Dance of the Jakaranda, by Peter Kimani
Dance of the Jakaranda, by Peter Kimani. Akashic Books (2017), 320 pages.
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.