Fiction books published with NGO funds usually contain stories that push the agenda of the NGOs.
It is therefore a relief to find that Lesleigh Kenya’s newest anthology Fifth Draft, cannot be said to be pushing an NGO agenda. The collection was launched at the Goethe Institut in Nairobi on December 10.
Fifth Draft, a poetry and prose collection, was birthed at a workshop funded by the Italian NGO CEFA. Diverse in theme and content, the book contains vivid tales and poems. From uptown wives, night runners, lustful priests, slum dwellers and religious extremists, the collection tackles diverse aspects of life.
The stories and poems speak to all, despite the invisible social, religious and economic differences that are bound to divide.
If indeed it is true that the faculty we employ upon poetry at the first reading is sensual, then the poet Mwangi Gituro opens our minds’ eyes sensually with his poem Bless Me Father for I Have Seen. It is an innocent observation by a child of a lustful priest. The persona, a young Catholic faithful, confesses that he has seen the way the priest stares longingly at other little boys going naively about the Lord’s work.
The first two stanzas, reproduced below, aptly sum up the hypocrisy of some men of the cloth who forget that their flock are watching their actions more than listening to their words.
Bless me Father for I have seen/I have seen the way you look at John/ as he paces up and down the altar in the service of the Lord/The way you cup your hands around Charles as he hands you the chalice/The way the sides of your mouth lasciviously twitch as you place the host on Peters’ luscious lips
The strength of this poem lies in its combination of childish innocence and religious deceit.
Mainouna Jallow’s short story The Bake Club of Tailorflower Lane is fresh and exciting. It unlocks the lives of the expatriates whose privileges give them time to fuss over extramarital affairs, personal trainers and failing marriages.
Jallow boldly lets us into the lives of this class of Kenyans who are very present but tend to be pushed to literary peripheries because of our fetish for “poverty porn.” The story follows the daily lives of three high society women and also shines a light on the lives of Nairobi’s rich.
Mwende Ngao’s Toilet Paper Thief is a coming-of-age tale that tells of the hurdles of city life for the young. Anxious to move away from home and be “independent,” Koki, grapples with delayed pay, joblessness and lack of money. Then, unable to cope with the numerous demands of the concrete labyrinth, the good girl turns bad, throws caution to the wind and gives into a friends-with-benefits relationship with a man in a blue Subaru.
And yet, this is not all the book offers. There are other stories. Some quite impressive, like Mtheto Kadoko Hara’s A Sentiment for Leyla, which beautifully tells of love, sacrifice and religious extremism from Malawi to Nairobi’s Westgate mall.
Others quite chilling, like Powell Omolo’s The Chosen, which talks about the life of a young man who has inherited night running powers from his Legio-Maria grandmother and is trying to come to terms with his newfound powers.
Less impressive stories dot the Fifth Draft as well. Stories which one feels require much more work. Stories which perhaps if the authors had kept revising, would have become better in their fifth drafts. These stories include the Fifth Draft by Eutycus Mola, which is simply a collection of beautiful phrases that the writer seems clueless what to do with. Stories like How To Snatch a Monkey by Atandi Anyona, which is meant to be humorous but fails and ends up putting off the reader.
Yet there is a lot to like in this book. Starting with its publisher, Lesleigh Kenya, which is a new outfit in the country. The firm proves that meticulous editing and good quality print are something we can hope for and should demand from our local publishers.
This article was first published in the East African.