My posts during April form part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. I will be writing to a theme: book genres, largely taken from the comprehensive Goodreads list.
OK, I admit it, I was scrabbling around for a category and you really didn't want to make me write about knitting ... did you? And it was on that Goodreads list, so I think it counts!
Sadly, I've never visited Kenya, but those safaris run by Kuoni have drawn me ever since my 20s. My only in-person experience of Africa is the West, but like many of us, I have heard the tales of the Happy Valley and Karen Blixen from the early part of the 20th Century and of Kenya's appeal due to its stability and success when compared with its neighbours. Then I read "It's Our Turn to Eat" by Michaela Wrong and that turned everything I thought I knew about Kenya on to its head.
Michaela Wrong, a journalist covering the African continent for Reuters, the BBC, and the Financial Times, opens her story with the inauguration of Mwai Kibaki as 4th President of Kenya in 2002. His successful election was a surprise as the previous incumbant, Daniel Arap Moi, had been expected to pull it out of the bag, whether by fair means or foul. Wrong tells us about the country's positive expectations of an economic upsurge and a rout of the corruption endemic in all parts of Africa. John Gothingo is appointed as corruption czar, but seems to take his appointment rather more seriously than his political masters intend. He uncovers evidence that the corruption goes all the way up to the top and ends up fleeing the country in order to break his story. Despite this, things don't go according to plan, with the political status quo remaining largely unchanged.
Wrong has written a powerful tale of Githongo, ensuring that we don't turn him into some sort of saint, whilst not lessening his drive to right the wrongs being done in and to his country. I felt the book lost its focus somewhat when she moved onto describing the colonial and tribal history. Although this provides key background to Githongo's story, it starts to feel more like an essay, whereas the pace had previously been maintained by seeing the tale - largely - through Githongo's experience.
But is there another side of Kenya? One that is more everyday and less political? I certainly found one example in "A Guide to the birds of East Africa" by Nicholas Drayson. This is a love story which just happens to be based in Nairobi. It's sweet and innocent, where our two main characters compete for the company of Rose at the main social event of the year, by the winning of a bird watching competition! We do hear about politics, race and society, but they make up the well-drawn background for a lovely human story.
The society that we get to know well in "Birds of East Africa" is that of Kenyans with Indian origin and I was keen to find an everyday story of Kenyans with African origin, written by Kenyans. Whilst I did uncover some potential examples, these were remarkably expensive to purchase and not available via local libraries. Those examples are on my to-be-read watch-list as they promise much to add to the picture of Kenya.
Do you have any suggestions to add to my watch/wish-list? Have you had your previous knowledge of a country completely changed by a book? If so, which one?