and Cheche Bookshop

REVIEWER: Scholastica Moraa

Hop, Skip, and Jump is a story based on the 2007/8 Post-Election Violence (PEV) in Kenya. Told by three children, Bobo, John, and Vena, it explores the horror that happened after the elections and how it affected the children and their families. The children look forward to Christmas, they dance, they write letters to girls they like, they take care of their siblings, they watch TV.

Until they don’t. 

Suddenly, they are no longer safe. There is an enemy everywhere… the worst part is, they don’t know the face the enemy wears. It may be their neighbour, it may be the father or mother of the children they play and go to school with; it may be a stranger’s face. The violence they see on their television screens has spilled into their neighbourhood and the life they knew is no more. New and unfamiliar homes, running through unfamiliar burning streets with borrowed names, hospitals, pain and camps are the new norm.

The innocence, personal touch and rawness in emotion that Scholar weaves into her story, is its most interesting aspect. The PEV, to many people, was merely statistics: the losses (human and property), the displaced persons… This book, however, takes the reader back to the theatre, where it all happened, but now you experience it through the eyes of the children, who lived through it.

The ones everyone says will grow up and forget. The one no one cares to ask, what if they don’t remember to forget? What if they don’t know how to forget… what if they just don’t know how to forget.

The soft delivery in Scholar’s writing makes this an appropriate read for all ages. The violence bit is narrated ever so delicately; yet so powerfully, you can’t help but be impressed. Child soldiers, arson, violence, rape are some of the themes explored in this book. Perhaps the book’s greatest victory is how successfully and accurately it has managed to show the state of affairs in the aftermath of the elections and from an angle most people rarely look at. Children’s point of view.

In a country whose emotions flare up with politics, I hope this book serves as a reminder of what happens when things are taken too far. I hope it reminds us that we are all capable of violence and that so many things can go wrong when we alienate other people based on their political alignment and tribes. Above all, I hope we remember the children. That they may never be able to heal completely from the aftermath of the violence.

They may never be able to jump.

Highly recommended.  For everyone.  For those who seek to know, to remember, to be cautioned.

Moraa is a young woman navigating life. Author of Beautiful Mess… Co Author of Dreams and Demons and I’m Listening 2021 edition. She is also the winner of Kendeka Prize of African Literature-2022. She can be found with a book or two. When she’s not fighting to stay afloat, she is daydreaming, writing poetry or reading.

Books Issues Non-Fiction Releases Reviews

These two books hold the key to your financial breakthrough

TITLES: Should I? and How Much

AUTHOR:  Florence Bett

REVIEWER: Scholastica Moraa

AVAILABILITY: Nuria Book Store

If you ask most people about money and investments, you will likely realise that they are clueless about what they are doing and what is going on. If you ask about inflation and investments, most people will fumble, trying to explain what they understand by that.

The only thing they know about investments is buying land. Because their fathers told them so. Because during their grandfather’s time, that type of advice worked well. More often than not, they are wrong, they are unsure and they need help. And that is where Florence Bett comes in with her books, Should I? and How Much

Explained in an easy to understand manner; in a question and answer format, you are likely to find many of your questions, on investment, in this book. Your eyes will be opened and you will see the light. You will, in effect, break free and as Florence says; “your money will start working for you.”

In Should I?, Bett teaches about budgeting, how to avoid being broke before your next pay day, where to start your investment journey, how to handle love, sex and money. She also addresses the topic of Saccos; what they are and how they work. Also addressed in the book, is the question on why you should consider saving in a money market fund instead of a bank.

Other areas include whether or not you should buy a car, what you need to know about bonds, what you need to know about starting a side hustle, among many other issues.  She breaks it down into palatable portions and when you finally put the book down, the cobwebs will be removed from yours.  The beauty about her style of writing is in the way you can put yourself into the scenarios she describes and the simplicity of the steps she encourages the reader to take.

In her second book, How Much, the reader can reap from her experience as a personal finance columnist, a business owner, a certified accountant and former financial auditor. In this book, she explores the murky waters of money and marriage, managing family finances and current issues with regards to making money, such as social media, agriculture, pyramid schemes, and recovering from loss. There is a high probability that if you have wondered about any nagging financial issue, Florence Bett has probably written about it. 

The humour in her tone also makes it easy to go through the books, thus making this an interesting if not fun experience.

The books are highly recommended for young people fresh out of school and who don’t know where and how to start managing their finances. It also comes in handy for for employed people, who live pay check to pay check, as well as for people wondering on whether to start their business, to parents trying to educate and take care of their children

Above all, these are books for anyone who is seeking financial freedom.

The books are relatable, educative and beautifully written.

Moraa is a young woman navigating life. Author of Beautiful Mess… Co Author of Dreams and Demons and I’m Listening 2021 edition. She is also the winner of Kendeka Prize of African Literature-2022. She can be found with a book or two. When she’s not fighting to stay afloat, she is daydreaming, writing poetry or reading.

Books Fiction Issues News Short Stories

Introducing the Soma Nami Press short story submission

Do you have that story that not only captivates but also resonates with the diverse voices and perspectives that collectively contribute to the kaleidoscope of Kenyan culture? This call is for you.

Soma Nami Press is a newly established publishing house based in Nairobi Kenya. Soma Nami Press exists to share outstanding East African stories with the world and to bring compelling Pan-African stories to East Africa.

The publishing house is currently looking for short stories that will make up their very first Kenyan anthology. At this time, they are looking for fiction that celebrates, unpacks, questions and critiques the essence, beauty and peculiarity of Kenyaness. For this inaugural anthology, they are interested in submissions that are playful, enjoyable and offer a delightful reading experience. Writing that is boundless and daring while still being communicative and accessible. Submissions are not restricted to any genre as long as they recognizably speak to the subject matter.

Submission Guidelines

  1. Submission is taken as an acceptance of these submission rules.
  2. Submit your short story between January 10th 2024 and March 15th 2024 (11:59pm, Kenyan time). Stories submitted after the entry date will not be accepted. 
  3. All entries must be made through this online form.
  4. Your short story should be 2000-5000 words long (including the title, your name, and contact details).
  5. Please do not submit work that does not speak to the subject matter
  6. Submission Format: Times New Roman, 12-point font, double-spaced, and submitted in .doc or .docx format.
  7. Submissions will only be accepted from Kenyan citizens, and you will need to provide proof of citizenship if your work is accepted.
  8. Submit an author bio and links to any previously published works
  9. All entrants must be age 18 years and above
  10. All submissions must be in English although they may include other languages in them.
  11. We will accept original works ONLY that have not been published before. Stories selected for the anthology will undergo editing, copywriting, and proof reading as necessary and you can expect to undergo several rewrites.
  12. Multiple Submissions: Authors may submit up to two stories, but not more than one may be accepted per author.
  13. Only submit work that is exclusively your own work. Plagiarism is not acceptable.
  14. There is no submission fee

Submission Deadline: Submissions will be accepted until March 15, 2024.

How to Submit:

Include your story as an attachment and a brief cover letter that includes your name, contact information, and a short bio.

Follow this link to submit

Selection Process:

All submissions will be reviewed by our editorial team. We will notify selected authors by April 30, 2024. Due to the volume of submissions, we regretfully cannot provide individual feedback on each entry.

Accepted submissions will receive a one-time and final compensation based on the final word count. Compensation will be paid up upto Kes. 10,000

Important Note: 

  1. By submitting your work, you agree to grant us first worldwide publication rights should your story be accepted for the anthology. 
  2. World rights of the anthology will remain with Soma Nami Press. Soma Nami Press will hold non-exclusive publishing rights to your story in perpetuity.
  3. Excerpts of stories published in the anthology will be used for promotional purposes online.
  4. Writers whose work appears in the anthology will be expected to take part in publicity activities, including online.
Books Issues Non-Fiction Reviews Short Stories

The emotions expressed are too raw and life-changing


AUTHOR: Joan Thatiah

REVIEWER: Scholastica Moraa

AVAILABILITY: Nuria Bookstore

After Confessions of Nairobi Women book 1 and 2, Confessions of Nairobi Men is a breath of fresh air. Finally, we are getting something from the men who are always closed up, afraid to let the world see where it hurts. Afraid to share what happened.

Joan Thatiah has not disappointed with this one.

Confessions of Nairobi Men is a collection of 15 short stories that tell the stories of 15 men. From men who give everything and still get their hearts broken, men whose dreams were killed before they even had a chance take flight, men who have been humiliated so badly, they break at the slightest trigger; to men who search for their identity in the cracks between time and in the faces of the strangers they meet, Joan brings it all out in the painful yet graceful strokes of her pen.

From this book we learn that all men have a story.  They may wear their manhood like armour but deep down they are looking for home; for a safe space to rest their tired wings and the least we can do is to be kind as they figure this out. Reading this collection was as eye-opening as it emotionally wrenching. It is a gift, getting to read and experience these lives who come alive in these pages and whose stories will always remain etched in our minds.

If you are easily triggered, this may not be the book for you. The emotions expressed are too raw and life-changing. If you decide to pick this read, do so with caution because the humane way Thatiah picks up these stories and puts them together is so heartbreakingly beautiful and it may send you over the edge.

Books Education News publishing

Thieves disable tracking system of van transporting books to Nyamira before stealing it

The tracking system of a truck ferrying textbooks to Nyamira County was interfered with before it was stolen and books dumped in a forest.

The Grade 8 books that were abandoned in Kaptagat forest belong to Moran Publishers.

“Moran Publishers further indicated that the driver of the truck ferrying the books and the truck itself could not be traced. They had tried to reach the driver of the truck without success,” reads a press statement issued by the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA). “They suspect that although the vehicle had a tracking system to enable them know its location and hence that of the books, the system could have been interfered with, since they are not getting any signals.”

 The books were however secured and taken to Kaptagat Police Station.

The incident happened on the morning of Saturday January 20

“The DCI are therefore currently doing investigations to establish the whereabouts of the driver of the truck, trace the truck, and hence shed light on what could have happened,” said the statement signed by Kiarie Kamau, the chairman of KPA.

“KPA (and the affected publisher – Moran) are therefore waiting for updates from the DCI, after which they will know the next course of action,” added the statement. “Meanwhile, KPA wishes to assure the public that the exercise of Grade 8 book distribution is on its tail end, in spite of the heavy rains that continue to pound many parts of the country.”

KPA added that although the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) had given Publishers up to January 19 to complete the distribution, this was not possible, “mainly due to challenges relating to access of the areas heavily affected by the ongoing rains. However, KPA is confident that the exercise will be fully done by 31st January.”

Meanwhile, Moran Publishers wishes to assure head teachers in Nyamira County that despite the unfortunate turn of events affecting their books, they have in place contingency measures to ensure the region receives its share of books on schedule to facilitate normal learning activities.

The Ministry of Education, through KICD, tasks publishers, whose books have been vetted and approved for use by pupils, to deliver them to schools as a way of ensuring a 1:1 ratio of books and pupils.

Awards Books Culture News

Here are the winners of the Maisha Yetu Awards 2023

As 2023 comes to a close, Maisha Yetu would like to appreciate and celebrate the best in terms of books and honour them with the Maisha Yetu Excellence Awards for 2023.

For hosting a successful Nairobi International Book Fair, the Kenya Publishers Association, for the second year running, takes the Maisha Yetu Award for the Best Body Corporate. This year, NIBF went a step further and hosted the first ever Rights Trading forum, in conjunction with eKitabu and the African Publishers Forum (APNET)


In early September Peter Ngila Njeri, won the 2023 edition of the James Currey Prize for African Literature with his fiction manuscript, The Legend of Beach House. He beat other writers including those from Western and Southern African countries. What is more, Ngila shared his prize money with fellow nominees (he did not have to do that). For that reason, we award him the Maisha Yetu Young Writer of the Year (Male)


Eunniah Mbabazi, is a self-published author and editor. Despite being a trained engineer, Eunniah chose a life of writing and publishing, with its ups and downs. She has written Breaking Down, an anthology of short stories, If My Bones Could Speak, a collection of poems, Unbirthed Souls, a collection of short stories and My Heart Sings Sometimes, a collection of poems. She has also edited, When A Stranger Calls, an anthology of Short stories, by different writers, currently doing well in the market. Eunniah, thus takes home the Maisha Yetu Young Writer of the Year (Female).


Will Clurman is the CEO of eKitabu. For masterminding the Rights Café Pavilion, the first ever rights trading forum at the Nairobi International Book Fair, where 13 agents from different publishing, houses across the globe, congregated at the Nairobi International Book Fair, where several publishing deals were inked, Will Curlman wins the Maisha Yetu CEO of the Year Award.


The Alliance Française in Nairobi has, since November 2019, offered its library space for authors, mostly young and self-published, to launch their books, free of charge, as well as hosting literary debates. This year alone, more than 50 books have been launched at the Alliance Française library. AF also hosts the Nyrobi Book Fest, where self-published authors have an opportunity to exhibit their books for free. For its role in promoting literature and writing, the  Alliance Française gets the 2023 Maisha Yetu Foreign Cultural Organisation of the Year.


Independently published writers aka self-published writers, have for the longest time agonised over an outlet for their creative outlet. Many bookstores impose stringent, nay, impossible rules for them to stock independently published books. This changed when Nuria Bookstore came onto the scene. Nuria revolutionised bookselling in Kenya. Many first-time writers, who are mostly self-published found a willing ally in Nuria.

Nuria not only stocks their books for sale, they also help them market. Nuria, a brainchild of Abdullahi Bulle, goes out of its way to seek out events where they can sell, market, and generally promote books and their authors.

For the second year running, Nuria gets the 2023 Maisha Yetu Bookseller of the Year Award.


The 2023 Maisha Yetu Award for the Most Creative, Most Sustained and thus, the Most Effective Marketing Campaign for a Book goes to Rough Silk, a memoir by Deborah Auko Tendo. The book shares the remarkable story of her father, a man who lived an extraordinary life in ordinary circumstances. Through his daughter’s eyes, we see his wisdom, his humor, his love and his legacy.


In May this year, Kenya Publishers Association (KPA) donated foodstuffs, books and other assorted items to Eldoret School for the Hearing Impaired. This was during the Eldoret Regional Book Fair. Come September, KPA did the same for the Compassionate Hands for the Disabled in Ruai, during the Nairobi International Book Fair. Donating to the less fortunate has become a ritual for KPA, whenever they organise a book Fair.

It is thus in order for KPA to receive the 2023 Maisha Yetu Corporate Social Responsibility Award.


The 2023 Maisha Yetu Lifetime Achievement Award goes to Edward Mburu Gachina. Mzee Gachina, 76, from Kandara in Muranga, beat all the odds to write and publish his memoirs, The Odyssey of an African Man. Despite the fact that he is just an ordinary retired old man, living in the village, he felt compelled to pen his autobiography for the sake of future generations. He is a retired accountant.


John Kiriamiti, is reformed bank robber, who wrote My Life in Crime, while still in jail. For its vivid descriptions, twists and turns, cliff-hanger suspense and easy conversational writing style My Life in Crime remains a Kenyan bestseller 38 years after its publication. Little wonder then that when Neflix Kenya asked Kenyans, which book they would wish to be turned into a movie, Kenyans on social media voted for My Life in Crime, closely followed in second position to Mwangi Gicheru’s Across the Bridge.

Kiriamiti has written four other equally popular book, My Life in Prison, My Life with a Criminal, The Sinister Trophy and Son of Fate. This year alone, Kiriamiti headlined three major literary events in Nairobi, The NBO Litfest, The Nairobi International Book Fair and the Nyrobi Book Fest. It is for that reason that we award him the Maisha Yetu Personality of the Year.


Silas Nyanchwani and Jacob Aliet have in the past two years made a name for themselves, for publishing socially conscious books that seek to advise men on how to lead better lives. Though their writing tends to be a bit controversial, these two writers have kept at it, in the process earning themselves grudging respects from some of their most persistent critics (women). Aliet is the author of Unplugged, which he recently upgraded to Unplugged 2 and 3. Nyanchawani, other hand dispenses his wisdom through 50 Memos to Men 1 and 2.

Nyachwani and Aliet make a tie and therefore share the 2023 Social Awareness Campaign through books.


The Maisha Yetu Children’s Category Award goes to Brian Wairegi and the triplets of Julie, Jeremy and Jason Mugo. All are aged ten and have published books. Brian has written A Visit to the Farm, while the twins have written Triplet Tales.


The Maisha Yetu Award for publisher of the Year Award goes to eKitabu for curating and hosting the very successful Rights Café at the Nairobi International Book Fair, a first in the region, where agents from different international publishers held talks with various authors and publishers in Kenya, with a view to buying rights to those books.


Author’s Feet is a YouTube based show that features interviews with Kenyan authors. For its role in expanding and cementing the writers’ craft in Kenya, Author’s Feet, produced by Cynthia Abdallah Productions and hosted by the lively Ciku Kimani-Mwaniki, takes the 2023 Maisha Yetu Literary Show of the Year, for the second year running.


For consistently bringing us news an information on African books, African authors and the general publishing scene in Africa, James Murua, who runs the Writing Africa website, takes the Maisha Yetu Blogger of the year.

Books Fiction Issues Reviews

A walk into the dark side of power and wealth

TITLE: Old Money

AUTHOR: Charles Chanchori

PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press

REVIEWER: Scholastica Moraa

Old Money by Charles Chanchori slowly brings you in, wraps its hands on your throat, grips you and does not let you go until the end where it lets you down slowly, heaving and coughing as you try to crawl back into its pages but it is sadly… the end.

                The story revolves around Rita the billionaire matriarch of the Mugambi family. She has made it her life’s goal to run her family the same way her heart runs… like a business; without emotions and with an eye on the profits.  People tremble at the mere mention of her name and scamper to perform her demands. She has everyone at her palm, the rest in her pocket. Her sons. Her husband. Politicians. The police.

                Her husband attempts to get away from her only to realise that you never get away from Rita Mugambi. Her sons, Zain and Bahati, in a bid to seek freedom, also realise just how hard it is to get away from the mother. Because once Rita has sunk her claws into your skin, you will have to crawl far and even bleed before she can let go.

                The characters are well developed with the author able to garner support and empathy for all his characters. As much as you try to hate the main antagonist, you can still understand her, respect her and even empathize with her.  The writer also helps you see how the extremely rich in Nairobi live as well as how the poorest in the slums survive.

                Set in the city of Nairobi, the book aptly captures the country we live in. Where who you know matters and where mnyonge hana haki. Where police brutality is rampant and where power reigns supreme with humanity taking a backseat. Different themes such as politics, ambition, power of the internet and social media, corruption, justice and power are explored.

                If you are looking for an easy but well-crafted read, then this is just the book for you. The emotions are well balanced so you are still able to walk away without feeling like your soul just got darker.

Moraa is a young woman navigating life. Author of Beautiful Mess… Co Author of Dreams and Demons, I’m Listening 2021 edition and This Heart of Mine. She is also the winner of Kendeka Prize of African Literature-2022. She can be found with a book or two. When she’s not fighting to stay afloat, she is daydreaming, writing poetry or reading.

Books News

Nuria is now at Naivas

Good news for Kenyan writers as Nuria Bookstore takes over the distribution of books at Naivas Supermarkets. Abdullahi Bulle, the director of Nuria says the move followed the successful handover ceremony that took place on Monday morning, “where ‘All African Books’ were transferred the Kenyan books to Nuria.”

What this means is that Kenyan writers, who distribute their books through Nuria, have more convenient outlet for their books. The Naivas chain of supermarkets has branches all over the country.

This is a win for Kenyan writing as Nuria has the largest database of Kenyan books, especially those written by self-published writers, who ordinarily would find it difficult stocking their books in other book outlets.

“We appreciate the partnership and support in promoting Kenyan literature and culture,” explained an excited Bulle. “We look forward to serving you with quality and affordable books at Naivas Supermarket outlets.

Arts Culture Events

The Affordable Art Show, a collector’s dream

The Affordable Art Show (AAS) is probably the most exciting event in the calendar of Kenyan art events.

This is probably the only art show where rank amateurs get to share the same exhibition space with established professionals in the industry. And just like the title indicates, this is about the only place, art lovers can acquire a solid piece of art for as little as sh6,000, with the maximum price being sh150,000.

This is quite something, considering that good art does not come cheap. Art pieces, done by Kenyans, have been known to fetch as much as sh2 million. The AAS is therefore a collector’s dream.

Now, AAS took place from Friday October 27 to Sunday October 29 at the Nairobi National Museum where a total of 386 artists brought in 750 pieces. Most artists submitted the allowed maximum of two pieces.

Maisha Yetu’s experience at the event was much smoother as we had Lydia Galavu, curator of the Creativity Gallery at the National Museums of Kenya, as our guide. She explained how the pieces of art were arranged according to themes. As one entered the venue, the artworks one came face to face with had the dominant theme of women.

Here, the pieces were as varied as they were interesting. There was a particular nude piece that was quite thoughtful in its depiction. The woman with her head bent backwards, clutching pieces of grass, sat in the woods, with an owl flying close to her. Although her face is not visible, she appears to be in pain, probably why the owl was close by.

In most African cultures, sightings of owls portend a bad omen.

Further down, to the left, were pieces that featured landscapes, seascapes, village and city life. This was followed, towards the courtyard, by the big paintings. Also on exhibition were sculptures. Lydia explained that there is a growing number of entries by young artists, as exemplified by the styles they employed in their pieces. One of the techniques that caught the eye, was a unique mosaic featuring Lupita Nyong’o, which echoes famous Obama Hope mosaic.

While the Obama mosaic was entirely made up of flowers, this one consisted of intricately woven threads of different colours. “This style, threads on wood, is not entirely new,” explained Lydia. “It has however been making a slow comeback, since 2018, courtesy of young artists.”

She added that collages, made popular by Rosemary Karuga, in the eighties, were also making a comeback, again being driven by the young artists, who are now injecting youthful dynamism and creativity.

Among the notable artists who graced the opening night was Michael Soi, who had two pieces, a small one and a bigger, more exciting piece, which depicted a skimpily dressed woman of easy virtue, flashing three fingers to signify the ‘mambo ni matatu’ slogan, made popular by President William Ruto.

While Ruto’s three ‘things’ have to do with the fight against corruption, Soi’s woman was outlining the three preferred modes of payment: Cash, Mpesa and Bitcoin.

This piece was quickly snapped up.

Soi said that AAS holds a special place in his heart. “It is here that I sold my first ever piece in 1996. The reason is too sentimental,” he explained.

He was also on the lookout for Risper Achieng’s work. “I love her work; I have collected three of her pieces. I try get her work when I can afford it,” he added.

Kivuthi Mbuno, had two pieces on exhibitions, which were also snapped up, probably by collectors who know the uniqueness of his art. Mbuno belongs to the older generation of artists, most of whom are exiting life’s stage. They include the late Jak Katarikawe and the late Ancent Soi.

In a few years to come, their artworks will be rare collectors’ items and will be selling for a pretty penny.

AAS is an event organised by the Kenya Museum Society and founded by Marla Stone. “The Kenya Museum Society supports projects of the National Museums of Kenya,” explained Marla.

It was an event of the Society from the mid-1990’s when it was held in conjunction with the annual visual and performing Art Festival. Starting 2021, AAS has been held twice a year, May and October, as requested by artists; which is testament to the Show’s growing popularity.

Proceeds from the event go towards supporting projects of the National Museums of Kenya. Each artist is allowed to submit a maximum of two art pieces, which would include a painting, a 3D art piece or a sculpture. “We limit the number of entries per artist so as to allow as many artists as possible to participated,” added Marla.

A total of Ksh9 million was raised from the sale of artworks.

Buyers were mostly foreign nationals living in Kenya, a sizeable number of tourists popping in to get a piece of Kenyan art. Kenyans too are increasingly appreciating art and are letting their wallets speak.

The three-day event attracted 2,700 visitors.

Books Fiction Reviews Short Stories

The strange way loss brings forth new beauty

TITLE: A Surreal Journey of Discovery

AUTHOR: Eric Rugara

REVIWER: Simiyu Barasa

AVAILABILITY: Nuria Bookstore

Loss. Not your usual ways of the way stories of loss are written, but the deeper thoughts that assail us when we are alone and we go through losses of loved ones, of loved things, of loved times, of great sex. How loss can be beautiful and still be sweet in its pain that we keep living through it, deformed in our souls but outwardly taking steps towards more losses. That is the overriding journey that Eric Rugara takes you through in his short stories collection, A Surreal Journey of Discovery right from the first story of the loss of his pet bird as a child all through to the loss of the fear of writing in his rather masturbatory nod to self in the story at the end that gives the collection its title.

A fine reading that is unusual in most of the Kenyan writings that one comes across, Rugara oscillates between reality, laying bare the dreamy thoughts in one’s head (that we all have learnt to camouflage for it is all not very normal to speak our unfiltered imaginative brains), and rapidly moves into magical worlds of dreams, ghosts, android filled earth, dystopian end world visions, as well as re-imagination of dreams. From the regular ‘everyone can relate to’ losses of a pet (bird, Bob’s cat Asha), to girlfriends of our desires like Mona who come with their doses of madness when one gets to know them, to the market woman who loses her son in riots, loss of sounds like cricket sounds, thoughts and desires, Rugara skilfully weaves tales that are as exciting as they are intriguing. You can feel the loss, see your own loss, and yet from these strange losses you realise a new beauty comes with it: Life changes. You smile and live on, but you are affected.

Maybe because alcohol and sex are the most common run away to whenever we experience loss and seek happiness, is the reason that makes the stories heavily peppered with bars, casual sex and escapades of thrills as the characters seek to fill the voids. But just like in real life, these escapades are full of momentary gap filling, yet create more emptiness and the rush to plug the real emptiness of unrequited love and sense of loss.

The unrequited love which we all have experienced are visible in among others Mona, in Janice’s friend Mary. Some of it is thrilling in its illicitness, like the high-octane desires between Tanui and Vivian whose fuel is that she is married, and whose fire retardant is the same fact that she is married. Such risky loves end in losses, we all know, deaths at the hands of others or self. The kind of lusts that burn with physical desire but Rugara elevates them such that they can only be consummated in synchronized dreams like Laura’s, which surreally tiptoe back and impact on the real life in weird ways. Love making with ghosts, and with self in another world, with mythological figures. Yet even in these, the loss from rejections and failures are made up for with a frenzy of sex with other real life women mostly picked from bars, only to lead to more emptiness and loneliness and a burning desire that can only be filled by another attempt at the target, prized, elusive love – be it ghosts, imaginations, android figures, or dystopian last humans on earth mutants. Yet once one gains it, death embraces. And loss of self.

It is in the segueing of the normal to the paranormal that Rugara shines as a writer. A wonderful one at that, especially for those who spend a lot of time in their own thoughts and wonder if it is normal to have such thoughts. Very simply written, but the verisimilitude styles with their free flow of self-consciousness that break the boundary and leap into crazy imagination reminds one of Zimbabwe’s Dambudzo Marechera’s wild thoughts in House of Hunger. The power of his character’s physical traits that somehow gain surreal powers in another world which cyclically totters between gain and loss in the here and now vibrates as is in the Kenyan Idza Luhumyo’s 2022 Caine Prize winning short story Five Years Next Sunday. His Ordinary Lives that is told from the Point of view of a Hundred Shillings Note gives echoes of Alice Hatcher’s prize winning ‘The Wonder that was Ours’ written from the Point of View of a cockroach.

Delving into the unconscious mind; the juxtapositions of opposites like life and death, sweetness and sorrow; complete with dreams and fantasies rooted in real world issues that trigger them including a (covid anyone?) virus attack, Rugara’s short story collection is a slow burn: It starts off with some rather not so exceptional stories rooted in real life kind of narratives but quarter way through fully takes off when his imagination runs wild into fantastical, irrational kind of realms. He is at his best when oscillating between reality and sci-fi (some Japanese accented speaking robots in The Making of a Terrorist), mythology, a dystopian world where water is a currency for sex at the pain of death in ‘For a Drink of Water’, ghosts like Waitherero, and surrealism. You will not forget the priest who doesn’t believe in God anymore but still carries his rosary, or the soldier who has no bullets for his gun but still cannot leave it behind. We often do refuse to not let go of the most useless things in our lives, maybe because their loss would be too overwhelming in a world where uselessness it the only useful thing around.

Perhaps not trusting his readers enough, Rugara kind of spoils it in some sections with over-explanations or pre-emptive narrative explanations as to what is going on or is going to happen with where he is going especially in the first few paragraphs of each story. Yet, he also gets very skimpy in giving the narrative world descriptions of tiny details to build his worlds, rushing rather blandly to the ‘this is where I am going’ speeds and you are left without texture, touches, smells, colours, and all those tiny nitty gritties. In the existentialism kind of world the stories populate, we are just speeded along with words. No pauses to imbibe the tiny details. He has the mind of Marechera, the storytelling art of Idza, the playful introspectiveness and imagination of Hatcher, but falls a little short on the craft of welding a formidable story. For non-Kenyans, there are quite a number of instances where one would struggle to understand what boda boda, madondo, mitungis, gunias, etc are as they are mentioned and no creative ways to explain them. The majority of the characters in the diverse stories also kind of speak the same to just pass the message across. There are no idiosyncrasies either of actions or dialogue that differentiates a lot of them. Infact, they all are Monas in different genders and situations: All well read, whose favourite hobbies include dropping quotes of philosophical proportions and namedropping Socrates, Stockholm Syndrome etc in explanatory diversions. They love mentioning literary world figures etc maybe as a way of the writer paying homage to other authors. Hence we have thugs who can quote Jack Zollo and Millie (an ode to John Kiriamiti ‘My Life in Crime’?) etc.

In one of the more intriguing stories, Chep asks Elias her lover,”Why can’t you let me go?” to which he replies, “I can’t” and yet they , and we the readers, both know it would be the best loss for more would be gained, or else a bigger loss would come if the situation continues as it is. One feels if Rugara gets braver in his subsequent works, letting his imagination go even freer and embrace more craft in his moulding the stories, he would be more than just the wonderful writer he is. He’d be astounding.

Definitely, this is a book every lover of stories should have.