A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
Longlisted for the People’s Book Prize 2018
1963. Kenya is on the verge of independence from British colonial rule. In the Great Rift Valley, Kenyans of all backgrounds come together in the previously white-only establishment of the Jakaranda Hotel. The resident musician is Rajan Salim, who charms visitors with songs inspired by his grandfather’s noble stories of the railway construction that spawned the Kenya they now know.
One evening, Rajan is kissed by a mysterious woman in a shadowy corridor. Unable to forget the taste of her lavender-flavoured lips, Rajan sets out to find her. On his journey he stumbles upon the murky, shared history of three men – his grandfather, the owner of the Jakaranda and a British preacher – who were implicated in the controversial birth of a child. What Rajan unearths will open his eyes about the birth not just of a child, but of an entire nation.
About the Author
Peter Kimani is an award-winning Kenyan novelist and journalist. He received the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for literature, Kenya’s highest literary honour, for his children’s book Upside Down in 2011. Kimani was one of three international poets to compose and present a poem for Barack Obama’s inauguration in January 2009. A prominent journalist on Kenya’s national news circuit, Kimani’s work has also appeared in the Guardian, New African and Sky News.
‘In this racially charged dance of power, the railroad into the interior of the country becomes a journey into the hearts of men and women. It is a dance of love and hate and mixed motives that drive human actions and alter the course of history. Kimani’s writing has the clarity of analytic prose and the lyrical tenderness of poetry.’ Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, author of Birth of a Dream Weaver
‘This funny, perceptive and ambitious work of historical fiction by a Kenyan poet and novelist explores his country’s colonial past and its legacy … Kimani has done a game job managing the carpentry of this ambitious novel, bringing great skill to the task of deploying multiple story lines, huge leaps back and forth in time and the withholding and distribution of information ... I have never read a novel about [Kenya] that’s so funny, so perceptive, so subversive and so sly.’ New York Times Book Review, Editor’s Choice
‘A rich tableau of layers and textures. The book has some brilliant moments of vivid and evocative writing.’
‘Kimani’s style is at once dramatic, ironic and full of humour … an intriguing tale spanning across several generations with exquisite poise … Kimani’s debut is a remarkable portrait of Kenya and its people, delivered with keen insights into history and the basic impulses which direct human action. It is certainly amongst the greatest novels of the contemporary era.’ Africa in Words
‘Kimani’s novel has an impressive breadth and scope. His illustration of the construction of the railway from Mombasa to the hinterland of Kenya in the early 20th century follows three men — a British colonial administrator, a Christian preacher, and an Indian — whose lives have intersected in unexpected ways.’ LA Review of Books
‘Kimani illustrates the discordant history of East Indians in Kenya through a fabulously complicated set of intriguing characters and events … Highlighted by its exquisite voice, Kimani’s novel is a standout debut.’
‘Brilliantly construed … an important novel.’ Historical Novel Society
‘A memorable family drama set against radical social changes in pre-independence Kenya.’ Asian Review of Books
‘Lyrical and powerful … Kimani weaves together a bitter, hurtful past and hopeful present in this rich tale of Kenyan history and culture, the railroad, and the men and women whose lives it profoundly affected.’