By Jacob Oketch
The Fall of A Dynasty is that kind of fiction that is rarely associated with most of Kenyan writers. You see, in the 70s, Government harassed writers who were deemed to be radically opposed to the regime of the day; Ngugi wa Thiongo felt the wrath of the system when his play was banned and even the good professor was bundled into prison. There emerged therefore, a cautious approach to writing about issues concerning governance.
That is where Joe Khamisi’s latest offering differs from much of contemporary writing in Kenya. This is a bold undertaking by the writer to debut in the world of fiction with a title of this kind. The author is an established non- fiction writer with several titles to his name including; The Politics of Betrayal, Dash Before Dusk, The Wretched Africans, Looters and Grabbers and The Bribery Syndrome.This is his first work of fiction.
The story is set in a Kingdom in a certain continent. By analogy, this story is quite similar to what happens in most developing countries in Africa. The author squarely addresses what the famed African writer Chinua Achebe referred to in his book The Trouble with Nigeria, as “a failure of leadership”. Though Zenga is a monarchy – the ineptness of the leadership of the Odia dynasty is something that is evident in many developing nations more so in Africa. The idea of military takeovers is something that is synonymous with many countries on the continent.
The story is rich in Kiswahili idioms and expressions. The author, in his characterization, has used Kiswahili words to name some characters. In some instances the Kiswahili names reflect the character. For example, Queen Mang’aa’s behavior and conduct typifies that name. Here, we see the author creatively promoting the Kiswahili language by infusing elements of the language in a work written in English. It gives us a glimpse of a writer’s influence in the promotion of culture.
The author’s description is top notch. One thing that makes this book unputdownable is the deftness with which the author describes phenomena, cuisine, protocol, buildings, mode of dress, character, ammunition, and more. For example, when the author describes the many foods in a menu, one can tell that he is talking about something he has experienced. Again, the author’s understanding of the operations of governant is something that deeply enriches his description.
This book is coming out at a time when the political events in Kenya point to a hotly contested presidential election to be held next year. Change is its major thematic concern. The phenomenon of the haves and the have-nots continue to plaque our country with dire consequences. As portrayed in this story, there is nothing as potent as the people’s power. The way the author weaves the story around the struggle between the hustlers and the dynasties is something that is playing out in our backyard.
As you read the book, there are echoes of our own political past in the story. For instance when the author refers to white women as “memsahibs”, the entire history of our colonial past rushes in to our minds and the experience of horrendous subjugation is recalled. In a way, the author manages to jolt us into realization that change begins with one’s understanding of their own history.
The book ends in the most unexpected of ways. The author’s display of the power of suspense towards the end of the story is superb. Though this is the author’s first work of fiction, it confirms that he indeed is a master storyteller who is dexterous in the real sense of the word.
The reviewer is the author of Aphorisms and Poems of Light