Art & LifeBooksKenya: The silence of violence


Posted on Monday, 24 February 2014 17:54

Kenya: The silence of violence

By J.P. O'Malley

Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor Kenyan author. Photo©FootHills PressOwuor's new novel Dust highlights the role of violence in Kenya's history and how humans rewrite their memories.


Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor says that every writer has an obligation to express truthfully an opinion to readers.

if you dig through words like 'collateral damage,' what you eventually find are bodies

She explains why, as a responsible nation, Kenya committed a moral failure in allowing Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, to stand for election last March.

Both men are awaiting trial for war crimes at the International Criminal Court.

"I was caught in the experience of the 2007/2008 elections. I saw the suffering, horror and devastation first hand," says the Kenyan writer.

Owuor's Dust, a novel in which she analyses memory and nationalism with great aplomb, was published in January.

The narrative, which takes place between 1950 and 2008, shines a light on Kenya's tumultuous and violent history.

The story features the small town of Wuoth Ogik on the outskirts of Nairobi.

It begins with the gruesome murder of Odidi Oganda, an engineer whose conscience costs him his life.

There is also a second arc, that of Isaiah Bolton, who travels to Kenya from Britain searching for his father, Hugh.

Both tales connect when a secret binding them together is finally revealed.

A common theme emerges as the plot unfolds: violence and secrecy are deadly weapons that protect the elite in Kenyan society.

Owuor prefers to tell stories with depth. "I'm curious about subtext," she says. "I feel that is where a lot of things lurk."

"The standard narratives that are framed about human beings don't tend to go behind the scenes or behind the soul.

"People use a certain language to speak about things that are devastating.

"But if you dig through words like 'collateral damage,' what you eventually find are bodies."

Owuor says she was aware at all times how central violence was to her story.

"This book was, for me, a way of drawing out the human silence of violence.

"We have to acknowledge the pure horror within all of us and admit that violence is not alien to our humanity."

For Owuor negative memories are deeply imbedded in Kenya, a nation she still deeply loves.

She says: "Human beings are particularly good at repressing and writing over memories. That is something I am very interested in as a writer." ●


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