Author: Kinyanjui Kombani
Year of publication: 2013
Number of pages: 188
Kenyan writer Kinyanjui Kombani has a new book out called Den of Inequities. His first book was The Last Villains of Molo and it addressed the tricky issue of the series of crises that occurred in the Rift Valley in the 1990s that we liked to call “land clashes” or “tribal clashes” depending on your persuasion. This was one of the best books to come out of Kenya in recent times.
His newest book deals with big issues as well with a shadowy sect at the centre of the tale. Kenyan readers, at least this reviewer as a Kenyan, will recognize that he may be speaking about a sect not unlike the Mungiki that terrorized large swathes of the country for many moons from the late 1990s. The story begins with Omosh, a construction worker who gets arrested on his way home to bring medicine to his son. Unable to bribe the police, he goes to court and ends up getting a jail term of three months with no option of a fine for pleading guilty to something he did not do. While in jail he had run into another character called Gosti, a neighbourhood thug specialising in mugging folks.
Upon their release, Omosh finds his wife and son now staying with a man who is financially better off while Gosti finds his wife serving tea to his estranged father. Gosti still harbours much resentment for the father who left him and his siblings when they were children.
Then there is Eileen the university beauty queen who meets a simple man called Edward who comes to her aid and falls for him. She is the daughter of a minister while her knight in shining armour turns out to be the leader of a deadly group that goes by the name The Chama. The gang is soon in trouble with the police after mysterious assassination of police officers. Cindy finds herself caught up in the mess of the Chama as the cops clean up house.
This book has many things going for it. It is exceedingly well written and edited; the lack of good editing is one of the things that many publications coming from this part of the world suffer from. The writer has also done his homework with his character development. We meet wholly formed characters which correspond with the ones we meet with on a daily basis. Chief Magistrate Andrew Muluma for instance is your typical human being who, while presiding over the case of a bunch of drunks recalls that his wife was killed by racing drunk Subaru drivers.
The book also has some hilarious characters in it. The cops are quite good but for me it has to be Maish a small time phone thief who specializes in stealing phones from matatus. He claims to love Facebook even though he doesn’t know what it is because it prevents the owner of the phone from concentrating on the dangers allowing for him to steal their phones. This he does by stealing from outside the vehicle’s window.
Ultimately this book is interesting on one major level. The commentators in the literature business have been crying for the next Meja Mwangi or John Kiriamiti to write the quintessential Nairobi urban novel. Stop searching folks; Den of Inequities is the next big urban book. With this one you get the whole Nairobi experience; the clubbing with the scene in Club Smash. The ways of the slums. The police and the protection rackets. It is a book I read as I laughed my head off or nodded as the writer observed stuff I hadn’t noticed in my environment. It was a learning experience.