In an opening quotation of just eighty words, author Richard Crompton establishes a prison setting, its sights, sounds and smells, its fraught atmosphere, the state of mind of the prisoner, his cultural background, the antagonistic attitude of the guard, and the guard’s triumphant, even delighted, threatening of his prisoner. It is not because the prisoner is a Maasai that he is likely to be tormented, however. In this case, the prisoner is also known as Constable Mollel of the Nairobi police. Mollel had been a Maasai moran twenty years ago when he left his roots in “Maasai-land” in southern Kenya to begin work as a policeman in Nairobi, hoping to bring justice to Kenya’s hard-working poor within an atmosphere in which corruption is a way of life. For even the most dedicated police officers, however, creating a sense of peace is often more important than bringing pure justice, and Mollel has been a constant trial to many of his superiors and to the judicial system. Constantly challenging and questioning them, he is also cursed with a hair-trigger temper and willingness to do violence to bring about “justice,” which has resulted in his being moved around among police departments throughout the country. Now he is imprisoned for an unspecified crime, and he must somehow survive among a number of former policemen he helped send to jail. The deaths of some of the characters, killed in bizarre ways no one in the US would ever dream of, combine with scenes of touching honesty to create a novel filled with surprises and new visions of contemporary life in Kenya. And though there are enough plot lines here to fill two or three books, the author keeps his style so simple and the novel so filled with fascinating new information that few will begrudge the author his expansive plot.
Category Archive for 'Kenya'
The vibrantly descriptive opening lines of this novel set in Nairobi, Kenya, introduce a chapter that is a textbook example of good writing, drawing in the reader, establishing an atmosphere, suggesting character, hinting at a father’s relationship with his son, and presenting a familiar scene in which that child is just itching for his first bicycle. By the next page, the author has created a much broader, more dramatic context for these characters, expanding the setting, placing this small episode in the context of the larger community, and suggesting ominous new directions for the action. In less than three hundred words, I was hooked. The author’s writing is so confident that I, too, became confident that this debut novel would deliver a well-wrought story with well-developed characters within the fraught atmosphere of Nairobi in 2007, and that it would do so with style and intelligence. I was not wrong. Author Richard Crompton, a former BBC journalist who now lives in Nairobi with his family, understands the city’s social, economic, and political conditions and reveals them through his precise descriptions, his insights into his characters’ motivations, and his appreciation of the tribal loyalties and conflicts which affect virtually every aspect of daily life within this complex society. The main character, forty-two-year-old Police Detective Mollel, has been a national hero for his selfless actions during one national emergency, but he is now a pariah within the department for challenging his superiors and often expressing his rage at the lack of “justice” he sees in society. He is called upon to solve the murder of a prostitute, just as the violent 2007 elections are about to take place.
In Dark Star Safari (2002), author Paul Theroux travels along Africa’s east coast from Egypt to South Africa, through Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and other countries. Though he begins his trip full of hope, he discovers that life on Africa’s east coast, as seen here in 2002, is not what he remembered from his Peace Corps days. Then he had been a volunteer in Malawi and a teacher in Uganda, leaving the country just as Idi Amin came to power. Despite the political upheavals of the 1960′s, his memories of Africa during that time are good ones. In 2002, approaching his sixtieth birthday, he is determined to travel from Cairo to Cape Town, believing that the continent “contain[s] many untold tales and some hope and comedy and sweetness, too,” and that there is “more to Africa than misery and terror,” something he aims to discover as he “wander[s] the antique hinterland.”
Using documents and photographs that have never before been available, along with private diaries and interviews with some of those who knew the subject, Idina Sackville, author Frances Osborne creates a lively, readable, and well researched biography which attempts to understand what aspects of her early family life might have helped create a person so flamboyant, sexually adventurous, and hedonistic that she became world famous, just for being who she was. The author has special reason to ponder this subject. When she was thirteen, The Sunday Times began a serialization of James Fox’s White Mischief, a detailed account of Happy Valley and the British aristocrats who had participated in the “mischief” in Kenya. Frances and her twelve-year-old sister Kate devoured each installment as it came out. “Was this the secret to being irresistible to men,” she wondered, “to behave as this woman did, while ‘walking barefoot at every available opportunity’ as well as being ‘intelligent, well-read, enlivening company’?” One afternoon, with a twinkle in his eye, her father told his embarrassed wife Davina that it was time for her to come clean. Davina had to admit to her daughters that she was the granddaughter of Idina Sackville, and they themselves were Idina’s great-granddaughters.
In this readable, exciting, and historically enlightening novel with two separate plots, Audrey Schulman accomplishes an incredible task. She makes the individual plots totally compelling and uniquely character-driven as they shift back and forth in alternating chapters, always leaving the reader panting for more and anxious to keep reading toward a conclusion. What is most seductive about the novel is that the plots take place in two different time periods and settings—one, in the area of what is now Kenya in 1899, and the other, in Virunga National Park, on the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, in 2000. In the first plot a man from Bangor, Maine, responsible for building a railroad from Mombasa to Kisumu, through Amboseli, must deal with two large and bloodthirsty lions, reportedly over nine feet in length, as they lie waiting to pick off railroad workers; in the second, a young scientist with Asperger’s Syndrome is charged with finding a vine that is consumed by mountain gorillas and which dramatically reduces the incidence of both stroke and heart disease in their species. If Max, the researcher is able to obtain samples of the vine, a pharmaceutical company will, among other benefits, provide armed security to ensure the survival of the gorilla population in Virunga National Park, ad infinitum. Somehow Schulman manages to connect these two disparate plots in the conclusion, leaving the reader wholly satisfied on all levels.