Writers: Kenya and Pakistan

Kamila Shamsie
I came across Ms. Shamsie in one of my random searches for non-American/British literature. Before the internet, Amazon, Kindle & company had made searching for & retrieving books a virtual convenience, the library was the it place.The physicality of the library, the mingled smells of old & new, dogeared & pristine, books containing an immeasurable weight of knowledge in an extremely codified,  contained space is an experience that is irreplaceable. Many long, lazy childhood hours were spent at the library. The Berkeley Library is an especially exceptional “house of books,” and what drew me to this novelist was spices. The title, Salt and Saffron, played upon my Caribbean sensibility and thus my affinity for her work was born. Shamsie is a Pakistani writer whose ancestral inheritance is a long line of strong and politically courageous Pakistani writers. Ms. Shamsie’s name links to an article in The Guardian by the author speaking about her literary influences. Salt & Saffron has nothing to do with the Caribbean. If I had to describe what her novels are about, I would sum them up in two words: diasporic consciousness. This bit of literary jargon is too packed to explain. To get the gist of what it is in plain terms and what it means in real life, read about her path to British citizenship. Her characters often struggle with the contradictions and frustrations of being pulled by opposing, yet equally influential worlds. Other novels I’ve read by her are Broken Verses and Kartography.

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
Such a charming man. I had the pleasure of attending a conversation between him, his son Mukoma wa Ngugi who is also a novelist, and interviewer Sarah Lapido Manyika.  The interview was hosted by the the Museum of the African Diaspora (MOAD) as part of the 2012 Litquake festival. As an aside, Litquake is a week long celebration where bibliophiles flock in bars, cafes, bookstores, libraries, museums, and other  spaces to hear writers rock the written word. It is a must-attend treat. If you’ve never read Mr. Ngũgĩ, you’re in for genius. He is well known for his seminal critical work Decolonising the Mind, which is a powerful indictment against colonialism. He has been jailed and exiled for his political outspokeness. His works depict the tension between being true to one’s home culture and the economic advancement available through colonial structures. As he gained success, language presented a nagging conundrum. He is an Anglophone writer writing about his community. He gained acclaim as an Anglophone writer writing about his community. Yet these very novels were not accessible to the majority of his family and friends, neighbors and acquaintances because their language is Gikuyu, not English.  He has made a conscious decision to write in his native Gikuyu so that his community may see, hear and enjoy stories about themselves in their own language, but also as a way of defying the inherent imbalance of power that English wields as the language of commerce.

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