Author: Prof. Egara Kabaji
Title: Mourning Glory
Cost: KSh. 500
Publisher and Year: InterCEN Books, 2022
Reviewer: Mbukha Shitemi
Prof. Egara Kabaji’s new novel, Mourning Glory, is a heart-rending story that will bring variegated emotions in how it treats the pain, struggle and agony of living on the periphery of the Kenyan social and political landscape.
The book is dedicated to the people of Turkana, and indeed, it is the first full-length novel problematizing the predicament of the Turkana as a community in both colonial and post-colonial history.
The main plot revolves around the story of Mzee Yoshua Lelma and his family, which lives in the insecure, deprived and water-scarce county of Turkana.
This novel is, in essence, the story of Mzee Lelma’s family, whose fortunes mirror the grim realities and the dangers of living in the arid and semi-arid areas of Kenya with the attendant dangers of banditry, poverty, female genital mutilation and general neglect that the people suffer.
Significantly, this is also a story of the politics of exclusivity that characterize post-independence Africa, specifically Kenya.
Mzee Lelma’s life is overturned when bandits attack and drive away his herd of livestock, leaving him a pauper.
In only a single night, one of the richest men in Turkana is rendered a beggar.
This has a ripple effect on not only his family but also the entire community.
The poverty that ensues divides his family as his wife Leleve and his youngest daughter, Napus, betray him.
Leleve sells off her daughter to Mzee Ipera due to the poverty into which the family has been plunged in.
On the other hand, Mzee Lelma’s son, Alu, goes through traumatic situations in the United States of America since his father cannot afford to maintain him and pay his fees.
Alu’s financial constraints mirror his family’s trauma, but his social problems are more reflections of his father’s predicament.
From this anguish arises the Turkana Young Professionals (TYP), a movement aimed at restoring hope in themselves to the people.
It is through this movement that Mzee Lelma advances his vision of a better society.
Underlying the main plot of the story is the love story of Alu and Grazia in USA.
The love, betrayal and pain that Alu has to go through with the love of his life, Grazia, stands tall in this pregnant novel.
Alu, like his father, is a man with a big heart.
He is ready to forgive in a situation that many people would never think of forgiving.
Simultaneously, Grazia is a victim of the lies of an ex-lover who, through stealthing, impregnates her.
Here lies a lesson for all women: always call it a day to your relationships with men in your life when the romance is dead.
Alu and Grazia are a very good example of a young couple going through the normal challenges of relationships, and the betrayal by Grazia, though not intentional, is a very painful lesson.
The story of Alu in America also reveals the subtle American racism and the general problems faced by foreign students in America.
This novel brings out the ugly side of politics: political assassinations, violence, vengeance and betrayal.
Mzee Lelma, with solid support from his other daughter, Ekalale, and the Turkana Young Professionals, gets into politics, but things turn tragic in the end.
Perhaps, the strength of this novel lies in its diagnosis of the problems of banditry and livestock theft and the solutions it offers to the obstacles.
Mourning Glory brings out communal warfare between the Turkana and West Pokot communities of the North Western part of Kenya.
In these nomadic communities, the livestock a particular home owns determines the wealth of the family.
That is why, in this story, all of Mzee Lelma’s wealth was taken away overnight, sending him into bankruptcy.
The lacklustre attitude of the County and National Governments in providing security to its people leaves a lot to be desired.
There is also the influence and role of human rights groups in search of peace-building initiatives, which are applauded.
This novel exposes the poor and weak justice system that does not guarantee fairness.
Security forces torment, humiliate and oppress the already-traumatized locals instead of providing security.
Despite a lot of challenges and resistance from reputable politicians, there is a positive impact and involvement of youth groups in matters affecting the community.
The novel’s lesson to those in authority is that peace cannot be restored without community participation.
It is also notable that social media plays a critical role in disseminating information.
Overall, this story narrates the Turkana people.
It brings out the beautiful and unique culture of the people in terms of social organization and communal engagement.
Any average reader will also be intrigued by the story of young Napus, who gets married to Mzee Ipera.
This old man is nevertheless unable to consummate the marriage.
Napus involvement with Yakub, Mzee Ipera’s son, leading to an illicit pregnancy, is a shocker.
Mzee Ipera is the typical polygamous old man who wants to marry a young wife but is unable to cater for her emotional and intimate needs.
Despite his tragic ending, Mzee Lelma’s character is near-perfect.
A man who, despite being rendered helpless overnight, betrayed by his wife and daughter, unable to educate his son studying in the USA, and ridiculed by his peers, does not turn into a bitter old man.
He takes all these challenges in his stride and makes a meaningful contribution to reforming his society, a Nelson Mandela kind of character!
Mzee Lelma’s wife, on the other hand, is not loyal to the vows of marriage and betrays her husband in his hour of need.
She only comes back when she has nowhere else to go. His daughter Ekalale, her boyfriend Ekuru and the Young Professionals form the support systems for Mzee Lelma.
However, Hon. Tembeta casts the image of the typical selfish politician.
Mourning Glory is a sad story beautifully told.
The flow, tenor of discourse and suspense will beautifully throw you on a cliffhanger.
I recommend the book for extensive and leisure reading because of the lessons it has on culture, family, leadership, community, love and life generally.
YOU CAN ALSO READ: BOOK REVIEW: My Heart is Coloured
This story has breathed fresh air into the Kenyan literary landscape, which is significantly characterized by drab, predictable, and stale stories.
I think Prof. Egara Kabaji is at his best in this one.