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 Issues Non-Fiction Releases Reviews

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.

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 Non-Fiction Personalities Reviews

No grace: the shameful exit of Robert Mugabe

TITLE: The Graceless Fall of Robert Mugabe

AUTHOR: Geoffrey Nyarota


REVIEWER: Scholastica Moraa

Like most people, I have always wondered what happened to Zimbabwe.  What led to one man holding on to power for so long? I have always wondered if there wasn’t a better person to lead Zimbabwe.  Through Geoffrey Nyarota’s book many of these questions are answered and so much more is revealed.

Non-fictional books tend to be boring but not this one. Nyarota’s flawless style of writing makes sure of that. Books that cover political situations tend to be skewed towards one side but Nyarota goes through this narration objectively with his ideas supported with facts and on occasions where he is not sure, or does not have hard evidence, he lets the reader know that.

‘The Graceless Fall of Mugabe’ follows the journey of one man; Robert Mugabe and how he led to the fall of a once prosperous nation, Africa’s Jewel, as described by the late Julius Nyerere.  Robert Mugabe inherited a really healthy economy, compared to what Tanzania and other countries, like Mozambique, got. He however, diverted funds, meant for development, to personal use.

Mugabe, according the book, used violence to stay in power, as evidenced by the assassinations of his opponents. Joshua Nkomo, Edgar Tekere, Morgan Tsvangirai are just a few of the people he successfully subdued for having divergent opinions. In the Gakuruhundi massacres, thousands of Ndebele civilians, who didn’t support him, died forcing Joshua Nkomo to sign an agreement with Mugabe, to stop the killings.

In operation Murambatsvina, thousands of urban families that didn’t support him were displaced in a bid to weaken Morgan Tsvangirai, leading to mass unemployment. A miscalculated land program to kick out the whites, left huge tracts of land in the hands of corrupt politicians and unskilled farmers, who didn’t have the technological know-how nor the financial means to run the farms, thus leading to a hungry nation depending on UN handouts.

Drastic steps taken by the military under the leadership of General Chiwenga was the reason Zimbabwe was able to wrestle power back from the Mugabes. The jubilation in Zimbabwe was clear evidence of how tired the citizens were and the relief they experienced after Mugabe’s exit. However, the question of whether the new leadership will do better still stands to be answered.

This book captures the situation in many African countries, where presidents and other leaders misuse funds meant for the welfare of their people, advocate for policies that lead to the oppression of their people and generally lead to destitution of African countries.

The land invasions in Zimbabwe brought about painful sanctions, that paralysed the country’s economy and rendered the Zim Dollar useless, to date. Recently, Kenya witnessed something close to what happened in Zim, when paid goons invaded the expansive Northlands Farm belonging to the family of retired president Uhuru Kenyatta. It would appear that some lessons are hard to learn.  

Nyarota’s book offers excellent examples for ‘misgovernance’ and comes highly recommended.

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.

Books Non-Fiction Personalities Reviews

The enchanting story of the late Yusuf Dawood

Title: Nothing But the Truth

Author: Yusuf K Dawood

Publisher: East African Educational Publishers

Reviewer: Scholastica Moraa

I started reading this book enthusiastically; with a desire to know the man behind the thrilling Surgeon’s Diary in the Sunday Nation newspaper. The book did not disappoint and since the beginning I have read on, feverishly flipping the pages. Excited to see what is on the next page and the next.

Yusuf Dawood uses just the right amount of words, in just the right way to express himself. The humour in some of his stories found me laughing out aloud. It is really magical learning about this great man and where he has been, what he has done, why he is the way he is. From Bantwa, to Miraj, to Britain to beloved Kenya, I followed his story and marvelled at his growth and experiences. I mourned the death of his mother, I froze with him in Britain, I happily met and loved Marie, I went with him in Karachi. I held the scalpel with him too.

The surgeon has wielded the pen so beautiful that a reader steps in his shoes, you meet his patients, you feel his emotions, you step into theatre rooms with him. But the other astounding bit, is the amount of history the book holds. And all from the eyes of a man who experienced it first-hand. He tells his readers about the separation of Pakistan from India, the evolution of medical practice, the growth of Kenya from independence, the evolution of Nairobi, the infrastructure too.

Through his book, a reader is able to comprehend the kind of man the doctor was. Through his life we learn about the importance of family, of values and how far love can take someone.  This book is a gift to anyone. And for an autobiography, it is a thrilling one at that.  We read about great men so we can learn that it is possible to be one. And through them we learn that real life stories are sometimes better than fiction. A thoroughly enjoyable and unputdownable read.

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 Non-Fiction Reviews

Who hurt you?

Title: Confessions of Nairobi Women

Author: Joan Thatiah

Reviewer: Scholastica Moraa

I will be lying if the catchy title did not light in me the desire to read this book. Confessions… secrets … scandals have always held an appeal to everyone. Joan Thatiah did not disappoint. The fact that the stories are true makes the experience otherworldly. I love the fact that Joan was asking the question so many people want to be asked.. who hurt you? What are you afraid of? When did things start going south? what pain are you trying to hide behind that smile?

Joan Thatiah steps into the shoes of these women and takes us with her. She dunks us in the lives of these women and their fear and pain seeps into our souls too. The stories are written in a simple yet beautiful style and are ideal for people looking for easy yet appealing reads.

We meet Atemi whose husband is infertile but asks too much from her. In another we meet a woman whose father broke her mother and who is afraid of becoming her mother. We meet a girl whose father took advantage of her and turned her into who she is now- a beautiful woman bleeding on the inside.

We also meet a pregnant teenager who clawed her way to where she is now but whose demons cling to her skirts and just can’t let her go. We meet women who have undergone violence and are still piecing their pieces together. We meet conwomen and prostitutes.  Businesswomen and wives. Mothers and daughters. Reflections of who we are. Of what we go through. A mirror of what the society has done to women.

The book is a candid reflection of what most women go through, why they make the decisions they do and how they feel about them. Most people make decisions based on their experiences or the experiences of their loved ones…

Reading these stories, I would really love to say I don’t know these women. That these stories are not real. But how can I when I know tens of women exactly like these ones? How can I when they are my friends? How can I pretend that their stories are not real when their demons cling to my soul?

This is a beautiful read. Not just to women who make the largest percentage of Joan Thatiah’s readers but to everyone who can read. Because through pieces like this… we understand.  And maybe if we all understand, we will be kinder. We will leave our judgemental stuff by the door when we meet other people.

Totally unputdownable. Met and exceeded expectations. Would highly recommend any day.

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 Culture Non-Fiction Personalities Reviews

The making of a phenomenal black woman

Title: Finding Me

Author: Viola Davis

Publisher: HarperCollins

Reviewer: Scholastica Moraa

Viola Davis. The woman who set our screens on fire with her act in ‘The Woman King’. Picking this book was a search for who she is, for who she became; for the intricate pieces of what makes this phenomenal black woman.

Finding Me is a biography of one woman’s search for who she is. That eight-year-old girl, who kept running until she decided to run no more. Without holding anything back she shows us her family, in all its ugly, delicate and awfully beautiful edges. I fell in love with MaMama – her mother ‘with the -and stuff like that in tha’.

I honestly think no words can bring out the rawness with which Viola Davis brought out her story.  She fought so many demons her pain and shame are palpable. For people who cry easily, this can make you cry. Her violent father, the utter poverty… the struggle. But then these kids dreamt their pain away.

Viola Davis’ story is not the typical caterpillar that morphed into a butterfly. But rather a butterfly that never really knew how beautiful it was.

From a crumbling apartment in Central Falls, Rhode Island, this little girl clawed her way to the stage in New York City and beyond. From a girl struggling with bedwetting, running from bullies and being totally unrecognised, Viola has risen to become a household name. A woman we look up to. Someone black girls want to be. It is raw how she says that people did not expect someone who looked like her to take leading roles… but she did and excelled at it. Once she stopped running, once she went down on her knees, her prayers were answered. Some took longer than she expected; but they were answered.

Anyone would have understood if she had given up. But this woman did not. She rose to win several awards including an Oscar and graced our screens with her talent. An inspiration to any little girl who dares to dream. That it doesn’t matter where you start from. It doesn’t matter the odds stacked against you. You will get where you need to.

I totally recommend this read. A million times.

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.