A Chat With Peter Kimani, Author Of Dance Of The Jakaranda
Courtesy: Yusuf Wachira
‘History is written by the conquerors’ Winston Churchill famously quipped but what if we re-examined it from another point of view? This question has always fascinated Kenyan author Peter Kimani and compelled him to write a different perspective of the colonialization of Kenya in his latest novel, Dance of the Jakaranda. One that explores the building of the railroad by the British in Kenya and deeply investigates inter-racial relations. Explains Dr. Kimani, ‘Ours is a colonial history that is founded on quite a lot of distortions; I wanted to imagine another possibility’.
Dr. Kimani’s interest in race relations began during his childhood when growing up in Posta, a very diverse neighbourhood of Eastlands. ‘I always felt like an outsider’, he says. When he went back to the village (Gatundu), people were suspicious of the city boy, but when he was in Nairobi, people thought of him as the village boy. Therefore, the question of identity plays out quite strongly in the book.
Dr. Kimani started working on Dance of the Jakaranda in 2007, but when he returned to Nairobi at the end of 2007 after a short fellowship in the States, he found himself unable to continue working on the novel due to the post-election violence which was raging in pockets of Kenya. The violence ‘caused his mind to freeze’ and he found that he couldn’t continue to write without stability. He didn’t touch the story for four years as he struggled over the weighty question of what was making Kenyans turn on their neighbours. During this time, he wrote a children’s book addressing the violence called Upside Down which was published in 2010 and won the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature in the category of children.
Dr. Kimani started his career as a journalist at the Nation Media Group and worked in Kenya and regionally for many years. He also has a Master’s from City University of London and a doctorate in creative writing from the University of Houston in Texas, USA where completing Dance of the Jakaranda was his doctoral thesis. He is now a lecturer at Aga Khan University Graduate School for Media and Communication where he hopes to make a contribution to the next generation of young Kenyan writers by teaching professional development courses on all aspects of writing, research, editing and presenting.
You might have thought that having published his book just last month (after taking 10 years to write it), Dr. Kimani might be taking some time off to relax. But he already has a contract for his next masterpiece, to be called (tentatively) Kalifornia. Set in 1991, in the estate of California (adjacent to Eastleigh in Eastlands), this was the year that the government of Somalia fell, bringing floods of Somali migrants to Nairobi. It was also the year multi-party politics was re-introduced in Kenya. What could all these events have in common? Sadly, we will have to wait until the release of his next book to find out- sometime in 2018.
While Dance of the Jakaranda has garnered a lot of attention internationally, even being selected by the New York Times as the Editors’ Choice, Kenyans have yet to discover this gem and Dr. Kimani hopes to drum up local excitement through some upcoming events. You can catch the first reading and book signing at Aga Khan University Graduate School for Media and Communication on March 30 from 5 to 8:30pm. And there will be at least two others, one in town and one in Kilimani coming soon (to be posted on KenyaBuzz once scheduled). Be sure to catch him before he embarks on his exciting international tour to promote the book.
Dance of the Jakaranda is available at Prestige Book Shop on Mama Ngina Street, The Bookstop in the Yaya Centre and on The Magunga Bookstore and the kindle version on Amazon. There is also an audio version of the book available on Kindle narrated by the renowned Kenyan broadcaster, playwright and actor, John Sibi Okumu.