John Ndavula teaches communication studies at St Paul’s University. He is an editor at Borderless Press and the founding editor of Kikwetu: A Journal of East African Literature. He also writes fiction and has published literary criticism books on East African and European fiction.
John spoke towww.nation.co.keabout his literary favourites.
Which three books would you term as Kenyan classics and why?
I would consider The River Between by Ngugi wa Thiongo, Coming to Birth by Marjorie Oludhe McGoye and The River and the Source by Margaret Ogolla as classics because of their subject matter. The novels capture the spirit of nationhood at different historical epochs.
Which one book do you hold so dear that it can’t possibly be lent out?
That would be Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga because it was a gift from my father. At one time I lent it to members of my writer’s club but I was worried I would lose it. I hardly see the novel in bookshops.
If you were to recommend a book to Hon Uhuru Kenyatta and another to Hon Raila Odinga, which books would these be and why?
I would recommend Coming to Birth by Marjorie Oludhe McGoye to both of them. The novel captures the pain of birthing the Kenyan nation as seen through the eyes of a peasant woman. The novel would remind our leaders to commit to fulfilling our aspirations as a people.
Which one book do you think all Kenyans should read and why?
We all should read Unbowed by Wangari Maathai. Hers is a remarkable story of courage, faith, and the power of persistence under less than favourable socio-political conditions. The story can inspire many generations of Kenyans to dream of a better country and to be hopeful for the future.
What are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading Aluta by Adwoa Badoe. The novel is suspenseful and told with uncompromising honesty about youthful idealism meeting the harsh realities of political power in Ghana.
Do you think eBooks are replacing paper books?
I don’t think so. eBooks are available to readers who have access to electronic devices and the internet. These technologies are still confined to a few privileged people in the society.
Do you think book reviews influence readers’ choices in Kenya, why or why not?
Book reviews are not regular phenomenon in our literary scene. Most readers find themselves relying on their peers for guidance on book selection.
Your childhood favourite book?
I can never forget Blue Flowers. It was an adventure story of children going to the river to play. It was supplied by the Kenya School Equipment Scheme to primary schools. I often sneaked into my mother’s office, which doubled up as the school library, to read the story.
If you were to dine with three writers, dead or alive, who would they be and why?
The first writer is Maya Angelou who demonstrated the strength of the human spirit. The second one is Ken Saro-Wiwa who had the courage to die for his ideals. The third writer is Shakespeare whose singular effort bequeathed humanity with a vast literary treasure.
If you were sent off to Robben Island for a year, which three books would you take with you?
Americanahby Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor and The In Between World of Vikraam Lall by M G Vassanji. These are lengthy novels that have been lying on my bookshelf for some time.
As an academic, do you think Kenyans are writing enough good books?
We are not sharing our own knowledge through academic books. As an academic editor, I am part of a movement that seeks to turn good doctoral thesis from our universities into books. It is our hope that these books will end up in our university bookshops.
Could you comment on the novel in Kenya, with respect to the non-fiction genre?
Most non-fiction books are written by ghost writers. This takes away from the beauty and richness of the narratives. The few writers who have written their own stories, have given us very candid insights about the universal human condition. I have in mind Wangari Maathai, Isak Denisen and Kuki Gallman.
Your thoughts on Ngugi missing the Nobel prize for literature again?
It is regrettable that Ngugi, who is a global literary doyen, has missed the prize. Ngugi’s fiction offered a powerful counter narrative to the Western colonialism story.
Ngugi’s place in the annals of history is assured, with or without the prize.
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