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 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.

Books Fiction Releases Reviews

Thought-provoking stories to charm the mind

TITLE: A Surreal Journey of Discovery

AUTHOR: Eric Rugara


REVIEWER: Godfrey Kogie

Life is beautiful when its non-linear. No one wants to leave when living is a surreal journey of discovery. 

A collections of stories coming from the author who is a widely published contributor of short stories, the book is dedicated to storytelling.

It is a fantastic voyage that truly captures you from the first page to the end. With stories that makes someone stare at the wall and start questioning his/her own levels of imaginations, to which level it can extend.

The feeling these stories gives the reader is so profound that in my view you will want to re-read the book.

The author is descriptive in each story, in a rich way, yet also precise with beautiful wordplay that makes the reader admire being a writer. 

It takes you on an unimaginable journey into dreamland, with each story leaving you with questions that will linger in your mind for days.

The book also acts as an eye-opener with insights into what we believe, the power of the mind; the whole idea of living and existing, as well as life after death.

Written in a majorly in the realm of dreams, the book also has elements of humour, beauty, magic, love and deception. I particularly found The happy land experience being an inspiration.

At 208 pages and with 22 stories, some rendered in two parts, you can read the book in one setting.

My favourite stories were Waitherero, which left me with a thrill, only to find it has a second part, which was even more interesting; and A new earth for its apocalyptic theme. 

Being his first book and crafted absolutely well can be surprising how the stories complimented each other, and that feeling the author wanted to achieve of your mind can give you wings as far being imaginative and creative is concerned. 

To any book enthusiast who has not read the book, you are missing a lot. I rate it 5 Star 

You can find A Surreal Journey of Discovery at Nuria store.

Books Fiction Releases Reviews

A captivating tale of humour, crime and adventure

TITLE: Tentacles of Crime

AUTHOR: Dennis Odhiambo

PUBLISHER: African Ink Publishers

REVIEWER: Peter S. Okumu

It has taken me weeks to write this review, after finishing reading this book. I had to look for convenient time, and draft the review that the book deserves. When we first spoke, Dennis mentioned to me that the book would be titled “No Tears to Cry”.

A few months later, what came out of the press was Tentacles of Crime. So as I was reading this novel, I was curious, to link it to his first title, and as I delved into its pages, I quickly understood why. This captivating tale weaves together humour, crime, and painful adventures in a truly remarkable way. Allow me to share my thoughts on this outstanding literary work.

From the very beginning, Tentacles of Crime draws you in with its beautiful storytelling. Dennis has a unique ability to craft vivid characters who effortlessly come to life on the pages. The protagonist, who is a high school student, is a complex but relatable individual, navigating a world filled with dark secrets, robbery and unexpected twists. You’ll find yourself emotionally invested in their journey, eagerly turning each page to unravel the mysteries that surround them.

One of the book’s greatest strengths lies in its seamless blend of humour, crime, twists and suspense. The zigzag way Dennis expertly injects moments of levity throughout the narrative, providing a welcome respite from the tension and suspense that permeate the story. These comedic interludes not only add depth to the characters but also highlight the author’s knack for balancing different tones, resulting in a well-rounded and enjoyable reading experience.

Beyond its gripping plot, Tentacles of Crime serves as a lens through which Dennis explores thought-provoking social issues that most youths face. The book addresses themes such as inequality, corruption, and the struggles that most youths/students go through; shining a light on the darker aspects of society – the church/religion. Through his writing, Dennis prompts readers to reflect on these topics, leaving a lasting impact long after the final page has been turned.

I must acknowledge Dennis’ exceptional talent as an author. His debut novel showcases a remarkable command of storytelling and a true understanding of the society. I wholeheartedly encourage you to support this budding literary guru, by purchasing a copy/copies of his book.

Hongera mkuu! Let us put it on paper! Let us write, for that is a noble duty we were given!

Books Events Fiction News Non-Fiction Poetry Releases

International Literary Seminars: a call for applications

Are you an emerging writer? This is your opportunity to participate in the prestigious International Literary Seminars (ILS), where you will get to improve your writing skills.

ILS, a joint venture by ILS and Jahazi Press, is looking for three writers to fill the slots. You have until August 7 to submit your application.

The fellowship, covers tuition, travel and accommodation for the three recipients. “These merit-based fellowships are designed for upcoming writers who are looking to grow their writing skills with the guidance of an experienced ILS faculty and a community of peer writers,” says a statement from ILS.

Although only three successful applicants will be picked, the good news is that all the applicants will automatically be entered into the 2023 ILS Fiction Contest and considered for publishing in Yolk and Fence magazines. “This will also be a unique opportunity to listen to New Yorker editor, Deborah Treismann and acclaimed short story writer, George Saunders,” says ILS.

The week-long fellowship for the successful applicants which will take place in the coastal town of Lamu, in December, will among others, feature craft development sessions, manuscript based workshops and lectures and discussions with prominent authors.

Some of the acclaimed authors, who will be taking participants through the paces, include Mikhail Lossel, Billy Kahora, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor and Idza Luhumyo, among others. “ILS 2023 will launch in Nairobi where participants will interact with local and international writers as well as attend readings by core faculty members and guests. This will be followed by a week of writing workshops in Lamu,” says the statement from ILS.

Applicants are required to submit an unpublished sample of between 3,000 to 6,000 words, that represents their best work as a Word Document. Poets should submit three samples of their work.

Participants of last year’s event were Gladwell Pamba, Munira Hussein and Dennis Mugaa.

“Winning ILS has been my biggest achievement because it gave me opportunities I had only dreamt of,” says Pamba, who studied English and Literature at Moi University.

You can apply through this link.

Books Fiction News Reviews

Kwenzi Gizani should be urgent reading for all

Title: Kwenzi Gizani

Author: Prof. Kithaka wa Mberia

Genre: Play (Tamthilia)

Publisher: Marimba Publications Limited

Reviewer: Kelvin J. Shachile

Kwenzi Gizani is a Kiswahili play that follows the proceedings of the pursuit of justice by Chagi, whose daughter Kanevu has been sexually assaulted by her father Mkando. Chagi stands her ground to seek for clarity and justice as guided by the law but she comes to encounter the real custodians of mercy, each coming with well-structured reasons that have been grounded in either tradition and/or in religion and sometimes in acts of corruption. The play interrogates the length and depth the society goes to bury crimes that while they seem so forgivable and easy to be left to go live to haunt the real victims that carry with them the baggage of shame, stigma and physical pain.

The book highlights contemporary themes that acknowledges the mastery that Prof. Kithaka wa Mberia carries with him since I first encountered his work years back when I read his highly acclaimed play Kifo Kisimani, that was examined by the Kenya National Examination Council (KNEC) as a set book for secondary schools in the country. I applaud the urgency that mental health has been given in this book; the honest portrayal that accepts the deficit of understanding and patience by some people in the society who disregard it and yet still showcases the availability of those that understand and offer valuable support that should not be taken for granted.

The debate regarding the history of character is laid open and left for the readers to find clarity regarding the dynamics of identity. That sometimes, the people we know are not really who we think they are until they have been offered a chance to be themselves. The question that stays with me is whether the past history has the strength to be used as reason to warrant the award of mercy for someone who has committed a crime. And whether traditional and religious negotiations are possible means to settle high caliber crimes that happen within families and religious groups.

Chagi’s mother, Nyatu is the most memorable character for me in this play, her own contributions reveal the selfishness that people have regarding their own reputation even when the dignity of others is being tarnished.

Other than for those above, Kwenzi Gizani is an accumulation of very important themes from corruption in government authorities to the struggles children go through in schools in the aftermath of them being victims of various vices.

The book reflects the modern society and initiates debates of high potential that require the attention of thinkers, intellectuals, government officials and the entire society to rethink crime, its impacts and the pursuit for justice. I highly recommend Kwenzi Gizani for general readership. It is an important and very urgent piece of literature that needs to be accessed.

Awards Books Fiction Issues News

Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature: A call for entries

The Kenya Publishers Association (KPA) has made a call for submissions for the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature. Winners of the award will be unveiled in September, during the 24th edition of the Nairobi International Book Fair.

Titles to be submitted must have been published between 2020 and May 2022. There are two levels of awards: The Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature and The Wahome Mutahi Award for Humour and Satire.

The Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature has three main categories, namely Adult, Youth and Children. Each category has an English and Kiswahili version.

The Wahome Mutahi Literary Award has an English and Kiswahili category. Writers of drama/plays can submit their entries under the adult category of the Jomo Kenyatta Prize and the Wahome Mutahi Award.

Submissions for each category should be accompanied with five non-returnable copies of the book to be entered. Each submission should also be accompanied by a fee of sh10,000 for KPA members and sh25,000 for non-members.

All entries must have been published in Kenya. Although the quality of the content will be the overriding criterion, there are other considerations to be looked into. These are: quality of binding, cover design, quality of paper used, quality of illustrations where applicable and the general layout of the book.

The Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature is the brainchild of KPA. It was established in the early 1970s and is open to Kenyan writers whose works are published in Kenya. The prize is awarded to the author of the most outstanding new book in all the categories.

Books Fiction Reviews

The People of Ostrich Mountain

Title: The People of Ostrich Mountain

Author: Ndirangu Githaiga

Reviewer: Scholastica Moraa

Some stories leave after you read them, but some stay long after the last page. This was one such book. It lingers on like a fond memory. ‘The People of Ostrich Mountain’ tells the story of Wambui during the colonial period and as Kenya gained independence, her life in Alliance Girls High School, love for numbers, friendship with a British teacher Eileen Atwood and the lives of her children. Spanning decades, Ndirangu tells the story in a beautifully and simply written style that would be appealing to so many readers. From the foot of Mount Kenya, to Alliance Girls, to Nairobi and the streets of Chicago, the story grips you and never wants to let go.

 It tells the story of mathematically talented Wambui, who has to grapple between different choices on a quest to give her family the best. The choices she has to make between her dreams and her love for her family. Her children, Muthoni and Ray, flourish abroad with Ray contending with different odds to become a medical doctor abroad. Ndirangu’s profession as a physician may be the reason behind a really enlightening exploration on the tribulations of a medical student both in Kenya and abroad.

The book also explores the life of Eileen Atwood, whose belief that her destiny lied in Kenya led her to live in the country for forty years shaping the lives of hundreds of girls in Alliance. Although the story is fiction, one cannot help but connect with the various characters in the story. The feeling of belonging, the struggle for independence, finding of one’s purpose, struggles with immigration, ruthless use of power, are but some of the issues we all deal with on a daily basis.

Apart from the desire to want the story to be fleshed out a bit, which may be just be a need from a thirsty reader, ‘The People of Ostrich Mountain’ is a beautiful read that I’d recommend to anyone looking for something African, relatable, beautiful and unputdownable.

Books Fiction Reviews

Americanah through the eye of a geographer

Title: Americanah

Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf

Reviewer: Kelvin J. Shachile

Unlike Half of a Yellow Sun that made her cry, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie describes her third novel Americanah as a book that made her laugh. Published in 2013 by Alfred A. Knopf, the voluminous text is a book that made me think. Right from its opening, Americanah displayed an appreciation of spatial variations; a core concept in geography.  The understanding of how both physical and human environments are different across places. The book that has been reviewed by many as one of the most powerful love stories ever written, Chimamanda doesn’t give us a fairytale thought regarding the magic that love can create, but invites serious debates regarding the underlying human experiences and cultural differences that most of the time is shielded from us in some romance stories. Fiction, I have always believed was invented to give us the platform to retell life’s experiences and not just entertain.

Spanning decades, right from the times of military dictatorship in Nigeria to a new democratic country, Chimamanda serves us the human experiences of innocence, love, privilege, dissatisfaction, immigration, disappointments, re-invention, success and reunion. The story is the life journey of Ifemelu, a strong spirited young Nigerian who moves to the United States for her University education but meets a new life upon the realization that she is not just a person; she is a black person and in her later writings on her blog, narrates what it means to hold that label. The book also carries the story of her lover, Obinze who tries his luck to get a visa to the US but fails. He lands in the UK and has the experience of his own as an undocumented immigrant.

Chimamanda carries us from a campus in Nigeria to the US and UK at the same time with fine details that introduce the readers to a critical task of having a keen scrutiny regarding the environments of these spaces. Reading Americanah wasn’t only a journey into understanding the politics of black hair, identity and immigration. It was a reintroduction to the fictional approach of learning and teaching social, cultural and political geography. Chimamanda doesn’t spare the truth regarding what poverty looks like in both Africa and United States. Privilege and social classes are defined. The crossing of borders, transnational encounters and misconceptions of abroad re-initiated in me the eagerness of determining truth and stereotypes and the need for offering clarity regarding locations and spaces while learning and teaching globalization.

I have felt, on so many occasions that Chimamanda writing Americanah was a task of passion and intention; to clarify the narratives of spaces. In one of the classes while discussing about ‘Minorities in Senior Countries’, Americanah became a reference text regarding opportunities and limitations for people from still developing countries who flee home in search for better lives in countries that are considered more developed; regardless of the outcome story, we should all appreciate the existing truth that dominates this text, we should endeavor to teach honest and deep critical aspects of socio-cultural geographies of the world with appreciation of how real human experiences should be made central.

Kelvin J. Shachile is a Kenyan writer. Co-author of Hell in the Backyard and Other stories. Kelvin has been published in anthologies including The Best New African Poets 2018 anthology, The Country of Broken Boys Anthology, The Armageddon and other stories and in Agbowo’, Mwangaza, Kalahari Review, Writers Space Africa and elsewhere.  He holds a B.A from Maasai Mara University and currently pursuing his M.A at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology. He was Longlisted for the 2019 African Writers Awards-Children’s literature Category and shortlisted for Wakini Kuria Award for Children’s literature.

Books Fiction Reviews

Revenge and rejection in Dawood’s thriller

Title: Eye of the Storm

Author: Yusuf Dawood

Publisher: East African Educational Publishers

Reviewer: Otieno Opondo

Eye of the Storm is a captivating medical thriller novel authored by Yusuf K. Dawood, a renowned surgeon and columnist, who died in January, 2023. Set in the post-colonial era, the book delves into the themes of revenge and rejection and the devastating psychological impact they have on individuals.

The novel follows the journey of Njoroge Maina, also known as Joe Maina, from his humble beginnings at the foot of Mount Kenya to the peak of his medical career as a respected surgeon. Haunted by past rejection, Dr Maina seeks revenge and uses his surgical prowess to harm his patients, leaving them either dead or scarred for life. However, justice eventually catches up with him, and the ensuing legal drama is both thrilling and shocking.

As a reader who used to avidly follow Dawood’s column, Surgeon’s Diary, I found Eye of the Storm to be nostalgic, taking me back to the days when I eagerly awaited each new edition of Sunday Nation. The book also has strong autobiographical elements, with Dr Joe Maina being a fictionalized representation of Dawood’s childhood, education, and profession.

The plot of the book starts off slowly but gains momentum and keeps the reader hooked throughout. The characters are well-developed, and the themes explored are relevant to all. Dawood has also demystified the medical profession and surgery, making the book readable to both medical professionals and laymen. However, some readers may find the medical terminologies overwhelming.

In comparison to Dawood’s other novel, The Price of Living, which also deals with the theme of rejection, the author uses the same name for the protagonists in both books, Maina Karanja in The Price of Living and Njoroge Maina in Eye of the Storm. Both protagonists also have sons with the same name, Muhoho, which some readers may find lacking in creativity.

Overall, Eye of the Storm is an excellent read for anyone interested in a medical thriller novel. Dawood seamlessly blends medical terminology with regular English, making the book appealing to all. This book is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand how suppressed emotions can have severe consequences.

I highly recommend it, and I give it four stars.