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ART CHECK

Action-packed walk down the Mau Mau memory lane

Land and freedom were the clarion calls that animated the armed struggle for liberation

In Summary

• The intrigues, breathtaking suspense in 'Mau Mau Factor' can keep you up all night

Book cover
Book cover
Image: COURTESY

Gachoka Mwangi, The Mau Mau Factor. Nairobi: Almon, 2016. Sh350

There are many books that have been written on the Mau Mau experiences and the State of Emergency (1952 – 1959) in Kenya.

They include novels or memoirs penned by local writers such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o and expatriate authors like Karen Blixen, Elspeth Huxley or Robert Ruark.

For me, the finest novels of this bloody past of Kenya are Meja Mwangi’s Carcass for Hounds (1974) and The In-Between World of Vikram Lall (2003) by M. G. Vassanji.

The former shows the fiery action of the Mau Mau uprising to those who were born afterwards.

Vassanji’s novel offers a crystal clear and haunting tale of just how the enduring legacy of colonial history exists in our motherland today even after decades of independence.

 
 

The Mau Mau Factor (2016) by Gachoka Mwangi is a slim novel packed with action from the very outset. Mwangi was born in Kiambu County near Gatundu 48 years ago and is a barrister of the High Court of Kenya. His inspiration to pursue the literary arts is found in his legal career.

He has represented hundreds in matters to do with the land in the central Kenya region.

Land and Freedom were the clarion calls that animated the armed struggle for liberation conducted by the Mau Mau - also called the Kenya Land and Freedom Army in the 1950s.

The novel opens up with the murder of an ageing Gatundu slay queen who we come to learn was a fierce Mau Mau soldier before independence.

The narrative plays out around this murder most foul conducted in the dead of the night.

Her only son embarks on the long road to justice as he investigates the murder through contact tracing - a phrase made familiar by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

He retraces her steps among her drinking mates to find out how she met her macabre demise. What he eventually discovers is scintillatingly like more fire!

Kiganjo, a township near Gatundu, imaginatively emerges as the setting of this fast-paced novel of crime and punishment.

In these sleepy and misty environs tales abound of drunkards with violent pasts and prostitutes who mollycoddle with get-rich-or-die-trying rags-to-riches city men.

The Mau Mau Factor is a hybrid between Meja Mwangi like Going Down River Road and his Mau Mau novel mentioned above.

It illuminates for us the seedy lives of a peri-urban world and its moral morass.

In eight tight chapters, Gachoka Mwangi weaves the lives of Ture, the protagonist, and Hinya his ex-school mate as well as the nemesis.

Good and evil compete for legitimacy before the eyes of the reader. The former and the latter are each embodied in the acts of omission and commission orchestrated by the two young men and their associates.

 
 

The plot thickens as we follow the trail of a criminal syndicate that once stood for truth and dignity as an association of former freedom fighters.

It has now mutated into a powerful network cutting across all domains of life. Akin to Mungiki, it is an ogre that feeds on the blood of innocent people and the nation itself with impunity.

The dramatic and chaotic world of this slim novel is constructed in gaudy imagery and electrifying suspense. The plot-driven book ensnares any reader from one page to the next as you pursue the climax with bloodhound tenacity.

Gachoka’s book is a localized crime fiction recounted in figurative tit-bits to the reader and stories within stories that arrest attention.

I read this book in one sitting having sacrificed my Saturday night of sleep to its intrigues and breath-taking suspense.

Older Kenyans surely recall the era when pacey novels that painted the urban world of crime and justice became popular as the political climate of the 1980s became noisy and detached from the ground. Remember the twin crime novels of John Kiriamiti and the saucy fiction of Charles Mangua?

It appears to me that Gachoka Mwangi is not just a legal voice of the masses but a writer of this popular tradition.

This is his debut but should definitely not be his last book. Kenyans love a juicy tale that reads like an action video or drama and this is served copiously in The Mau Mau Factor by Gachoka Mwangi.

This new book emerges as a wonderful break from the commissioned novels of late that, as set-books, attempt to address topical matters in society such as AIDS, Terrorism and Locusts.

Find out what happens after Hinya and Gituamba engage in a deadly shoot-out and Ture, still mourning his mother, is caught in the cross-fire and more.

The book is available from all the major bookshops in Nairobi and across the country.

Dr Makokha teaches Literature and Theatre at Kenyatta University

The book is available in all major bookshops