10 (Kinda) Snappy Book Reviews

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DROWN – by Junot Diaz

Junot is the shit. And not just because he earned a Pulitzer for his first book – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – which I’m currently reading, but because he writes sentences like “We’re all under the streetlamps, everyone’s the colour of day-old piss. When I’m fifty, this is how I’ll remember my friends: tired and yellow and drunk.”

Elegant, eh?

“Drown” is about the struggles, anger and hurdles faced by poor immigrant Dominicans in the States. The stories are so vivid you will hear cars honk in the streets of New Jersey and smell the frustration of these Dominican immigrants as they try to fit into the cruel streets of cold America. And it’s beautifully written; raw, sexy, well-oiled, captivating.

You can also read “This Is How You Lose Her” by the same guy. Much acclaimed. Every guy will relate. It’s both funny and disastrous at the same time. Thanks Aleya for introducing me to Junot.

MY FAVOURITE WIFE- By Tony Parsons.

Not too long ago, a girl I was chatting with at this cocktail do told me that she stopped reading my blog a year ago. “Why?” I asked, my lower lip trembling as I tried not to burst into tears. She simply said that she had “outgrown” me. I sucked my cocktail through my straw and nodded like I understood. I didn’t. At least not at that moment.

I read Parson’s religiously when I was younger and idealistic. Then I suspect outgrew him because recently I decided to read him again and I realised immediately that we had drifted apart in different directions. This book is about a British expat – Bill -who moves to China with his wife and daughter and to run a law firm but ends up falling for this tall Chinese girl with long arms (as if there are tall girls with short arms) who lives in the same apartment block as them. A girl kept by a wealthy Chinese guy.

After he falls for Miss Long Arms the story becomes a series of clichés raining down and just when you decide to raise your hands in surrender, his wife finds out and leaves him. But not before falling for their family doctor, some chap who loves poetry. Don’t you just hate guys who recite poetry to women? Like they are bloody Shakespeare or something.

Parsons annoyed me because he turned Bill into this large phony impersonation of moral conflict. Bill doesn’t even think like a married man. Maybe it’s a mzungu thing, but I found Bill quite remote. He quickly turns into this lovesick puppy that makes such foolish decisions when it comes to Miss Long Arms, which seem completely removed from everyday life.  He acts overly burdened by his cheating and seems to want us to help him bear some of that dead weight, turning him both weak and pathetic. As if a long armed girl is just about the hardest thing to resist in the whole wide world and we should empathise with his moral battle.

The only saving grace is that the book is written well. Short beautiful sentences. Flowing prose. Colour. If you can get over Bill, and the doctor who recites poetry to other people’s wives instead of taking their temperature, then you might just enjoy this book.

RULES OF THE WILD- By Francesca Marciano.

Rules of the Wild Francesca Marciano

If you are going to buy any book on this list, buy this one first. It’s about Kenya. Actually it’s about an Italian girl – Esme – who runs to Kenya to escape her tumultuous past in Italy.  The book is a window into the expats life in Nairobi; one that Esme calls the “white baboon family” which the New York Times called a “tiny incestuous community of expats, relief workers, wildlife researchers and journalists living in Nairobi.”

Esme meets Adam, a very bush-capable, weather-beaten KC who runs and lives in one of those tented eco-lodges in the bush. She finally ends up in Karen and meets a new cast of mzungus who sip tea at the terrace of The Norfolk and call watchies “Askari.” Hehe. The author’s stereotypes and ignorance about Kenya and Kenyans come through once in a while, but because she expresses them with such flourish and innocence you are forced to look away. To some sensitive folk who hate not being served fast enough at Art Café she may sometimes come off as racist, but I think she’s just ignorant. I don’t know which is worse.

There is a chap in this book called Hunter. A foreign correspondent for a UK newspaper. Charismatic as a peacock and a dickhead to boot. I loved Hunter. He covers the Rwanda genocide and you will read how he talks about the genocide. How he describes it with such a chilly narrative it raises your hair. Then watch how Esme falls for him like a bird off a tree. The good part of the book is when Hunter almost destroys Esme, and how this betrays how much the author had invested in their interaction because as Esme stumbles, clutching her bleeding heart, you feel the book wane, flounder and quickly grows flaccid.

Lonely men live like wolves. Their houses are only a place to come back to at night, to collapse on the forever-unmade bed.”

Women will love this book.

WILD SHEEP CHASE- by Haruki Murakami

I wasted my money on this book. I didn’t get it. It was too slow to pick. The characters didn’t excite me. The storyline was overnight soda. I told Carol, my pal who recommended it, that I wasn’t feeling it but she kept saying, “Give it time” and so I went back and gave it time. Twice. Finally I said fuck it and abandoned it. Maybe you might like it.

[By the way I’m writing this from my bedroom and I can hear the house-help play some Kisii songs from her loud squeaky phone. She always plays those songs. I swear Kim will grow up thinking we are Kisii. Kisii songs sound like a million crickets scampering to flee a burning bush. Hang on; let me ask her to turn it down a notch, I can’t think with that music playing.)

AKELLO- By Abigail Arunga

I won’t lie; the only reason I bought this collection of 83 poems is because Abby comes from my shags.  Generally I don’t read poetry. Not that I think poetry is an inferior form of art, it’s just that poetry for me has always been this… you know what, forget it. I might say something that will get poets’ knickers in a twist.

When Abby is in her element, when she is unhinged, she has a refreshing turn of phrase. You will see that frequently in this book where she sees life through the aged prism of love.  In the book she gets needy; How can the sky remain unchanging yet my heart is breaking?  And corny: I think I’m loving your swag/ I’m feeling your style/ you’re smooth like clear water. [Seriously Abby?]

She also gets reflective:  Take your pick, child of the world

                         Which pillar to cling to

                         Everyone needs something

                         That they think they cannot undo

                         God- money-love- sex

                         Pick your poison. Pick you.

And good: I trace the line of your love on the

                Small of my back, as we lay, bodies and souls

 Intertwined in the space between our                 heartbeats   

Then thoughtful: The questions inside never had

                         a voice before.

                         Now, never silence. 

And cinematic: They walked in a line of self-possession

                         Four black men with black guitars

                        Shedding a silhouette of sophistication

                        On the pavement.

 

It takes guts to write a book and so whether this book is something or not is immaterial. What is material, though, is that she has dipped her toes in the cold waters of publishing, while the rest of us stand by the shores staring hesitantly at the water. She says of her book; “These poems are about love and life – mostly love. Themes most people can relate to, unless you are dead. Or horrible.”

Well, what are you- horrible or dead?

To buy her book (Sh600): Tel 0725 629 035 OR akellothebook@gmail.com

THE SUN ALSO RISES– Ernest Hemingway

Do you know those folk who walk around never having read “Fault In Our Stars” by John Green? Or never having watched Pulp Fiction? I envy them. I envy them because they are yet to discover the beauty of such works of art.  That such sheer pleasure awaits them and yet they are not even ware of it. It’s the same for people who haven’t read Hemingway Such lucky people.

“You’re an expatriate. You’ve lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed with sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see? You hang around cafes.”

That’s a quote from this book. I won’t spoil it for you. If I have to make you pick up a book by Hemingway then perhaps you aren’t living your literary life well.

HALF OF A YELLOW SUN- Chimamanda Adichie

I must be the only person in Nairobi who hasn’t read this book or any of her work. I can’t remember the last African writer I read. Everybody always acts like you have betrayed the whole continent when you say you haven’t read an African writer in ages. These are the same people who rush to buy the latest iPhones. I don’t buy books to maintain the literary quotient of a continent. Books to me are largely apolitical. They are companions that I take to bed and wake up to; anything in between is white noise.

But I’m at the very edge of reading Adichie.

LOOKING FOR ALASKA- JOHN GREEN

So I read “Fault In Our Stars” and after I had recovered from that wild emotional rollercoaster, I started furiously googling Green. Then I bought the book that he wrote before “Fault In Our Stars” and I wish I hadn’t. It’s such an enormous anti-climax. It’s such a silly book you can’t even begin to imagine it was written by the same guy.

If you are 21yrs old and have just recovered from pubertal-acne you might enjoy it.

ONE DAY-David Nicholls.

I’m drawn to stories about romance that end tragically. I hate happy endings in books. I want a book to leave me cheated and robbed. I want the characters to remain in my head for days until I’m brave enough to exorcise them by starting a new book.

In this book someone dies. That person happens to be my favourite character. That’s all I will say.

“She drinks pints of coffee and writes little observations and ideas for stories with her best fountain pen on the linen-white pages of expensive notebooks. Sometimes, when it’s going badly, she wonders if what she believes to be a love of the written word is really just a fetish for stationery.”

This book spans 20 years of the lives of the two protagonists, Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew. Emma is the wittiest character you will meet this month. Dexter is just spoilt.  These two souls dance around each other for twenty years until the book boils down to this one day.

You can put your money on this book.

THE TOWER TREASURE- By The Hardy Boys.

Remember these boys? Don’t you just miss Frank and Joe Hardy? Anybody who doesn’t know who Soul For Real is won’t even know who the Hardy Boys were. Uber crime busters of the 80’s. Goodness, we all read these books religiously, that is before graduating to James Hadley Chase and other things.

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Guys. One last thing. Here is what frustrates me with Nairobians, when someone says, “Can you please share that book with me?” When you want to get a book emailed to you for free. When you want a PDF copy of a book. When you want to borrow a book. It’s wrong and it takes art back many steps. And it’s very Nairobian, asking for freebies; “Can you get me free tickos to that concert?” you will hear folk say, mostly mamas, then they go and blow 4K on cocktails at Mercury. [Actually that’s a blog post in itself]. It’s not right.

Buy a book for crying out loud. Most books hardly cost over Ksh1, 000! These authors slave for years writing these books and writing isn’t easy at all, so make it worth their while. Respect their art. Buy a book.

And here on this blog there is always some cat willing to email a copy of a book to anyone with an email address. You can do that if you want, but not on this platform, so I’m afraid I won’t be approving comments encouraging this type of interaction.

Otherwise, I’m quite keen to know what you have been reading and if it’s any good. Well?

 

APOLOGY: Please note that we lost this post’s comments published before Nov 3rd, 2014 during the blog migration process. We thank you for sharing your views and regret the technical glitch.

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12 Comments
  1. I know this comes late but if you have not read Franck MCourt’s Angelas Ashes, I could kill to be you. The lives of the drunk Kenyan dads has never been so wel reflected in non related Irish prose

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    1. When migrating I lost all comments on this post. Guys, not my fault. Sorry. Thanks Ian. I have looked for this book in kindle, nothing! I have to get it in harcopy. Thanks

  2. [Magunga Williams]

    Akello is a brilliant collection of poems about something and somewhere we have all been in; love. If you say you are or have been in love, and then read this book Akello and yet it does not leave a stink in your face, or a fire in your chest, or if does not make your soul shut its eyes for a moment, then you need to stop lying.

  3. Biko, have you now read Adichie? You and her are my favourite African writers (though my friend says am insulting Adichie when I compare her to you he he) You’ll like her (Adichie, not my friend)

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  4. you should read Lamb by Christopher Moore although you should do this hiding behind a bunker in case God decides to strike you with lightning

  5. I agree, Wangechi Wangechi. Khaled Hosseini moved me to tears in A Thousand Splendid Suns. He’s very restrained, however. @Biko you won’t regret Adichie. Go ahead, if you haven’t already.

  6. guys, you might want to try out Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi. Contrary to what is stated in the title, it isn’t political. It’s definitely worth it.

  7. I can’t believe i’m reading this four years after it was written…some good choices…I enjoyed looking for Alaska, granted I am still recovering from pubertal acne… Add ‘All the Light we cannot see’ by Anthony Doerr and ‘ Kite runner’ by Khaled Hosseini to your list, the latter of which is another emotional roller-coaster.