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Samir's Critical Corner

I love good writing. Samir's Critical Corner will have reviews on World Literature but you will also find reviews on various subjects like Mathematics or Tai Chi, and on specific niches like Nigerian writers.

Currently reading

South Sea Tales (Oxford World's Classics)
Robert Louis Stevenson
Progress: 122/289 pages
Whispers - Muli wa Kyendo Josephine is a young woman trying to make ends meet in Nairobi, where she works as a secretary. When her boss continuously encourages her to “visit” his place, she continuously ignores or refuses, so he fires her. Without a job, she must also decide whether she loves Musyoki or Joseph, as all her friends, including her best friend Agens, are off getting married.

For Josephine, her journey seems almost surreal as events unfold before her, and she struggles to make up her mind about how she feels over her love interests. Trapped between the reality of what she should do and what she would like to do, this blurry line is hardly explicit; yet it is present enough to carry the tension throughout the novella.

I loved the simplicity of the style and characterization here. I’m not referring to Hemingway, but just basic simplicity. Easy and direct sentences, straight forward descriptions:

The tall grass was a beautiful green, after the rains. There were many swampy ditches. Soon they reached a rough road.

Where a modern creative writing class would probably shudder at beautiful green, because surely one can ‘show’ how the color is beautiful, the prose here suits the narrative just fine.

The simplicity also enhances the indecisiveness and confusion that Josephine experiences. The lack of explanations and abstract words helps to keep the characters real and dynamic. Josephine is easy to sympathize with, and her struggles in 70′s Kenya - the hardships when starting out life in a bustling city - are familiar to many of us who would have started out in a city as well .

There’s also a deeper, more disturbed part to Josephine that slowly uncovers, as she herself tries to understand why she’s constantly in a state of emotional flux:

To Josephine, the room was a hazy mixture of music, laughter, voices and people. She no longer cared whether Musyoki was there or not. But on second thoughts she realized she was glad that he was there.

This kind of constant cross-examination helps to keep us close to Josephine without excessive internal monologue. It just shows us a real person in a real situation.

It's definitely a quick, engaging read with a sympathetic protagonist. The story-telling is very much African in style, which is my favorite (so perhaps there is some bias here). And I’ll leave you with a passage that stuck out most to me:

Marriage was an experience that one moved through like time passing away. What had come and passed could not be retrieved. But marriage was much more complex. It moved on different lines all the time. The demands of today could not be the same of those of tomorrow. It was a hectic thing that one had to give some sort of order – try to impose or create some sort of prediction and yet not do so. There was no formula to help one along. It was just trial and error.