African Book Talk Series - Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani

‘Dance of the Jakaranda’ by Peter Kimani was the first book in our African book talk series. With this series, we hope to offer a platform where African writers can engage a global audience, offering not just their work, but exciting perspectives on how personal, political, and cultural experiences drive their storytelling.

January 04, 2021

‘Dance of the Jakaranda’ by Peter Kimani is the first book in our African book talk series. Set in the shadow of Kenya's independence from Great Britain, Dance of the Jakaranda reimagines the special circumstances that brought black, brown, and white men together to lay the railroad that heralded the birth of the nation.

The novel traces the lives and loves of three men--preacher Richard Turnbull, the colonial administrator Ian McDonald, and Indian technician Babu Salim--whose lives intersect when they are implicated in the controversial birth of a child. Years later, when Babu's grandson Rajan--who ekes out a living by singing Babu's epic tales of the railway's construction--accidentally kisses a mysterious stranger in a dark nightclub, the encounter provides the spark to illuminate the three men's shared, murky past.

With its riveting multiracial, cast and diverse literary allusions, Dance of the Jakaranda could well be a story of globalization. Yet the novel is firmly anchored in the African oral storytelling tradition, its language a dreamy, exalted, and earthy mix that creates new thresholds of identity, providing a fresh metaphor for race in contemporary Africa.

Program Moderator:

Mshaï Mwangola Ph.D.– Oraturist / performance scholar.



Peter Kimani – Author.


Webinar Highlights:

Peter Kimani- The book is about race, the railway both metaphorical and literal construction of the railway, it's also about colonization, the book is also not linear due to the commotions that imitate oral performance, the structure of the book, the thematic concerns and character as well have been embodied in the opening passage to get the reader in the mood for the story. (Time frame from minute 9:00- 10:00)

Peter Kimani- Time in the newsroom helped refine my craft due to two useful benefits I picked, one is deadlines, you have to give a story in time for it to get published, the second is the ability to be absorbed in the moment of self patiently and the ability to reenact that. (Time frame from minute 12:00- 13:03)

Mshaï Mwangola- What we see in Peter Kimani’s three books, ‘Before the Rooster Crows’ ‘Dance of the Jakaranda’ and ‘Upside Down’ is that sense of reading a moment, building upon that moment and later seeing where that moment will take us. (Time frame from minute 22:00- 22:22)

Peter Kimani- ‘Dance of the Jakaranda’ is interested in many large historical themes, but all these have to be told through human interaction at a very basic level, the railway construction meant an intersection of issues I wanted to bring together to discuss in that the construction of the railway line is what opens up the country to exploitation and through it tears through the land destroying cultures and histories, getting people coaxed to cooperate or lured to the colonial enterprise. The train manifests men and women joining hands to put up something together, but even this unity and solidarity replicates divisions due to the train's compartments which in turn reflect the different settlements for both the whites and blacks through segregation of communities. (Time frame from minute 32:50- 35:30)

Peter Kimani-  Every generation has to define its causes, we had the 60s and 70s post-colonial period where Ngugi wa Thio’ngo’s generation wrote about, you have the urban phenomenon that Major Mwangi explored, this question of identity seems to be undying because even through previous decades, we have existed on one identity of which is constricting us as writers. (Time frame from minute 48:28- 49:28)