Title – Dance of the Jakaranda
Author – Peter Kimani
Publisher – Telegram
Pages – 352
Format – Paperback; ISBN
Completion time – 4days
Themes – Struggle for independece, Lunatic Express, Fate
This must be the biggest book I’ve read in a while and the longest I’ve taken to read a book this year. Partly because I didn’t want the tale to end but also coz I was working on the hosting transfer. Last minute rush.
The year is 1983, Reverend Turnbull is just writing his first letter home about the land that’s British East Africa Protectorate. It is the beginning of the rest of his life, at the little town in Nakuru where the tale started, and where it should end. In his letter, Turnbull tells of the wonders of this new country- the beaches, the people, the lakes, the forests…
In another year, another town at the coastal shores of Kenya, a Punjabi man has just arrived with his newly wedded wife ready to do Britain’s bidding. Stranded and shipwrecked on the Indian Ocean, Babu already has a curse he is doomed to bequeath his generations if there will be any.
The Lunatic Express
Enlisting to work on the Lunatic Express, laying rail across a country that is untouched by civilization, Babu is both curious and eager to get to work.
Nevertheless, fate is cruel, and even before he has a chance to work for a day, he has been earmarked as a troublemaker. McDonald, a decorated military man has offered to spearhead the Lunatic Express project. He hopes that he will be knighted, and finally be worthy enough for Sally.
McDonald is white and armed with knowledge and technology the locals will never know he sets the process of building the railway across British East Arica Protectorate, now Kenya.
These three men, brought together by circumstance are just writing their story when they come upon Chief Seneiya’s daughter of the Maa community. Like all men huddled together, an estimated 800, they are bound to go spewing their seed along the railway.
But it’s no longer fun and games when the child is white as snow with Indian Ocean blue eyes. Suddenly, McDonald has a chance to get rid of the thorn in his foot; Babu. So the three part ways.
Until 1963, when Raj, a charismatic Indian musician kisses lavender lips he cannot shake at the Jakaranda. He spends the next few months kissing and telling if they are his mysterious lady. Only mountains never meet, and when they do, they unearth secrets that redefine how Rajan and Mariam are connected.
Once again, Babu, McDonald, and Turnbull have to meet in their offspring. All this at a time when Kenya is gaining her independence, Kiama kia Rukungu is chasing whites out of their land, and the Big Man wants Indians processed.
Dance of the Jakaranda
It is an interesting book that makes you want to visit your land again. It explains a lot of historical facts that are missing from Kenya’s education system. Dance of the Jakaranda is the book you have been waiting for. The struggling mesh of cultures, religion, races, and genders is interesting.
Dance of the Jakaranda tells about the struggles of the struggles of independence. It reunites the weirdest of characters, like Gathenji the butcher man, Nyundo the storyteller, Ahmad the conniving Indian, and Raj, the singer who stirs trouble without venturing to find it.
Peter Kimani writes with the conviction of sages of Kikuyu culture. I almost have the feeling I’ve heard this tale before, around a bonfire, in the night, after 3 cups of chai. Throughout the book, I couldn’t help but wonder if he was related to Nyundo or Gathenji.
It sure did help to know he was mentored by Ngugi wa Thiong’o whose work precedes him. Dance of the Jakaranda is a book that every Kenyan ‘citizen’- Indian, white, mulatto, Kenyan- should have on their bookshelf.
While at it, try and visit Nakuru, it’s a beautiful town, once voted as the cleanest town in Africa. Generations later, the house McDonald built for Sally where women were not allowed into still stands. The flamingoes are also one of the most beautiful scenes there. Take a tour, tell me about.
Or you can read the book, and dream about it.