Author: Gilbert Muyumbu
Publisher: Pangolin Publishers
Year of publishers: 2014
Number of pages: 143
Genre: Short story collection
Number of stories: 15
The thing with short story collections is that just like a very famous reviewer for the Washington Post, I don’t like them as I tend to have a problem keeping track of the characters. I am one of those readers who start with a book and by page fifty am still getting used to the characters and their weirdnesses. So the short story is a problem for me as I have to learn my characters fast and just as I am getting to grips with them the story ends. Not ideal for those who want to enjoy their prose and savour it. I see the short story as a quick shower which gets you clean and you may or may not enjoy it depending on the time of day you are doing this or whether you are coming in from the rain like it happened to me when I was leaving Capital Centre yesterday. On the other hand a novel is a bath which one can luxuriate in and saviour the experience of being clean. Weirdly enough I prefer showering with cleanliness and the novel where prose is concerned.
The Noses in Our Families and other stories is the debut collection by Kenyan writer Gilbert Muyumbu with 15 stories covering several topics that many East Africans have to deal with like nationhood, HIV/AIDS and social concerns. Given in crisp fashion with a focus on function as opposed to style for its sake, which I like, they deal with some of the topics that we tend to hear more about in our writing.
Two of the most striking stories dealing with national crisis are the title story The Noses In Our Families and The Rich Man of Yesterday. In the former, a family in an unnamed country comes from a strange ancestor called Ayimba. Ayimba had two wives one who had a shorter more “African” nose and the other had a more elongated nose. When the rulers of their country have African noses the “Africans” would take charge of the family wealth and ensure that the both branches of the family are well taken care of. When the longer nose rulers start ruling, the family hands over the wealth and the shorter nose people go into exile to be taken care of by now in charge. The current predicament or story arch is the case of Oliviella who suggests to the current family patriarch that perhaps they should just do plastic surgery to ensure that their family members can blend whatever the regime is there they are safe. This story portrays the madness that was seen in 1994 when families killed one another in 1994 in Rwanda and Burundi and suggests uncanny solutions.
Then there is The Rich Man of Yesterday where we meet Njugus at a political rally waiting for Politicians to come and address a crowd. We come to learn that this guy was a very rich man owning a hardware store in a part of the country which was hostile to people of his community. When post election violence comes he loses his wealth as his stores are burnt down; the worst part is that the perpetrator of the crime is his childhood pal. When he loses his wealth he goes slowly down the path of hopelessness. This story is a brilliant portrayal of what the madness that racked our nation when we had the elections of 2007.
Its World AIDS Day today so I suppose I have to mention the HIV/AIDS story in the collection Things That Happen When We Fight. In this one a young woman is mourning the passing on of her husband. Only she is bitter as he gave her the big disease with the little name while she was still young and desirable.
The characters are believable and the whole spectrum of human beings that we run into every day in this country are portrayed skillfully.
The collection does have its flaws. Like you would find when you buy an album there are some stories which are there as “fillers” as we called them in the old country. They don’t seem to add to much to the enjoyment of the reader. Stories such as The Lamps and The Moths and By the Mouth of the Great Ocean are remarkable in how unmemorable they were to this reader. There must have been a reason they were included in this collection but to entertain, inform or educate was not one of them.
The font the book is quite small so some who are used to spacing in their reading might have a problem getting the most enjoyment out of this book. Yet in spite of the tiny font and the few unmemorable stories this is a decent collection for you who wants to check out some hot new talent from Kenya. I have a feeling that this will not be the last time I will be hearing of this Gilbert Muyumbu name. You heard it here first.