So apart from the Set books you read in high school, have you ever read any other Kenyan books?
And let’s just be honest, out of the three or four set books we did, only one was Kenyan.
I have sat around tables of educated people in and outta campus where we showed our bravados through having read the most books in the world. I have walked into houses with enormous bookshelves and ran through all titles. One thing that was apparent, no one reads Kenyan books. Shame!
“Skia hiki kidame kimeanza politics zingine!”
In all these conversations I have had about books, I found my counterparts and I discussing Sidney Sheldon (love this guy to pieces), Nora Roberts, Danielle Steel, Ken Follet, John Grisham, Robert Ludlum, Lee Child, James Patterson and the list goes on and on and on.
Now if you look at these names, you will realize that all of them are either American or European. Huh! As an avid reader, I know that when you read a book, a lot of cultural transmission occurs. For example, if you are reading Dan Brown’s ‘Angels and Demons’ you are totally fluent in Piazza de Vittoria, the Sistine Chapel and the history of the Illuminati. Great!! So much knowledge.
But then what fucking knowledge do you have? Of Europe and that’s commendable. Now think about how much you know about your own country, Kenya, in case you forgot. You are what you read (that’s why we went to those fucking prisons they called school), the conversations you have, what you listen to, what you watch- you are what you consume. And thank God, baby we are in the era of mass consumption!
Now if you are basing your knowledge about Kenya from what you have read, you only have one source of reference, that single set book you read in high school! Boo-hoo! I belong to the group that read Ngugi Wa Thiong’oos (Maestro, there is none like you) “The River Between” and My God, I loved that book. Ask any of my classmates, they will tell you how much they hated the dialogue between our literature teacher Mrs Murage (I swear she was heaven sent) and I (me? This shit came in ships like they transported our mothers and fathers across the Atlantic).
I haven’t read ‘The River Between’ since high school but all I remember is that there was a guy called Waiyaki and a girl called Nyambura. The two ridges lay side by side. One was Kameno, the other was Makuyu. Between them was a valley. It was called the valley of life. They were like sleeping lions that never woke. A river flowed in the valley between, it was called Honia. My God! I just came remembering that. Just one minute, I need to go be a lady in the bathroom coz when I come back, I won’t be much of that.
That’s the stupidity you see coz The River Between was much more than that. It was about colonial and the culture clash between our own and that of the white man. Amidst this was the love story of Nyambura and Waiyaki. You know what you call that? Knowledge of our history and our lives by a Kenyan, for Kenyans.
Then I read Weep Not Child the other day. I read it when I was in primary school and all I could remember of it was a boy’s nuts got squeezed by a white man and that was just destabilizing for me. When I read Weep Not Child, I felt all the Kenyan nerves rise in me. I could relate with Ngugi because I am an African, a Kenyan. I felt pain when I read about the Kenyans who sold fellow Africans to white men. I felt insurmountable anger when Njoroge’s balls got squeezed by Mr. Howards. I felt elated when I read about the Mau Mau uprising and their conquests through the stories of some of the characters. I felt Kenyan.
Now tell me, when you are reading this white people shit, do you ever feel what I described above? No, you don’t. I know this coz I have read myriads of their stuff. They are entertaining I swear and you learn a lot about their culture and the rest of the world through them, those are plus points! But you never relate when you hear about the American dream or the Spanish invasion of America. Naah! You don’t relate coz you are a fucking African!
Our stories are about the culture we had before the white man came to disrupt it. Our story is the cultural clash between ours and theirs. Our story is about the God we worshiped before we were told to close our eyes and speak in tongues while they stole our land, raped our mothers and destroyed the future of our generation. Our heroes are the Mau Mau who killed them and made them uncomfortable enough to leave our land. Our story is that Dedan Kimathi who fought never became president and that the son of Mt. Kenya began a tribal coalition that separated the rest of Kenya. That’s our story. If you don’t read stuff that revolve around that, can you truly call yourself Kenyan?
You are reading lotsa books. And that’s great! But what the fuck are you reading?
Hey, if you have read some amazing Kenyan books, please post them down here with a synopsis.