BOOK REVIEW: A Silent Song and Other Stories Part 1

We review set books to enable students grasp them better and stay confident at the face of exams, and to also offer teachers additional materials for better teaching. We are currently reviewing all the new set books set to be examined for the next four years. Stay with us.

Front cover of A Silent Song and Other Stories, one of the new set books for Kenyan Secondary Schools. PHOTO/Bonface Otieno, The Scholar Media Africa.
Front cover of A Silent Song and Other Stories, one of the new set books for Kenyan Secondary Schools. PHOTO/Bonface Otieno, The Scholar Media Africa.

Title: A Silent Song and Other Stories

Selected & Edited by: Godwin Siundu

Published by: Spotlight Publishers E.A Limited

Publication Year: 2020

The Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) is a summative test examination that students are tested and graded every academic year to determine their future career and placement in higher learning institutions. 

Just like in many other countries, English/Literature is among the mandatory subjects tested during this important evaluation. 

Many students who study English as a second language, especially in African countries, have found it challenging to excel in the subject, unlike in the other examinable subjects.

English/ Literature comprises three examinable papers in Kenya. 

In this review, I will dwell on one of the dreaded tests. 

Students need help comprehending paper three and, more specifically, the question on short stories due to the number of stories they have to be tested about, the diversity of ideas in the stories, and confusing characters and styles employed by writers in these short stories. 

Short stories to date remain a phenomenon for many students. 

Recently the Kenyan government replaced an anthology of short stories, Memories We Lost and Other Stories, with a new text, A Silent Song and Other Stories.

In this new set book, due to its newness, unfamiliarity, and diversity of thoughts, many students might need help comprehending and interpreting. 

This simplified review seeks to enable them to be all smiles in the examination rooms.

A Silent Song and Other Stories is a collection of stories selected from Africa, Europe, and Asia. 

The collection has a total of 14 stories, each addressing a range of thematic concerns, from colonialism, post-colonialism, beliefs, domestic struggles, urban poverty, and the impact of poor human relations, among many other contemporary themes.

To begin with, Naguib Mahfouz, an Egyptian storyteller, presents the first story of the anthology “A man with awesome power”.

Tayyib al-Mahdi, the protagonist in the tale, lives comfortably after retiring from many years of service abroad. 

His peaceful and uneventful lifestyle is reshuffled at some point through a persistent revelation in his dreams. 

Through a dream, an unusual kind tone from a radiant appearance informs him that God has granted him extraordinary powers to order things and do as he pleases and all shall be. 

Tayyib is obliged to try this doubtful revelation which turns out to be true. 

He soon realizes that his purpose in life has just begun.  

Tayyib uses his newly-given power to overhaul all mischief in society. 

With such a kind of power, one may desire to do as he pleases, and Tayyib is not an exception. 

He uses his power for both good and ill intentions. 

He first takes revenge against a taxi driver who has been ignoring him by wishing him an accident. 

Back cover of A Silent Song and Other Stories, one of the new set books for Kenyan Secondary Schools. PHOTO/Bonface Otieno, The Scholar Media Africa.
Back cover of A Silent Song and Other Stories, one of the new set books for Kenyan Secondary Schools. PHOTO/Bonface Otieno, The Scholar Media Africa.

Tayyib proceeds to punish a mannerless man who physically attacked a woman on a bus. 

He causes him a spell of stomach cramps, and the bus would not move until the groaning, crying, and suffering man is carried away in an ambulance. 

Tayyib fills a gaping pothole, locks an electric box and removes a pile of rubbish that he trips on.

All stakeholders must feel the taste of justice: from a corrupt business and political leader who evaded paying taxes, to the media journalist who reported news of false hopes.

He even plans to overhaul all sectors in the country before proceeding to the whole world. 

In something of a turn of events, Tayyib al-Mahdi promiscuously admires a woman and uses his powers to lure her into infidelity. With this intimate encounter, Tayyib’s incredible power is gone.

Tayyib is portrayed as a secretive, religious, ambitious and vengeful personality. 

His personality sheds light on the realization of major societal concerns such as the acquisition of power, misuse of power, role of media in society, corruption, immorality, loss of power, and change, among other minor themes.

The collection’s second story is “An Incident in the park” by Kenyan writer Meja Mwangi. 

It’s a story that examines urbanization-related problems: urban poverty, the conflict between authorities and city hustlers, mob justice or social injustice, oppression, hopelessness, and a challenging economy, among other themes. 

Major Mwangi employs vivid descriptions to paint a picture of city life, especially around the park. 

He introduces a fruit seller, a poor, elderly man who sells fruits at the park. 

He has no license or identity card. He has a responsibility to fend for his family. Depicted as hardworking, he is determined to make a living out of fruit selling even though he can not afford a license. 

His nightmare is the tyrant city judge whom he fears would castrate him and fine him heavily if the authority arrests him. He runs away when accosted. 

However, the city idlers in the park gang against him as a “thief” and end his life.

Meanwhile, the story “Ninema” by Vrenika Pather of South Africa, like the previous stories, examines common concerns, including sexual harassment/immorality, relationships, hardship, and principality. 

Ninema the protagonist is visualized as a focused, ambitious, organized and optimistic character. 

She is principled and detail-oriented. Her high spirits keep her customers loyal to her in the market. 

She is naturally admirable, which draws a white man, Mr. Chinran, her admirer, to her shop. 

Mrs. Singh is also her regular customer due to her strong personality, even though she is known for haggling over prices. 

Ninema is used to her regular market custom and knows how to handle all her customers. She is one day accosted by one strange man who is immoral, vulgar, and lascivious, a man she mercilessly hits in return.

“A Silent Song” by Leonard Kibera is a story of hopeless Mbane, a young, paralyzed, blind city street beggar. 

He is Ezekiel’s brother; Ezekiel is a preacher who “rescues” Mbane from the street, and for his sinful life, he preaches the gospel of Christ so that he may be baptized. 

That way, Mbane will not go to hell once he dies. 

Sarah, his brother’s wife, nurses Mbane. 

He recalls the city life with nostalgia even though he now lives in his brother’s serene, lonely hut. 

Before he is saved, Mbane’s strength wanes, his pain ceases, his neck yanks down to the head, and he dies. 

The story brings about themes such as religious hypocrisy, pain and misery of the physically disabled, prostitution, sexual slavery, alcoholism, and escapism.

Onwards, “Ivory Bangles” by Tanzania’s Eric Ng’amaryo, is a story involving the old man and his wife as the main characters, and other minor characters such as the seer and community members. 

Mr. Bonface Otieno, an author, English Literature teacher and poet. PHOTO/Courtesy.
Mr. Bonface Otieno, an author, poet and English Literature teacher. PHOTO/Courtesy.

Examining such critical concerns as tradition and customs, polygamy, love, human-wildlife conflict, and the question of loyalty to customs, the story presents a society rooted in traditional practices that no one should depart from, lest they suffer irreparable consequences. 

The old man is seen disturbed, having slaughtered a goat and found traces of blood in the goat’s liver; such was a symbol of a bad omen. 

He consults a seer who discloses that the pebbles demand the old man has to give her wife a ritual beating, after which she must go back home to her parents. 

Through a flashback, we learn of the old man’s great love for his wife. He had refused to marry any other wife. He had gifted her the ivory bangles from ivory he acquired from the elephant he killed using a poison arrow.

He tries to inform his wife about the seer’s revelation in vain. 

The next day as the old man attends to his work, his wife goes to the market, where she hears people talking about a herd of elephants approaching the plains.

She goes home, prepares her husband’s food, and decides to weed a weedy garden her husband had informed her of earlier. 

She is, unfortunately, killed by a bull elephant that catches her unawares.

Her ivory bangles are shattered. 

Her foreshadowed death comes with a lesson that failing to heed wise advice can lead to disastrous calamities.

Other stories like The sins of the fathers, The truly married woman, Talking money, Ghosts, God sees the truth but wait, The neighborhood watch, December Boyi, and Cheque mete explicitly examine issues like identity crisis, vengeance, racism, parental resentment, love and friendship, negative ethnic tensions, death, cohabiting vs. marriage, hypocrisy, obsession with money, war, destruction of property, superstition, drugs, imprisonment, faith and devotion, inequality and class difference, hope, civilization, betrayal, bribery, and loyalty, among other contemporary issues.

These stories are written in their simplest form and using effective language that is easily understood. 

YOU CAN ALSO READ: BOOK REVIEW: Blossoms of the Savannah

They are additionally enjoyable to follow along and comprehend. The relevance of the themes, diversity of representation, and styles make the stories more enjoyable not only to read but also uphold and practice the moral lessons in each.

For readability, this first review of this new setbook has covered half the book. Stay put for the other half, and for periodic Q/As to help you understand and master the book better. We would also appreciate your feedback on specific areas you would want us to tackle.

YOU CAN ALSO READ: BOOK REVIEW: The Woman Called Angel and Other Stories

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Mr. Otieno is a Literature enthusiast, an English/Literature teacher, a writer, poet, playwright, and novelist. He is the President of the Bleeding Ink Global Writers Society, a detail-oriented columnist, and a literary critic. His contact:



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