Kimani reimagines the rise and fall of colonialism in Africa by telling the story of the birth of Kenya's railroad. Set in the shadow of Kenya's independence from Great Britain, Dance of the Jakaranda reimagines the rise and fall of colonialism and 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.
Dance of the Jakaranda could well be a story of globalization - not just for its riveting multiracial, multicultural cast but also due to its diverse literary allusions: from Chekhovian comedy to Kafkasque caricatures, or magical realism popularized by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Yet the novel is firmly anchored in the African 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.
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Historical Novel with Strong Characters
Having made two trips to Kenya, I was attracted to this novel by its historical setting: the history of three generations involved, in one way or another, in the building of the railroad from Mombasa to Lake Victoria, the construction of which started in the 1890’s. By the end of the novel, with Kenya independence in the early 1960’s, much had happened to the children and grandchildren of these early pioneers. I found their stories fascinating and somewhat tragic. In the end, this novel is more about people than it is about events, but both are intertwined in a beautiful, sensitive, exciting, interesting and surprisingly fast-movie story. I thought the narrator was just right for this book.
- Howard N. Singer
Magnificent performance of a fine book
Kimani weaves a rich, intimate portrait of Kenya over more than a century, all tied to the construction of the Mombasa to Lake Victoria railroad.