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Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
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Dance of the Jakaranda

by Peter Kimani

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
“History has strange ways of announcing itself to the present, whether conceived in comforting darkness or blinding light. It can manifest with the gentleness of a bean cracking out of its pod, making music in its fall. Even when such seed falls into fertile soil, it still wriggles from the tug of the earth, stretching a green hand for uplift.”

I really enjoyed this one for a lot of reasons and this quote seems to sum up a lot of the plot strands. I’ve been reading a lot in Africa these days, experiencing the colonial experience from both the side of the colonized and the colonizers. This one was even more convoluted because the main protagonist is neither, at least in Kenya. Babu is also a victim of imperialism, however, as he is a Punjabi imported by the British to help build the railroad in Kenya with promise of making a fortune and returning home. Unfortunately, “home” goes away with the partitioning of British Punjab between India and Pakistan. So there’s that historical strand of an Imperial power shifting people and ethnic groups around, playing them off each other, and then abandoning them after their work is done.

Then there is the personal side of history, where the secrets and shenanigans of the grandfathers and fathers come back to haunt the children. Or as they say in Kenya, “Majuto ni mjukuu...children would pay for the sins of their forebearers.”

Finally, the Jakaranda’s patio and lounge sounded very, very similar to the Lake Nakuru lodge I stayed at during a photo safari several years ago. The descriptions were so similar that I did a quick check to see if I could find any evidence that there was some connection between the two.

As to the writing, this multi-generational novel was oft times confusing and seemed to meander and eventually putter out in a dramatic but not very well fleshed out finale. Like much of the books published these days, it probably could have used some stronger editorial influence and guidance. This was more evident at the end than in the beginning and middle sections, so maybe there was a deadline that caused Kimani to wrap it up a little too abruptly. In the end, I still enjoyed much of the book and especially appreciated yet another view into the development of Kenya as a country. If that is something that interests you, I would invite you to check this one out.
  jveezer | Apr 25, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
“The gigantic snake was a train and the year was 1901, an age when white men were still discovering the world for their kings and queens in faraway lands. So when the railway superintendent, or simply Master as he was known to many, peered out the window of his first class cabin that misty morning, his mind did not register the dazzled villagers who dropped their hoes and took off, or led their herds away from the grazing fields in sheer terror of the strange creature cutting through their land Neither did Master share in the 'tamasha' boom from across the coaches where British, Indian and African workers - all in their respective compartments – were celebrating the train's maiden voyage. Master was absorbed by the landscape that looked remarkably different from how he remembered it from his previous trip.” p 2

This historical novel written by Kenyan author Peter Kimani, depicts several key points in Kenyan history. Time periods alternate between the telling of the building of the railroad under the sometimes brutal colonial white rule, to the early 60's when Kenya became a self-ruling nation under the “Big Man”.

We see the stories of African workers , the white master in charge of building the railroad named Ian McDonald , a white missionary John Turnbull, , and the Indians who came to Kenya to work on the railway, and who stayed on, often because their country Punjabi disappeared into India and Pakistan and they had no country to return if they wanted to leave.

Ian McDonald, denied a title from the queen for his accomplishment of punching through the railway, is instead given his choice of a thousand acres of land. He chooses a prime location, between two natural wonders. His estate is known as Jakaranda ; and it evolves through many incarnations – from baronial estate and ambitious farmland, to wildlife preserve, hunting preserve for rich whites, and a night club where we see a musician grandson or one of the original railway workers .

As the estate changes, so also do the people in the story until their stories are not separate but intertwine in often secret ways.

Overall, I enjoyed this story although I did find the shifting time frames a bit confusing. Author Kimani paints an interesting story of the history of the country and the people. I definitely walk away with more knowledge of the region and respect for its multi-cultural past. ( )
  streamsong | Aug 9, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is another book I'm going to have to set aside for now. Hopefully I'll finish it soon but as of right now it's not doing "it" for me. I can't seem to get into it and I keep having to reread passages because my mind drifts away from the story quite easily. I thought I'd like it because I saw the blurb from Mat Johnson; I loved his satirical "Loving Day" and for some reason I thought this novel was going to be a biting satire as well. It's not. It's a somewhat slow, somewhat jumpy historical fiction so far. The writing is okay but nothing special. Maybe I'll be in the mood for it at another time.
  cosiari | Jul 27, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Although I really enjoyed Kimani's writing, I had a hard time really getting into this one. It seemed like the narrative would shift focus to a new character each time I was really getting engaged with one, so that took a lot of the momentum away as I kept reading. And although the story was interesting, it also got more and more predictable, and seemingly slower, as it progressed. All told, I imagine I might have taken weeks to finish it and kept wandering away from it, but for the fact that I'd taken it along on a weekend trip and didn't really have other choices. I do have a feeling that that would have hurt the reading, though--the number of characters and their relations were hard enough to keep track of even with having read the book over only the course of a few days, so I imagine putting it down for a week could have led to my not finishing it at all.

All that said, I did enjoy Kimani's writing, so I probably would try another one of his books. I just don't know that I could recommend this one, which kept losing steam as it progressed. ( )
  whitewavedarling | Apr 24, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A novel about the English and the Indians in the building of the railroad in Kenya.

Peter Kimani was born in Kenya and earned a Ph.D. at the University of Houston. He now teaches at a university in Kenya and has published other fiction and poetry.

Colonization of Kenya by the British around 1900 brought in workers from the Indian subcontinent to build a railroad from the coast to the Rift Valley. British administrators interacted with technicians from India as well as African laborers. Racial lines were sharply drawn and hostilities were created. The story of building the railroad is framed with events involving the children and grandchildren of the original builders in the 1960s as Kenya gained its independence.

Dance of the Jakaranda is a man’s book. The male characters and their relationships are central. The men in the book frequently behave in degrading ways with women, as they probably did in that time and place. More troubling, Kimani finds repeated opportunities for describing women as sexual objects. I found this practice very alienating.

While I usually appreciate Akashic books for making available a wide range of authors who are people of color, I do not recommend this book. ( )
  mdbrady | Mar 28, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 161775496X, Paperback)

"African colonialism is confronted in this subtle, multilayered Kenyan tale . . . 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 . . . This is a thoughtful story about a country's imperialist past."
-- Kirkus Reviews

"Dance of the Jakaranda is a rare gem: a new story, a new voice, a new way of seeing the world. This is what a brilliant novel looks like. Peter Kimani is a rare talent, an important new literary voice in Kenya, in Africa, and the world."
--Mat Johnson, author of Loving Day

"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."
--Ngugi wa Thiong'o, author of Birth of a Dream Weaver

Set in the shadow of Kenya's independence from Great Britain, Dance of the Jakaranda reimagines the special circumstances that brought black, brown and white men together to lay the railroad that heralded the birth of the nation.

The novel traces the lives and loves of three men--preacher Richard Turnbull, the colonial administrator Ian McDonald, and Indian technician Babu Salim--whose lives intersect when they are implicated in the controversial birth of a child. Years later, when Babu's grandson Rajan--who ekes out a living by singing Babu's epic tales of the railway's construction--accidentally kisses a mysterious stranger in a dark nightclub, the encounter provides the spark to illuminate the three men's shared, murky past.

With its riveting multiracial, multicultural cast and diverse literary allusions, Dance of the Jakaranda could well be a story of globalization. Yet the novel is firmly anchored in the African oral storytelling tradition, its language a dreamy, exalted, and earthy mix that creates new thresholds of identity, providing a fresh metaphor for race in contemporary Africa.

(retrieved from Amazon Tue, 06 Dec 2016 20:48:10 -0500)

Set in the shadow of Kenya's independence from Great Britain, this story reimagines the special circumstances that brought black, brown, and white men together to lay the railroad that heralded the birth of the nation.--

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