Jagero Oduor’s second book Ghosts of 1894 launched at the Goethe Institut in Nairobi on October 19th, 2016. On his panel were University of Nairobi’s Dr Tom Odhiambo and book blogger James Murua with bizarre moderation from Khainga O’Okwemba.
Ghosts of 1894 is the sophomore book by Kenyan writer Oduor Jagero and it follows Habineza the main protagonist a Rwandan and his experiences surviving the genocide that happened in his country in 1994. The book has been received well by reading audiences.
The event at the Goethe in Nairobi were kicked off by the institute’s Eliphas Nyamogo who welcomed the audience which numbered at around a hundred. In the audience were Bessie Head Short Story winner Caiphus Mangenela, Stanely Gazemba, Mercy of award winning book blog Bellaspace books, Clifton Gachagua, award winner Troy Onyango, Kingwa Kamencu and many more. He introduced the moderator Khainga and the show could kick off.
The event started with a minute of silence in hour of Ken Sawo Wiwa Jr who had passed on just a day before. Saro Wiwa Jr was the son of the late Ogoni activist, prolific journalist, and former adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan. The literary community in Kenya was mourning alongside their brothers in the West of the continent the man who wrote the memoir In the Shadow of a Saint: A Son’s Journey to Understand His Father’s Legacy in 2000.
With the remembrance over, we could get to the main reason we were gathered at the Goethe; a book launch. Now most who know anything about moderating panels acknowledge that Khainga O’Okwemba is one of the weaker ones around. He loves to hear the sound of his own voice and will pull out books, usually his poetry collection, that have nothing to do with the subject matter and read poems leaving many rolling their eyes. He will also ensure that he throws in quotes from famous writers like Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Nuruddin Farah and the newest favourite Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to show that he is with it.
This evening however Khainga seemed to have found a new low. The book is a story about a protagonist and how he survived the madness of 1994; it is a great tale of survival of a few individuals in the madness of a nation. Our moderator decided that the most important aspect to be discussed was how many people had actually died in the genocide. When panelists tried to move the discussion to the book and his contents he insisted on talking about the math; his issue was that the numbers were not as many as have been told previously. Clearly this is an issue he felt strongly about. Eventually the event had to be yanked to the book issue by panelists and audience and the discussions were very enjoyable.
Jagero now at centre stage finally spoke about his work of art. He explained why he wrote the book. As a child in a village by River Nyando a man had been killed because he had been involved in some extra marital shenanigans to the shock of all. Then he would listed to a story in the BBC as peoples in their thousands were being killed not very far from where he was. When he grew up he decided to write about this most surprising of events when he was a child.
He explained that his books weren’t all doom and gloom as there was love and sex, he read a wonderful sex scene in Ghosts of 1894, and more. He explained his journey as a writer who had to self-publish. It was a very enjoyable experience for many who were in the audience that evening.
It must have been a great performance as the books which were at the event sold out with some not very happy that there were not enough. Fortunately for those who couldn’t get a copy they could get one on Amazon as we were reminded by Eliphas Nyamogo.