March 2018: Alienation at Home and Abroad
Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
Telegram March 2018
historical literary fiction
Voluptuous language, lush imagery, and the intricate weaving of a 1960s present with the 1890s and early 1900s past make this fabulist farce a provocative read. With passages that flow like prose poetry, the author’s honed talents and skills as poet and journalist are indisputable in this novel as a fable about the evolution of one African nation from the British East Africa Protectorate to Kenia to Kenya as Jakaranda House transitions, too.
Dance of the Jakaranda focuses on men: Master is Ian Edward McDonald. Rev. Richard Turnbull is Cow Man. Babu Salim is the runaway father. These three represent the old generation. Rajan represents the new. None of them think much of women beyond convenience or treat them with any respect. The last paragraph of the book begins with this sad summary on page 350: Interestingly, no one remembers the women behind the pioneers, or their children.
Although none of the characters are rendered as being particularly ethical or honorable, girls and women are even less substantial in being only vaguely presented as actual humans. There’s a codification of women by Rajan and his friend on page 37 that makes his later dismissive thoughts of “And why did she impose her expectation that she should mean anything to him?” on page 39 about Angie, one of his hookups unsurprising. In addition to the dehumanizing codification of women on a sliding scale of comparisons to retail commodities, they’re also primarily ranked by their body parts.
Rajan comes across mostly as a conceited, narcissistic flibbertigibbet—not unexpected traits for a privileged, unencumbered twenty-something lead singer for a popular local band, but his personality makes it challenging to engage on a deeply emotional level with the beginning of the story with narration from Rajan’s point of view in the House of Music section. His fixation with bladder and bowel functions also doesn’t help. The references occur with enough frequency to make me wonder if the author is showing readers that humans treat all of planet Earth like a sewer. It was curiosity about the mysteries established in the prologue that kept me reading through Rajan’s obsession with the superficial.
House of Silence is where profound revelations start to dovetail into place with earlier hints about who is connected to whom, how, and why. Dramas between individuals, families, communities, ethnic groups, and social classes are happening against a backdrop of seismic political upheaval. On page 86 Rajan says, “My skin color has… At least in the past it had political implications. Whites at the top, Indians after them, then Arabs, and finally Africans. That’s political privilege.” Dance of the Jakaranda is layered with astute commentary about racial hierarchies as effect divide-and-conquer strategies to facilitate economic and environmental exploitation.
Dynamic change comes with Big Man as “the black man’s government leader” with retribution and eviction at the top of his to-do list. For non-Africans he substitutes residency passes for identification collars, 1960s Kenya’s version of papers, please, and stop and frisk.
There is much to savor while reading Dance of the Jakaranda. The often lyrical arrangement of words and images combined with a completely unsentimental portrayal of the oppressed and their oppressors create a compelling narrative that parallels sweeping technological advances and the gradual receding of the British Empire. Peter Kimani incorporates enough factual historical references to make the story read like seamlessly crafted creative non-fiction.
A narrator who interjects commentary a la Dave Chappelle during Kendrick Lamar’s opening performance at the 2018 televised Grammy Awards show foreshadows the imminent Greek tragedies. Plus, it seems to include nods to various themes in Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and George Schuyler’s Black Empire in addition to a sprinkling of African, Indian, and Biblical adages.
“What’s done in the dark eventually comes into the light” is mentioned more than once. Is the moral of this story that dark deeds that have been committed against dark people on the Dark Continent always come back to haunt us all? It’s probably one of many lessons that human beings are resistant to learning in this inspired, multifaceted social commentary.
The underlying cynicism in offering a cast of characters in which everyone, with one notable exception, is ethically empty is what prevented me from emotionally investing at the deepest levels while reading Dance of the Jakaranda.
[From my imperfect recall it contains no profanity (in English, didn’t translate the few Swahili and other brief, non-English phrases).]
So Many Islands: Stories from the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Indian and Pacific Oceans
Edited by Nicholas Laughlin with Nailah Folami Imoja
Telegram April 2018
So Many Islands circumnavigates the local to global essence of human experiences from Oceania to the Atlantic to the Caribbean and Indian Oceans. These contributors’ seventeen voices are as distinctive as the cultural anthems of each of their countries of origin. There is nothing quaint or precious. Their words bite and sting. They rebuke the popular notion inherited from the trickle-down influence of a “past of colonial exploitation” mentioned in Nicholas Laughlin’s foreword of indigenous islanders, particularly black and brown non-Anglo/Aryan/Caucasian/white citizens, as malleable, adult-sized children.
The organically developed theme of islands as microcosms of the human condition starts with the poignant and pragmatic introduction by Marlon James. On page 16 he writes, “This is the real globalism, a glorious cacophony that seeks no common ground other than attitude… and writers who write with nothing hanging on their backs.”
Some standouts among a stellar lineup remained in my thoughts hours after taking in the last word. “The Plundering” by Heather Barker from Barbados begins innocently enough until a menacing vibe swells to a crescendo of Trading Places collides with The Purge.
Cultural appropriation gets skewered in “Neo-Walt Village” by Mere Taito from Rotuma (Fiji). Some stanzas read as if written to be sung to the tune of a certain earworm song that repeats during a slow boat ride at what’s been self-proclaimed the happiest place on planet Earth while island nations are strip-mined of their uniqueness to pad corporate coffers.
The eerie “Granny Dead” by Melanie Schwap from Jamaica manages to pack a novel’s-worth of imagery and commentary about complicated family dynamics, generational conflict, social class as caste system, skin color as an indicator of intrinsic worthiness, and gender-based double standards with prose that lilts across a few pages filled with everyday heartbreaks and layers of grief.
One recurring element that reads as a distinctly islander and not mainland or Western cultural trait is an inherent respect and appreciation for the existence and wisdom of the elders. From Papa Dickey in Angela Barry’s “Beached” to Grandma in Mikoyan Vekula’s “The Maala” and Crazy Anni in “Roses for Mister Thorne” by Grenada’s Jacob Ross, a community’s most senior citizens are consulted and (often grudgingly) obeyed even when younger people feel impatient, annoyed, and confused when interacting with them. Is there something about the scarcity of human resources in island nations that predisposes them to recognize the value of what older people have to offer their society?
In the afterword on page 199, Sia Figiel composes a fitting comparison of the art of sewing one flower to another with a singing technique that connects songs, which is an appropriate description of this anthology as a clarion call to action in defence and preservation of island nations.
If you enjoyed this, and want more like it, then please consider making a donation, it can be anything from £2 and takes no time at all. Or give what you can afford from £2 per month and become an MD member.
Cardyn Brooks is a reading fiend, compulsive writer, chocoholic, and swim enthusiast. She writes upbeat, diversity-is-mainstream contemporary erotic fiction for and about grown-ups in love.
Her previous titles include Seducing the Burks: Five Erotic Tales and Dodging Eros, Through Past, Present and Pleasure. In spring 2018, When She’s on Top, a collection of four novellas about powerful women and the men who are strong enough to love them, written as her edgier persona of C. X Brooks, will be available in print and e-formats from BlackOpalBooks.com.
She earned her B.A. in English at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A. Find Cardyn Brooks on Amazon, Facebook, Goodreads, SheWrites, Smashwords, Tumblr, and on Twitter and Instagram @CardynBpresents.
All work published on MD is the intellectual property of its creators, and requires permission to be republished. Contact us if you have any questions.