Book: Belonging in Africa
Author: Jo Alkemade
Publisher: Lesleigh Inc
Publication date: 2014
Number of pages: 256
Belonging in Africa is the debut novel by Kenyan born, USA based Jo Alkemade and it follows the exploits of Sara a young girl of Dutch parentage who is born in Kenya in the early 1960s. Based on real life events in the late 1970, it starts as she is turning eighteen and she is excited by the concept of being an adult. On this day she receives gifts from family and friends befitting her age; her father pays for her driving lessons so that she can finally start driving her own car. Her friends give her a fancy lighter for her cigarettes which her father on seeing them hopes will not make her smoke more.
As she is enveloped in love, she is waiting for her boyfriend to come through for a date on her special day. He did not the bastard. Heartbroken, she eventually hooks up with Sam Dragu a dashing Ugandan rugby player who lives in a motel in Westlands with his brother Dennis. The affair seems extremely enjoyable on both sides and it looks like one happily ever after thing is on the cards. It is not flawless. Sara’s dad doesn’t like it that her daughter is going out with some miro and he does his best to cock block the two. He even goes as far as to try and veto a trip for the two to a farm in Kapenguria. What kind of father doesn’t want his daughter to go of with some dude who he knows will be shafting her with wild abandon you ask? I mean this was before HIV/AIDS so this should be OK right?
In spite of daddy’s best intentions, the couple make their way to Kapenguria where they bring the beast with two backs to life. Such a special time that was had there. When they separate, they have a plan. The two lovebirds will meet in London to study and continue their attempt at decimating the supply of condoms in the UK. He goes off home to Uganda and she awaits communication in Nairobi.
As she awaits, she informs her parents of her nefarious plan and guess the response? Do I have to tell you? Evil dad vetos it! World War 3 seemed to be on the cards until a call comes from Uganda. Her lover is dead. She goes to the land that has just been liberated by mad cap dictator Idi Amin and then goes home to make decisions about her future. Against her father’s wishes again the poor old man.
When I was given this book by the publisher I was a bit apprehensive. I am still recovering from the horrible “White Maasai” literary phenomenon where white women write about coming to Kenya to marry savage African men and how it doesn’t work out so well for them. Then I’m looking at this book telling us about a forbidden love between a white girl and black man;
jamaneni eish! The beauty about it is that the author tries; she really does her best. But even as I read it I can still see the white privilege there. I mean how many locals do you hear who are already driving at eighteen with parents that allow them to smoke in their house? How many locals do you hear would allow their eighteen year old to go off on an adventure that probably will end in sex. How many people will tell you about their favourite beggar to give a shilling outside the Stanely? Not many I assure you. Even as I read the book these little things jump up at me try as I might to ignore them.
Apart from that itsy bitsy issue there’s also the problem of lack of content in the book. This book could have been much much shorter and it wouldn’t have affected the plot in anyway. For this reader, there were many periods I would trudge through the book because I was determined to finish it (my new year’s resolution) and review it.
The book does have many redeeming qualities. It is exceeding well edited. This means that I am not worrying about the quality of my reading as I do when reading some of the manuscripts being touted as complete books in this town.
It also gives a very nice snapshot of the expat life in the late 1970s and its connection with some of the more affluent miros in town. The Uganda leg of the story is also very informative. I’ve read about the Uganda of that time but she gives a fresh eye to it all.
Would I recommend that you but this story of a young girl and her love for a Ugandan dude that dies? I don’t know man. The answer has to be a no. If you have the time and have nothing better to do why not?
Miro – Black person.
Odiero – White person.