Whispers is a novellette I stumbled upon in a second hand bookstore, in a town I’d been to only that one time. Going straight to the publication details of the book, I saw it was by a Kenyan author, and as I’m always interested in African writers, I bought it. Besides, who can refuse an interesting book for only 50 cents?
Muli wa Kyendo has apparently written several more books and plays, which I’ll be trying to hunt for in the future. It’s always a pleasure to read a writer’s work which makes you want more.
Josephine is a young woman trying to make ends meet in Nairobi, where she works as a secretary. When her boss continuously encourages her to “visit” his place and she continuously ignores or refuses, he fires her. Without a job, she must also decide whether she loves Musyoki or Joseph as all her friends, including her best friend Agens, are off getting married.
For Josephine, her journey seems almost surreal as events unfold before her, and she struggles to make up her mind about how she feels over her love interests. Trapped between the reality of what she should do and what she would like to do, this blurry line is hardly explicit; yet it is present enough to carry the tension throughout the novellette.
On the Style and Characterization
I loved the simplicity here. I’m not talking Hemingway, but just basic simplicity. Easy and direct sentences, straight forward descriptions:
The tall grass was a beautiful green, after the rains. There were many swampy ditches. Soon they reached a rough road.
Where a modern creative writing class would probably shudder at ‘beautiful green’ because surely one can ‘show’ how the color is beautiful, the prose here suits the story in every aspect.
The simplicity also enhances the indecisiveness and confusion that Josephine experiences. The lack of explanations or abstract words keeps the characters real and dynamic. Josephine is easy to sympathise with and her struggles in 70’s Kenya are familiar to any contemporary reader of the hardships when starting out life in a bustling city.
There’s also a deeper, more disturbed part to Josephine that slowly uncovers, as she herself tries to understand why she’s constantly in a state of emotional flux.
To Josephine, the room was a hazy mixture of music, laughter, voices and people. She no longer cared whether Musyoki was there or not. But on second thoughts she realized she was glad that he was there.
This kind of constant cross-examination helps keep us close to Josephine without overbearing explanations of her thoughts. It just shows us a real person in a real situation.
A quick, engaging read with a sympathetic protagonist. The story-telling is very much African in style, which is my favorite (so perhaps there is some bias here). And I’ll leave you witha passage that stuck out most to me:
Marriage was an experience that one moved through like time passing away. What had come and passed could not be retrieved. But marriage was much more complex. It moved on different lines all the time. The demands of today could not be the same of those of tomorrow. It was a hectic thing that one had to give some sort of order – try to impose or create some sort of prediction and yet not do so. There was no formula to help one along. It was just trial and error.