Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani, © 2017, Akashic Books
What better time than the holidays for travel. That is exactly what I got when I picked up Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani over the holidays. I was whisked off to Africa for a look at Kenya during the years of British colonization and its subsequent independence.
Dance of the Jakaranda opens in the Great Rift Valley in 1901. The first train chugs along the newly built railway linking Nakuru and Mombasa with Reverend Turnbull and Master on board. In second and third class, the rest of the people who broke their backs building the rail line are on board—blacks and browns alike. Class might separate them on the train, but their lives are intertwined and a collision course is inevitable.
Kimani looks at the peoples who shaped a nation in his newest novel. The story follows Babu Salim, an Indian technician, Ian McDonald, the colonial administrator sent to oversee the building of the railway, and Richard Turnbull, a preacher intent on leaving his mark on the African people. The novel delves into the tumultuous race relations between the many people who shaped it. Broken dreams leave their mark and change the shape of history for not only themselves, but the many people who come after, including Babu's grandson Rajan.
We all have faults, but some leave a bigger impact than others. Should the British have tried to enforce their will in shaping a nation, regardless of how many lives were lost and cultures corroded? Can we condemn people for self-serving behaviours, despite the good that invariably comes along with it? Is it ever that easy when the backlash can be as heavy-handed as the original infractions? I think not, as Kimani steps into the minds and hearts of all his characters, regardless of the colour of their skin and decisions they have made, be they good or ill.
Thank you to Akashic books for another book that has me thinking long after the last page is turned. May we all learn the lessons that come from the mistakes we make.