Yes, the moment I laid my eyes on a Q&A piece in the Nairobi Star about Ng'ang'a Mbugua, I saw he was an author of five books. Mbugua, is a boss where I work. I had no idea he had written five books, including the only one which I was able to read --thanks for the heads-up Mbugua-- The Terrorist of the Aberdares.
The publishers --BIG BOOKS-- have done really good work with the editing, layout, the cover design and the size of the book. You actually can pocket the book as you walk around, so that as you sit on that waiting bay waiting for your appointment, you sample this piece of reality disguised as fiction.
Mbugua insists all this is fiction. Reading the book, I think it has a huge chunk of reality in it. But then, that's what good fiction is all about. Is it believable? Does it "suck" the reader in? Does it reasonate with the reader? This one does in a very very local way. I related with the work.
From the loud preacher at the funeral, the rich politician who turns up for every funeral and the reporters like me, who go to the funeral just to report what the politician said and rush back to the office, as if the dead person or the family and even the rest of the mourners are non of our business (But are mourners really the newsman's business? I think the definition of news is amoral!!!).
The plot of the book takes you as close as you can get to the man (okay and woman) living in rural Kenya. Where there is only one "bar and restaurant." It is in this bar where you get to read the newspaper, because you are too poor to read the paper and if you make it to the "hotel" to read it, you have to do so while sipping a mug of black tea which goes for Sh5.oo. Otherwise, because most people cannot read (they did not go to school anyway) those who can 'read and tell.'
But before you start wondering who the "terrorist" in Mbugua's book is, maybe you have not heard about the human-wildlife conflict that affects most of Kenya. Logically, it is the humans who are aggressors, because we cut down trees and hunt down animals. So, as Mbugua says through one of the characters in this book, there is a reason why the animals stray.
In the Aberdares, Mbugua gives what would easily pass for a first-hand account of living next to a forest with elephants. He chose Kinangop, that deeply religious town as the setting of the book. His vivid description of the terrain, to anyone who has been there or who has passed by the place, or who has read about the menace of the jumbos on farmers and their crops, the story is very very credible. As I said, too real to be fiction. Nonetheless, it is great fiction.
But to spell it out for you; the elephant does spread terror to the good people of that sweet rain forest.
And now something to have a laugh about: This elephant actually strayed to go and partake of a local brew --busheshe-- at some Mama Pima's den. A drunk elephant, come on, I'd love to see one, but not live next to it. Maybe a tour van will give me the vantage point.
In the introductory chapters, Mbugua looks at the human-wildlife conflict (I just summarised it, but when you read, you have to be very analytical to pick that out, otherwise, it will just pass for a brilliant story).
He mentions the crocodile attacks on cute, helpless little children that is rife on the Tana River, then goes on to look at the hyena attacks in the Masai Mara and explains the social "pain" --perhaps shame-- that a hyena attack inflicts on a moran.
He made me laugh out real loud when he poked holes on the juvenile myth that hyenas never attack drunkards, because they keep following one hoping that the swinging arms would fall. I just laugh at that. That's a funny one, but do you know I believed it and I had never ever thought about it since my childhood. Was I that daft? I can't believe it!
The poverty described in the book is also familiar to those of us born and bred in rural Kenya and who still live, as my boss (not Mbugua) is wont to say "on the other side of Moi Avenue."
It is the kind of poverty where owning a bicycle is the acme of opulence; where telephones --both mobile and fixed line-- are a luxury and the life where internet does not exist. It is the poverty where raising Sh800 for bus fare is a very big issue and one where a wilting crops from frost makes for funeral among the farmers.
A young man who loves a girl from a rich family while the girl does not love the man, who comes from a poor family is also explained pretty interestingly in the book. Although here I use the word "rich" quite liberally.
And now some literary elements that Mbugua employs....hehehe...I am not a literature graduate like he is, but I can see some quite openly.
There is some guy called Sonko Wakadosi. Now for those who understand a little sheng', "Sonko" means a "big shot" or a "top-dog". It can also mean "a rich person". "Wakadosi" is a corruption of "mdosi" which basically means the same thing as "sonko" only that it is old-school.
But Sonko is a poor guy, whose only hope of escaping the poverty is the plot of cabbage he had planted...then the elephants came, the guy couldn't take losing all his hopes, he stood tall and he was crushed to death. Mbugua, has a way of telling this story with the nitty-gritties that you actually "see" the guy being crushed in the pages of this lean book.
Then there is another stereotypical name of a professor, Mbugua called him Professor Okisoma Otapita, a corruption of Kiswahili "Ukisoma, utapita", meaning, "if you read, you will make it," a piece of advise normally given to school-going children.
Then there is Shufa Nandefe, the village rumour-monger (I think the name has to mean something in Kikuyu), and other people. And now the ladies, they get the names Penina and Ursula. Cornelius...I can't remember someone with those names. Perhaps the Eldoret Bishop, yeah...I remember one. Really, it has been long long.
But before I "finish the sweetness in the book" kindly have a look at it. You won't regret spending your Sh400 to sample this piece giving you the vagaries of rural life in Kenya.
And before I forget, the editor said "rise up"; "you can't rise lower, can you?", Philip Ochieng' would argue. But then, Chinua Achebe in his book from which the title of this blog has been borrowed also uses "rise up", the Bible too, the best edited book within my ken, also uses "rise up". So tell me, is it the editors? Then there's "busheshe" which is italicised first, but then used 'normal' in subsequent words, is this English?
Apart from that, this is the latest of contemporary Kenyan fiction (the only one really) which I have read.
Mbugua, if you have the rest of the books, and you think they'd do me a favour on my intellect and memories like this one did, I won't regret getting it.
PS: My copy is autographed!