By: Peter Kimani - Akashic Books, $15.95
Description: Nairobi is a city of 3 million souls, so it makes sense as a setting Akashic Books' famed noir series.
14 new stories fill a collection with Nairobi old and new; authors range in age from 24 to 81, and many layers of the city and its complex subcultures will be revealed as the reader makes their way through.
Verdict: The quietly compelling short story collection 'Nairobi Noir' features brand new stories by: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Stanley Gazemba, Ngumi Kibera, Peter Kimani, Winfred Kiunga, Kinyanjui Kombani, Caroline Mose, Kevin Mwachiro, Wanjikũ wa Ngũgĩ, Faith Oneya, Makena Onjerika, Troy Onyango, J.E. Sibi-Okumu, and Rasna Warah.
'Nairobi Noir' - a book that leaves an indelible impression on you from just the opening sentences of the very first story - has three parts: The Hunters, The Hunted, the Herders.
Each story within each section takes place in a unique area of the city and not only shines a light into the darkness of Kenya’s capital city, but closely examines those living and working there; no matter which side of the law, which side of the darkness they find themselves.
Thus, 'Nairobi Noir' is an act of excavation, rediscovering the city’s ossified past and infusing life to preserve it for future generations.
That all said, sure it has a mighty impressive light shone on areas, and tales of Nairobi that one might never have heard before, but woven within the stories are acts of celebration.
They help remind readers of the brilliance of the best-known writers to emerge from this part of the world, and herald the birth of new writers whose gifts, we can safely predict, will shine brightly in the years ahead.
Edited by Peter Kimani, a rather well-known African author, who obviously knows Nairobi rather intimately, his own piece "Blood Sister” is also one of the stand out literary moments here.
Given that Kimani himself refers to Nairobi as a “concrete jungle” where "traffic jams are so bad, even lions come out of the wild to marvel at the snarl-ups," you kind of know going in what to expect from this vastly overheated jumping-off point for safari trips elsewhere in Kenya.
The oldest writer in this anthology is eighty-one, the youngest is only twenty-four; if there is any inference one can draw from this demographic it is that this anthology offers an entire spectrum of Kenyan writing: the past, present, and future.
If we can allow one extravagant claim, a collection of this nature is unprecedented in Kenya’s literary history.
In conclusion, although the range of issues explored in 'Nairobi Noir' is as diverse as its contributors, it all gestures toward a common theme. In this concrete jungle, the hunters and herders live on. As do the hunted!
If you read this and love it as much as I think you will, please check out other Akashic Noir books, including 'Montana Noir,' 'Vancouver Noir,' 'Lagos Noir,' and 'Milwaukee Noir.'
Peter Kimani is a leading Kenyan journalist and the author of, most recently, Dance of the Jakaranda, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.
The novel was nominated for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in the US and long-listed for the inaugural Big Book Awards in the UK.
He has taught at Amherst College and the University of Houston and is presently based at Aga Khan University's Graduate School of Media and Communications in Nairobi.
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