I stumbled on this book, Nairobi Heat by Mukoma Wa Ngugi, at a bookstore and was simply enchanted by how mysterious it seemed. The book was carefully sealed in a plastic bag so the only things I could look at were words like “crime”, “young blonde dead”, and something about going to the past to find the truth, as written on the book cover. What I initially assumed was a detailed memoir of how some good guys caught some bad guys, actually happened to be a thrilling and thought-provoking read on mystery and racial crime. In 127 pages, the author takes us on a journey from the United States to Kenya to uncover the root of a classic murder.
Our protagonist, Ishmael is an African-American cop who has been given the responsibility to uncover the death of a white girl. When a white girl is dead, there’s one problem. However, it is another thing when her dead body is found in front of a black man’s house – one who became a hero after saving many during the Rwandan genocide. For a society where brotherhood subliminally ranks slightly higher than justice, the paradox of a black man trying to bring his kind down for a crime is seen as a taboo.
When our main character is forced to travel to the shores of Kenya, Africa, he has to come to terms with the fact that though his heritage is primarily African, he knows too little about it. It didn’t help that the Kenyans felt he wasn’t African enough – or at all.
“It was a strange irony that I, an African American, a black American, was being called a white man in Africa…”
He also quickly dispels the reality of the biases of Africa as portrayed by western media. Partnered up with his Kenyan partner, they follow clues to solve a crime that had its tentacles spread across nations, large corporations, and entities that were practically bigger than them. They witness crime like never before like how young girls are raped as almost a norm, and they soon have their life threatened the closer to the answer they got.
“Here, violence is part of daily life, money can put you above the law and police shoot first and ask questions later.”
From getting into bar fights, falling in love, dealing with press headlines, getting kidnapped, to making new friends, and diffusing smokescreens, the plot deepened as we went on until the case reached finality. There were very interesting characters like Lord Thompson, Odhiambo, and Madeline. The author did such a great job with character placement as each had a story to tell with its own purpose. This book, for me, went beyond the storyline. It covered issues ranging from organized crime, to racism and other problems resulting from minority classes, crime, injustice, identity crisis, hypocrisy, and so much more. It forced out a lot of emotions and pains and even shed light on issues that are peculiar to the African continent. For extra flavour, we had a dab of poetry and spoken word.
“My hair has roots all over the earth, like roots of an old, old, old baobab, tapping and traversing the whole earth.
And my skin, this old raggedy skin thing
This old skin is the same skin my great-grandmother wore to sleep and to the garden, this is the skin that she wore when in battle.
And don’t be fooled by its softness, in peace it’s for pleasure, but it quickly grows scales when it’s time for war…”
Like most fiction books, there are plot twists that are not well agreed with as well as situations where things just don’t completely add up. This book went from separating good and bad people, to accepting the fact that we’re all bad people depending on our driving force. It was nonetheless a beautiful read, and it is as fast-paced as is calming.
I rate it a 3 out of 5. You can give it your own rating below.
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About the Author
Mukoma Wa Ngugi is an Assistant Professor of English at Cornell University and the author of the novels Mrs. Shaw, Black Star Nairobi, Nairobi Heat, and a book of poetry, Hurling Words at Consciousness. Logotherapy (poetry) is forthcoming. He is the co-founder of the Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature and co-director of the Global South Project – Cornell. Mukoma holds a PHD in English from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, an MA in Creative Writing from Boston University and a BA in English and Political Science from Albright College. In 2009, he was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing and in 2010 for the Penguin Prize. His father is the author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. (Source: www.mukomawangugi.com)