Sensuous, lyrical, and suffused in the natural world, especially a sense of the ebb and flow of the ocean, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s The Dragonfly Sea shimmers with passion, humanity, and quickening waves of history. And all this unfolds and undulates through tracing the journey of a young girl, Ayaana, forming a novel to take your time over, to luxuriate in and return to. It’s a rich banquet of beautiful words. Beginning on an Indian Ocean island in the Lamu Archipelago, off the coast of Kenya, fearless Ayaana and her mother live a kind of lonely, haunted existence. She has no father, nor a father figure, until a sailor comes into their lives. Without her mother’s approval, Muhidin becomes Ayaana’s friend and teacher. Her life reels and realigns in cycles, seeing her voyage to China with the promise of education and a different future. As her journey surges and ebbs, ebbs and surges, the author lays bare conflicts of the both personal and political kind (colonialism, radicalisation) with individuals and nations caught in the nets of global forces. Through loss and longing, there’s a sense of becoming whole again, finding refuge, and finding oneself.
Kenya, 2007. Odidi Oganda, running for his life, is gunned down in the streets of Nairobi. His sister, Ajany, and their father bring his body back home, to a crumbling colonial house in northern Kenya. But the peace they seek is hard to find: the murder has stirred deeply buried memories of colonial violence, of the killing-sprees of the Mau Mau uprising, and the shocking political assassination of Tom Mboya in 1969. When a young Englishman appears, searching for his missing father, another story, of love, or at least a connection, begins. This is a spellbinding state of the nation novel about Kenya, showing how the violence of the past informs the violence and disorder of the present. Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor's memorable characters; Ajany's mother, deranged with grief and past violations, the Trader, embodying the timeless nomadic traders of Sudan, and Odidi himself, who transcended his past, came to success, and then a tragic end, are enchanting. Owuor reveals to us a new Kenya, a Kenya of bloodshed but also of modernity, suffused with a spirit world only half-remembered. This is a country where the characters listen so acutely for what is not said, and for the voices from the distant and recent past.