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Books Featured Non-Fiction Personalities Reviews

Criminals eventually ‘see with their mouths’

TITLE: My Life in Prison

AUTHOR: John Kiriamiti

PUBLISHER: East African Educational Publishers

REVIEWER: Scholastica Moraa

Following the sensation that was My Life in Crime, My Life in Prison tells the horror that was prison life for Jack Zollo, the writer of the two books.

Fortunately, prison life is the kind of life most people will be fortunate enough not to experience. Through this book, we get a feel of how prison life is… or rather was during the time the author was imprisoned.

Serving 20 years in jail with 48 strokes of the cane, Jack Zollo (Kiriamiti) lands in Kamiti Maximum Prison unceremoniously. He does not adapt well to prison life and it takes being beaten into unconsciousness and a friend simply referred to as GG to help him come to terms with his sentence. However, he does not settle into prison life without attempting an escape. 

He is later transferred to Naivasha Maximum Prison, where he serves the rest of his prison term under inhumane conditions.

It is difficult for someone who has never been in prison to grasp the concept of lack of freedom. Zollo’s time in prison is made worse by the conditions they are subjected to, which include the 1972 prison massacre.

In a simple yet intriguing manner, John Kiriamiti tells his story leaving the reader enthralled from the beginning to the end. Throughout the book he shows us how crime can lead to unbearable punishments.

Additionally, I love how most of the questions raised in his first book, My Life in Crime are answered. Kiriamiti’s first book left readers with plenty of questions and this book gives the reader closure. A painful, necessary, raw ending.

My Life in Prison is a necessary book especially for young people who are tempted to use shortcuts to get rich quickly. As Jack Zollo says, when the law catches up with them, they will see with their mouth.

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.

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Books Non-Fiction Personalities publishing Releases Reviews

Rehema Kiteto’s journey of daring

TITLE: Daring

AUTHOR: Rehema Malemba Kiteto

GENRE: Memoir

PUBLISHER: The Writers Guild-Kenya

REVIEWER: Kelvin Jaluo Shachile

Coming of age novels must be among the best books we recommend to teenagers and young adults. My assumption for this has always been that coming of age novels are books and stories that allow these young people to look at their lives at the same time reflect on the stories and characters they read about. But then that is fiction, it might be a great reflection of their lives but there is a thin line between those stories and the realities they encounter in their lives.

I have thought for days since I first read Rehema Kiteto’s new memoir titled “Daring” and I have settled to declare it a coming of age story in full realness.

Kenyan author and administrator, Rehema Kiteto made news some years back after her appointment as the youngest administrator in the country at just the age of 24. Having known her for years since I worked with her on our first book “Hell in the Backyard and Other stories” published by Queenex Publishers in 2019, I celebrated this milestone for her.

Days later, as news spread even wider and curiosity in the country spread in wonder of who this mysterious girl was, I started receiving calls and emails from people to get a comment about her. That scared not only me but others close to her.

Some people had theories of how she might have got the job while others remained in awe of her life for they knew her somehow. Daring is a story the country has been waiting for. She writes about her life from childhood to the government administrator she is today. Personalised enough that we get to learn about her encounters with people, love, expectations, disappointments, her blossoming and becoming.

She answers the questions the public had for her since her appointment while situating her story to remind us that it was not an accident she got here. It is actually something that was long overdue. With the right qualifications, experience and values, Rehema’s arrival into the public scene was not an overnight success, it is as she writes, a journey of daring.

She however clarifies that what people said about her did not concern her and the misinterpretations are not something to address. She wrote Daring to dare others to journey on with strength and resilience.

She writes that “My concern was for the young people who might read those online blogs, believe them and throw away their tools of hard work.”  Daring is not only a promising book for teenagers and young adults, it is great for general readership with a promise to resurrect hope in readers who might have in anyway been threatened by the quality of Kenyan self-published books in this recent while. The most exceptional coming of age memoir I have read so far.

The 197 pages long memoir is among the best self-published books I have ever read from any Kenyan. The skillful craft and the way the publisher upheld the integrity and standards of the industry warmed my heart as a book lover. Launched on 25th May of 2024, this new book within a very short time has found itself in the hands of very many people and in places I had never seen memoirs being celebrated, even the Senate of Kenya. I dare say, a well-received memoir from a young person in Kenya threatening to become a national bestseller.

Kelvin Shachile is a writer and curator. He co-authored Hell in the Backyard and other stories (Queenex Publishers, 2019). His writing has appeared in; The Armageddon and Other Stories anthology, A Country of Broken Boys anthology and The Best New African Poets 2018 anthology. Shachile has been featured and published by some of Africa’s finest literary platforms including Agbowo’, Writers Space Africa, Kalahari Review, Akewi’ and elsewhere. Long listed for African Writers Awards and Shortlisted for the Wakini Kuria Prize in 2019. He has worked for Lolwe and briefly for Agbowo’. He is well known for his pamphlet the Game of Writing published and distributed by African Writers Development Trust in 2019, which was reviewed as ‘a bible for new African writers.’ He currently serves on the editorial board of Fiery Scribe Review.

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Books Culture Issues Non-Fiction Personalities Releases Reviews

Long walk to citizenship: the Nubi story in Uganda

TITLE: The Odyssey of the Nubi: From soldiers of the British Empire to Full Citizens in Uganda

AUTHOR: Moses Ali

PUBLISHER: Jescho Publishing House

REVIEWER: Mbugua Ngunjiri

AVAILABILITY: Nuria Bookstores

Uganda, as a country, has had a chequered history marked by leadership struggles informed by much bloodletting. For Kenyans, the much they know about the journey of Uganda to what it is today, is limited to the personalities that have been occupied leadership positions and to an extent, the communities they came from.

These individuals include, Edward Mutesa, Milton Obote, Idi Amin and current president Yoweri Museveni. While the communities where these leaders hail from are known, there is, however, one Ugandan community that has largely escaped the attention of Kenyans, probably due to the fact that none of them has ever scaled to top leadership position in that country.

The Nubi community has however played a larger-than-life role in the history of Uganda, even preceding the advent of colonialism. For the right or wrong reasons, the Nubi community in Uganda have featured centrally in shaping the history of the East African Nation.

The history of the Nubi in Uganda is as colourful and as chequered as that of the country. Above all else, theirs has been a story full of trials, tribulation and betrayal. It is not until Museveni came into power through a protracted bush war, that the Nubi found peace and recognition.

Moses Ali, a retired general in the Ugandan army, has put together a book that traces the roots of the Nubi, from Sudan, during the pre-colonial times, their role in midwifing the both the colonial and post-colonial Uganda sates, to the present.

The Odyssey of the Nubi: From soldiers of the British Empire to Full Citizens in Uganda, is a recommended read for anyone keen on knowing the other side of the Uganda away from the mutesas, obotes, Amins and Musevenis.

General Ali’s book gives a different – one might argue, refreshing – perspective of Uganda. When Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe famously said that ‘until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter’, he must have had the unsung contribution of the Nubi in the making of Uganda, in mind.

One story that has been told over and over again is the contribution of Rwandan refugees, who joined Museveni in liberating Uganda from the chokehold of Obote II and Tito Okello and their murderous band of soldiers. The story of the Rwandan refugees would have remained in the footnotes of history, had those soldiers not fought their way into power in Rwanda.

The story of the Rwandan refugees, mainly Tutsis, led by Paul Kagame, would not be as celebrated as it is today, had they not brought down the genocidal regime of Juvenal Habyarimana. Similarly, the story of the Nubi’s contribution to Museveni’s liberation of Uganda, would not be known had Gen Ali elected not to write this book.

It is therefore safe to say that the Nubi, through Gen Ali, are the proverbial lions that learnt to write and therefore managed to celebrate their contribution in shaping modern Uganda into what it is today.

When Obote, propped up by Tanzania’s president, the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, came back for a second stint as Ugandan president, he embarked on a negative campaign that sought to exterminate the Nubi, whose soldiers he blamed for backing up Idi Amin, when he ousted him (Obote) in a military coup in 1972.

Many Nubi’s lost their lives, while others fled to exile, in the hands of Obote’s troops, after he came back to power, via an election in 1980, which Gen Ali dismisses as a sham in his book. The author, who at one time was a finance minister in Amin’s regime, fled into exile in Sudan when Obote came back to power.

He writes that Amin sacked him and had sent assassins to finish him off

When Obote took his revenge campaign to West Nile, the homeland of the Nubi in Uganda, Gen Ali and others, who had served in Amin’s army, decided to push back when they formed UNRF (Uganda National Rescue Front), thereby creating a safe haven for their kinsmen in the region.

Museveni was at the same time, also waging war against Obote. Much later, Museveni and his National Resistance Army formed a pact with UNRF, which ushered them into power. The book explains that the Nubi in UNRF, courtesy of having career soldiers within its ranks, had the potential to capture state power in Uganda, only that it was hindered by internal wrangles.

General Ali currently occupies the office of second deputy prime minister as well as deputy leader of government in Uganda.

As book’s title suggests, the Nubi have struggled with the issue of citizenship in subsequent Ugandan governments. They finally achieved their citizenship dream with the enactment of the 1995 constitution.

When the book was launched in Kenya on Friday May 11, the Alliance Française library was filled with members of the Nubi community based in Kenya. The deliberations, inevitably, touched on the citizen status of the Nubi in Kenya.

Like their Ugandan counterparts, the Nubi of Kenya arrived as soldiers with the British imperialists, helping them establish the Kenyan colony. As a way of appreciation, the colonialists allocated the Nubi about 4,000 acres in present day Kibra. Out of the original 4,000 acres, the Kenyan government gave them title deed to 288 acres only, following years of agitation.

The Nubi of Kenya have made a petition to President William Ruto, who promised to look into the issue of getting them recognised as an ethnic community in Kenya. They are now awaiting a positive presidential announcement on December 12, during Jamhuri Day celebrations.

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Books Fiction Personalities Reviews

70-year-old medic pens archaeological thriller

When Dan Kairo says he is a Mau Mau detainee it is somewhat difficult to believe his assertion. For one, he was born in June 1954, while the State of Emergency, that ushered in mass detentions of Kikuyus, had been declared a year before.

“I was two months old, still on my mother’s back, when my parents were detained,” he explains. “My mother and I went to a detention facility in Limuru, while my father was hauled to the Athi River Detention Camp.”

As a result of his one-year stint as a Mau Mau baby detainee, Kairo is a paid up member of the Mau Mau War Veterans Association and has receipts to prove it.

At the time of their detention, Kairo’s father was a headmaster at a school ran by the Karing’a movement, which had defied colonialists and Christian missionaries by establishing independent churches and schools that incorporated Gikuyu culture in their teachings. When the State of Emergency was declared, these schools were shut down by the colonial authorities.

Kairo’s father was deemed guilty by association.

While Kairo and his mother were released from their incarceration after one year, his father came out of detention in 1960. “When my father came out of detention, I was in Standard One; I could not believe it when I was told that he was my father,” he recounts. “This was due to the fact that we had been told that he had died in detention.”

By virtue of being a headmaster before detention, Kairo’s father was a man of means and had a number of pieces of land to his name in his home area of Nyathuna. He lost all that since land consolidation was done when he was still in detention.

That setback in his early life did not prevent Kairo from making it in life. He is a trained medical doctor, who later veered in the world of pharmaceuticals, before settling into real estate. That is not all, Kairo, who is turning 70 in June, recently opened a new chapter into his colourful life, by becoming a published author.

At an age when his peers are in semi-retirement, Kairo took pen and paper and wrote an engrossing archaeological thriller, whose publication he funded. He worked with Mystery Publishers, who offered him editorial, design and printing services.

His book Sibiloi, is a fictional story of a group of scientists, who set up camp among the Amalek, a community found in Northern Kenya, where they make a discovery that has the potential of shocking the whole world.

This discovery, once unveiled, will turn, on its head, the story of creation as the world knows it.

It all starts when a sacred belt, stolen from the Amalek, finds its way to a pawn shop in London and acquired by a collector, who is also an archaeologist.

The collector soon discovers that this is not an ordinary belt. So explosive is the mystery held by the ancient belt that some people are willing to kill to ensure it is not unveiled to the world.

The sacred belt, the Amalek elders explain, is part of what their ancestor’s gods bequeathed them, and the complete information is stored in caves on the edges of Sibiloi National Park.

The scientists and the Amalek elders hammer out a deal; the scientists get access to the secret caves for research purposes, in return to handing sacred belt back to the community.

One thing leads to another and the book comes to an explosive end, literally. You would have to read the book know what transpired. The book is truly edge-of-the-seat stuff. 

Back to the Mau Mau detention story: “While in detention, my father took up teaching fellow detainees, a job that paid him one shilling a day. At the time of his release, he had had saved up sh2,700,” explains Kairu. “He used the money to buy a seven-acre piece of land adjacent to the school he used to teach.”

It is ironical that despite having worked as a teacher, while in detention, by colonial authorities, the same colonial government refused to give him a teaching job after he was freed from detention. By this time, the school had been taken over by the government and renamed Kahuho DEB Primary School.

Two years after Kenya gained independence, Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first president visited Kahuho and expressed desire to upgrade the school into a secondary school. “For it to be upgraded to Kahuho Uhuru High School, the institution required additional land, and that is how my father moved to Nyandarua, where he bought a larger piece of land and settled his family,” explains Kairo.

When his family relocated to Nyandarua, Kairo was in Standard Seven, so he was left behind with his grandmother, as he completed his education. “I later joined Dagoretti High School, which was quite a distance from my grandmother’s place. Being a day scholar, I ended up staying with a relative, who operated a food joint in Uthiru,” says Kairo. “It was a two-roomed affair and we would sleep on the ground in the other room, which also served as the store for things like charcoal.”

As a result, young Kairo found himself with time to spare, time he used to frequent social joints, singing and dancing to Lingala music, which was the craze in town.

One of the patrons of those social joints worked as a driver at Kabete Vet Lab. “I knew the man since we used to pass through his farm, going to school,” recalls Kairo. “Every time he emerged from his drinking joint, he would see me hanging around and ask me to help him push his bicycle across Naivasha Road, as he was already drunk.”

One day, as Kairo was helping the man with his bike, he sought to know what a boy in school uniform was doing hanging around drinking joints. “I told him my story and he said that he wouldn’t wish to see me to ending up as a drunk, like him. When we got to his home, he told his wife that I would henceforth be staying at his home,” explains Kairo adding the man’s decision to accommodate him saved his education.

He kept touch with his benefactor’s family and would later take care of him when he was admitted to Kenyatta National Hospital, where Kairo was working a medical intern. 

Kairo finished his ‘O’ Levels at Dagoretti and proceed to Kenyatta College, now Kenyatta University, for his ‘A’ Levels. He later joined the University of Nairobi’s School of Medicine. “I practiced as a medical doctor for a few years but left to join the pharmaceutical industry, where I worked for twenty years,” he explains, adding that he later shifted to real estate.

Sibiloi is available at Nuria Bookstore.

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Books Issues Non-Fiction Reviews

Sometimes, life commands death to stay its hand

TITLE: Hop Skip and Jump

AUTHOR: Scholar V. Akinyi

PUBLISHER: Self

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.

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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.

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Books Issues Non-Fiction Reviews Short Stories

The emotions expressed are too raw and life-changing

TITLE: CONFESSIONS OF NAIROBI MEN

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.

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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.

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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.

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These harrowing tales will make you a better person

TITLE: Confessions of Nairobi Women Book Two

AUTHOR: Joan Thatiah

REVIEWER: Scholastica Moraa

There’s something about secrets and confessions that makes everyone’s ears perk up, listen a little harder and be more curious. That is what Joan Thatiah’s books do. They make you crave what is inside the pages. They make you pay attention

 Confessions of Nairobi Women Book Two is a sequel to the first series. It contains twelve, raw, painful but brilliantly written stories. They are also page turners. You just can’t stop reading; every story just keeps you yearning for a little bit more.

As harrowing as the tales are, in the end, they are worth it because they leave you looking at the world differently; Looking at the women you meet in different situations with kinder eyes. They are a harsh reminder of the adage, ‘walk a mile in someone’s shoes before you dare to judge’

From a woman who tried so hard not to be like her mother only to end up realising the path her mother chose was the best, to a lawyer whose life was destroyed in car jack; the stories leave you trembling with horror. Because they are just ordinary women who you wouldn’t look at twice if you met them. You would actually think they are pretty well off and have no reason to complain. From the horrors of addiction, prostitution, FGM, crime, and many more; there is no dark place the writer has shied away from.

These stories deserve to be here. If you come across this book, pick it up, immerse yourself in it. When you bring your head up for air, you will be a changed person, I hope a better and kinder person too.

And that is what books are meant to do. Make us better.

This book comes highly recommended.