Author: Yvonne Adhiambo Owour
Publisher: Kwani Trust
Publication year: 2013
Number of pages: 385
Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor‘s book Dust came out last year when Kwani? Turned 10. It was slightly (OK really really) overshadowed when Nairobi went gaga over larger than life guest Chimamanda Adichie (check out her new story ) was in town.
In spite of it, the book by our beloved 2003 Caine Prize winner for that genius Weight of Whispers story was finally here. A whole bunch of us harassed her for her debut book for years since then which is probably I saw my name in a novel in the acknowledgements at the end of the book.
Dust gives several tales with Wuoth Ogik a house in Kalacha in Northern Kenya at the centre of it all. It starts with a lot of running by a fellow called Odidi who dashes through several pages in the beginning. Every page has several sentences of “Odidi Runs.” As we read the story it emerges that he was an athlete, rugby winger, which is why he gets away fast. Unfortunately, he is not as fast as bullets and he get shot and dies.
This is just the beginning of the story as we meet his family and other people around Wuoth Ogik. These include Nyirpir Oganda his father, Akai Lokorijom his mother, Arabel Ajany Oganda his sister and Galgalu the guy who helped raised him. We also meet some other characters like the Bolton family; Hugh, His wife Selene and her son Isaiah. They are very important to this tale. We also meet Ali Dada Hada and Petrus Keah security officers. The work put into character development by the writer of this tale is matchless on these shores.
We learn that Odidi had tried to expose corruption and was ostracized by the nation where he goes underground and joins a gang of goons where he gets killed. We meet all the people who he contacted and its not pretty. Seriously. Not one single person in that book is a saintly one. Nyirpir the father turns out to have been a cattle rustler in the area he was at for decades before leaving. He was also part of the home guards that took part on the side of the settlers during fight for Kenyan independence. Akai the mother is a woman isn’t that good either and only seems to love her son Odidi and neglecting he only daughter. She also seems a bit crazy. The neglected Ajany grows up to be a shy young woman who becomes an artist and moves to Brazil to pursue her craft where she does unforgivable things.
I don’t want to give you the whole plot (it had a brilliant one) but the book covers a raft of topics like rustling in the North, life in Kenya before and during the liberation struggle and the botched elections and its aftermath in 2007/8 (I wish it didn’t cover that last one roho safi). And of course, as mentioned, mega corruption. The core of the book is that when Tom Mboya was assassinated in 1969 the country went down a spiral that we are still suffering from.
The writing is brilliant. Sometimes I would read parts of the book like when Akai finally embraces her daughter Ajany telling her the tale of why she refused to bring her to her bosom and tears came to my eyes (they never fell seeing as I am a manly man AAAUU!!!). The thing with the writing though it is not for the faint of heart. If you are a Sidney Sheldon, John Grisham, Enid Blyton connoisseur then you will struggle to get through to the end as it is “high literature” (I can’t think of a better term for it).
The only downside to the book as far as I was concerned was that the last fifty pages seemed to really drag on and on. Either that or I am just used to reading 200-page books.
I highly rate this book. I am going to probably reread this book annually henceforth to fully unpackage what was in the rich text to fully understand what is in it.
Thanks Yvonne. The wait was worth it. Totally.
P.S. Bonus points for the research. I now know more of the Northern part of our country.