It’s the first Saturday of the month, and so it’s Six Degrees of Separation Day. Kate, who hosts this meme at her blog Books Are My Favourite and Best has taken a different approach this month. Instead of her choosing the book, this month you start off with the book that you finished with last time and then link six other books that you associate together in some way.
Well, in August my last book in the chain was Elspeth Huxley’s memoir The Flame Trees of Thika. I read it a long time ago, and intended re-reading it on one of my several trips to Kenya to see my son, who was living in Nairobi at the time. So, my Six Degrees this month all revolve around Africa in one way or another.
David Anderson’s History of the Hanged (2005) is a history of the Mau-Mau Rebellion which took place in Kenya between 1952 and 1960. He starts by contextualizing the rebellion in terms of colonization and de-colonization, then shifts to a more individual approach through his use of court reports, both from the Supreme Court and the Special Emergency Assize Courts. (My review here)
Another more recent troubled period in Kenya’s history occurred after the 2007 elections. The Honey Guide (2013) is set at that time. It’s actually a detective story, featuring Mollel, a Massai policeman amongst a police force notorious for its corruption made up of Kikuyus and Luos who clashed during this post-election violence. Mollel’s wife had died several years earlier in the 1998 bombing of the American embassy in Nairobi, leaving him to bring up their son. I’m not usually a fan of detective fiction, but I loved the real-life setting of this book.
Let’s move away from violence in Kenya for a bit with Kirsten Drysdale’s memoir I Built No Schools in Kenya (2019). You may know her from ‘The Hungry Beast’ or ‘The Checkout’ on the ABC – come to think of it, I haven’t seen her for a while. In 2010, between shows, she shifted to Kenya for a year to care for an old man with dementia and became caught up in the family tensions. I found it laugh-out-loud funny at times, and I loved her descriptions of Nairobi. (My review here)
How about something going out of Africa (other than Karen Blixen)? Zafara by Michael Allin is the story of the giraffe donated to the King of France Charles X by Muhammed Ali, the Pasha of Egypt in the mid-1820s. In this book he traces Zafara’s journey from her original capture in Sudan, across to Khartoum strapped onto the back of a camel (I’m finding it quite hard to imagine this), then down (up?) the Nile to Alexandria, where she embarked a ship to Marseilles. On arrival at Marseilles, it was decided that after a winter lay-over, she would walk the 900 km to Paris. Her trip, which took 41 days, excited keen interest in the crowds that greeted her at each stop and indeed, the whole of France was convulsed with ‘giraffe-mania’. He tells the history of the fascination with ‘exotic’ animals, the effect of the Enlightenment and the fascination with Egyptology. It’s a real work of love. (My review here).
Or lets go the other way, into Africa. That’s where four young girls, Rachel, Leah, Adah and Ruth-May are taken by their rabidly evangelical father in The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Told alternately by each of the four girls and their mother, it captures well the grip of mania as their father is oblivious to the irrelevance of his message, and the effect on his family as they live as outsiders in a Congo village in the jungle.
The Shadow King (2019) by Maaza Mengiste takes us to another African country – Ethiopia- during the Italian/Ethiopian war in 1935- something that I knew absolutely nothing about. There’s crazed violence in this book too, as Carlo Fucelli, the leader of those Italian troops, indulges in sadism, forcing a Jewish Italian photographer amongst his troops to photograph the atrocities that he commits. Meanwhile, The ‘Shadow King’ of the title is a peasant with an uncanny likeness to the now-exiled Emperor Haile Selassie. While Selassie frets in Bath UK, his ‘shadow’ appears, almost like a vision, before the Ethiopian troops to inspire them. This book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2020 and was beaten (rather unjustly, I feel) by Shuggie Bain. (My review here).
So there we go – all in Africa – but moving from Kenya to Egypt, Congo and ending up in Ethiopia.