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  • Dust
  • Written by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
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  • Written by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
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Written by Yvonne Adhiambo OwuorAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

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On Sale: January 28, 2014
Pages: 384 | ISBN: 978-0-307-96121-1
Published by : Knopf Knopf
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ABOUT THE BOOK ABOUT THE BOOK
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READER'S GUIDE READER'S GUIDE
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

From a breathtaking new voice, a novel about a splintered family in Kenya—a story of power and deceit, unrequited love, survival and sacrifice.

Odidi Oganda, running for his life, is gunned down in the streets of Nairobi. His grief-stricken sister, Ajany, just returned from Brazil, and their father bring his body back to their crumbling home in the Kenyan drylands, seeking some comfort and peace. But the murder has stirred memories long left untouched and unleashed a series of unexpected events: Odidi and Ajany’s mercurial mother flees in a fit of rage; a young Englishman arrives at the Ogandas’ house, seeking his missing father; a hardened policeman who has borne witness to unspeakable acts reopens a cold case; and an all-seeing Trader with a murky identity plots an overdue revenge. In scenes stretching from the violent upheaval of contemporary Kenya back through a shocking political assassination in 1969 and the Mau Mau uprisings against British colonial rule in the 1950s, we come to learn the secrets held by this parched landscape, buried deep within the shared past of the family and of a conflicted nation.

Here is a spellbinding novel about a brother and sister who have lost their way; about how myths come to pass, history is written, and war stains us forever.

Excerpt

Massive purple clouds rush in from the eastern coast. Ambushed by a warm wind in Nairobi, they scatter, a routed guerrilla force. At Wilson Airport, a qhat-carrying eight-seater plane weaves its way off the apron. The last small plane out of Nairobi without top-level permission for the next week. Above the airport din, egrets circle and ibises cry ngangan- ganga. Father, daughter, and son are going home.
Dusk is Odidi’s time. In the contours of old pasts, Ajany retrieves an image: She is sitting on a black-gray rock, spying on the sun’s descent with Odidi. Leaning into his shoulder, trying to read the world as he does, she stammers, “Where’s it going?” He says, “Descending into hell,” and cackles. She had only just learned the Apostles’ Creed.
...
 
The plane lifts off.
The coffin and its keepers are nestled amid bales of green herbs.
Straight-backed, stern, silences reordered, Nyipir is a chiseled stone icon again, an archetypal Nilotic male. But there are deep furrows on his forehead. She can paint these, too. Trail markers into absence. Ajany had once believed Baba was omnipotent, like God, ever since he had invoked a black leopard to hunt down the mean and red-eyed inhabit- ants of her nightmares.
She trembles.
Nyipir asks, “Cold?”
Baba’s baritone, Odidi’s echo. Dimpled handsomeness. The Oganda men were gifted with soft-edged, rumbling voices.
Ajany turns. The light of the sky bounces on her thin face, all
bones and angles. Fresh bloodstains on her sleeves. The frills of her orange skirt are soiled. She is tinier than Nyipir remembers. But she had always been such a small, stuttering thing, all big hair and large eyes. More shadow than person, head slanted as if waiting for answers to ancient riddles. He clears his throat. From the gloom of his soul, Nyipir growls, “Mama . . . er . . . she wanted to . . . uh . . . come to meet you.”
Ajany hears the lie. Sucks it in, as if it were venom, sketches invis- ible circles on the window. Stares at the green of coffee and pineapple plantations below.
“Yes,” Nyipir says to himself, already lost, already afraid. He shifts. The dying had started long ago. Long before the murder of prophets named Pio, Tom, Argwings, Ronald, Kungu, Josiah, Ouko, Mbae. The others, the “disappeared unknown.” National doors slammed over vaults of secrets. Soon the wise chose cowardice, a way of life: not hearing, not seeing, never asking, because sound, like dreams, could cause death. Sound gave up names, especially those of friends. It co-opted silence as an eavesdropper; casual conversations heard were delivered to the state to murder. In time neighborhood kai-apple fences were urged into thicker and higher growth to shut out the dread-filled nation. But some of the lost, the unseen and unheard, cut tracks into Nyipir’s sleep. They stared at him in silence until the day his disordered dreams stepped into daylight with him to become his life:
They had pointed a gun to his head.
Click, click, click.
 
He had fallen to the ground, slithered on his belly like a snake, hissed, and vomited, because he had forgotten how to talk.
 
Today.
Sweat on palms, heartbeat quickening, Nyipir swallows. A groan.
Ajany hears a father’s leaching anguish. She scratches an ache where it itches her skin, gropes inside-places as a tongue probing cavities does. Expecting to be stung.
 
Today.
The past’s beckon is persistent.
From the air, Nyipir peers down at an expanding abyss. His country, his home, is ripping itself apart. Stillborn ballot revolution. These 2007 elections were supposed to be simple, the next small jump into a light-filled Kenyan future. Everything had instead disintegrated into a single, unending howl by the nation’s unrequited dead. This country, this haunted ideal, all its poor, broken promises. Nyipir watches, arm- pits damp. A view of ground-lit smoke. Dry lips. His people had never set their nation on fire before.
On the ground, that night, in a furtive ceremony, beneath a half- moon, a chubby man will mutter an oath that will render him the presi- dent of a burning, dying country. The deed will add fuel to an already out-of-control national grieving.
Nyipir turns from the window.
He is flying home with his children.
Yet he is alone. Memories are solitary ghosts.
He lets them in, traveling with them.
Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

About Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor - Dust
Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor was born in Kenya. Winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing, she has also received an Iowa Writers’ Fellowship. Her work has appeared in McSweeney’s and other publications, and she has been a TEDx Nairobi speaker and a Lannan Foundation resident. She lives in Brisbane, Australia.
Praise

Praise

“Go buy Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s Dust. In this dazzling novel you will find the entirety of human experience—tearshed, bloodshed, lust, love—in staggering proportions . . . Although written by an East African, Dust is not just for Afrophiles. It is for bibliophiles . . . Akai-ma ranks among the most inimitable female characters in modern literature.” —Taiye Selasi, New York Times Book Review

“An astonishing novel . . . Engrossing . . . Owuor demonstrates extraordinary talent and range in these pages . . . Here in this remarkable novel is a brave, healing voice.” Washington Post
 
“Inventive, even breathtaking . . . Dust [is] the next step in what I anticipate to be a prodigious career.” —NPR.org
 
“An amazing novel . . . Dust anchors Owuor as the rightful heir to Kenya’s greatest novelist: Ngugi wa Thiong’o . . . A dazzling narrative, Faulknerian in many ways . . . The rewards are significant, especially Owuor’s unforgettable characters . . . By the story’s end you are rewarded with a genuine sense of fulfillment.” Counterpunch

“Owuor’s fragmentary style is dense but lyrical.” New Yorker

“Brilliant . . . A chilling portrait of Kenya that’s brimming with pain and promise . . . Owuor is taking her place in Kenya’s long line of outstanding writers.”Essence magazine
 
“Owuor dives back into Kenya’s history as far as the Mau Mau uprising of the 1950s, tracing its postcolonial troubles up to the near-present. As in a baroque Cormac McCarthy production, that history’s defining motif is blood . . . The reader is repaid with scenes of strange, horror-stricken beauty.” Wall Street Journal

“This stunning debut novel grabs the reader’s heart, refusing to let go . . . Owuor represents another shining talent among Africa’s young writers publishing in English. This searing novel, though informed by her Kenyan roots, should not be pigeonholed. These unforgettable characters and universal themes will speak to all readers who seek truth and beauty in their literature.”Library Journal (starred)

“There is hardly any aspect of Kenya that Owuor seems unable to tackle with her unique flair in this masterfully executed novel, from the mid–20th century’s Mau Mau rebellion and its aftermath to the stirring personal destinies of her sundry cast of characters . . . Her writing is exceptionally chiseled.” Publishers Weekly (starred, boxed)
 
“This powerful first novel will evoke references to William Boyd and even to Graham Greene and Joseph Conrad . . . [An] important addition to the literature of contemporary Africa.” Booklist
 
“This is a big, big unforgettable book, full of love and full of pain. Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s prose can burn your skin off. Her narrative power tears through the landscapes of Kenya: life, cheap death, torture, love, friendship. Dust is a most visceral, moving novel about a family caught up in the smelt of a Kenya roiling inside the lusts and violences of its adolescence, determined to move past it. Epic in scope, Dust covers over sixty years of betrayals, love, mysterious caves, colonial brutalities, epic love, political betrayals. A crisis that brings the nation to the brink of self-destruction. You will meet a mother with an AK-47 you will never forget, a father shamed by a secret, betrayed by a nation. The varied landscapes of Kenya have never been more tenderly made alive. We gush and cry through the floods of rivers and rage that burst past civilities and boundaries; we melt at love that has to live with blood needlessly shed; we gasp at lives most unexpectedly saved. We can carry all of this unbearable world, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor proposes, because it is beautiful. This is the novel my twenty-first century has been waiting for, for our world in these seismic times.” —Binyavanga Wainaina, author of One Day I Will Write About This Place 
 
“The prose has an appealingly rough-hewn poetry, built on clipped sentences and brush-stroke evocations of the dry landscape . . . Owuor has style to spare.” Kirkus Reviews

Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

The introduction, author biography, discussion questions, and suggested reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Dust, the riveting new novel by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor. 

About the Guide

Moses Ebewesit Odidi Oganda has been gunned down on the streets of Nairobi by the police, and his sister, Ajany, and father, Nyipir, have brought him home to Wuoth Ogik—a place named Journey’s End—for burial. They are struggling to cope with their grief when an Englishman named Isaiah William Bolton makes a mysterious appearance and claims to be looking for Odidi. Isaiah and the Oganda family must come to terms not just with their loss but also with the piercing questions it resurrects. Only by breaking the silence that has bound them and naming their secrets can they finally find peace.

Set in a turbulent Kenya of the 1950s and 1960s, which was plagued by uprisings, assassinations, and genocide, Dust is a book that reaches back into history with a hand that does not let go. Owuor courageously plumbs the depths of the human heart. With stunning detail and lyricism, she paints a devastating portrait of a struggling country, its people, and its ghosts, while illuminating truths about the most universal of human experiences: love and loss.

As Owuor explores the explosive intersection of personal and cultural histories and the secrets that one family can possess, she gives power to the written word: exploring the nature of truth, the endurance of myth, and the transformative power of art and storytelling. A staggering tour de force spilling over with revelations, Dust catalogs the breadth of human suffering and shines a light on the long journey toward healing and redemption. Readers will not be able to set down this book full of mysteries as they wait to find out where the characters will end up—and discover where they have been.  

About the Author

Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor was born in Nairobi, Kenya. She received degrees from Jomo Kenyatta University and the University of Reading. In 2003 she was awarded the Caine Prize for African Writing and in 2004 she was named Woman of the Year by Kenya’s Eve woman's magazine for her contributions to literature and the arts.  In 2010, she participated in the Chinua Achebe Center for African Writers and Artists' Pilgrimages project and delivered a talk entitled “Memories of Landscape” at TEDxNairobi. 

Discussion Guides

1. Why do you think that the author has chosen the name Dust for this novel? Where do we find dust mentioned or depicted in the novel? What symbolic purpose might this name have? Likewise, how do other natural elements described in the book—weather and landscape—help to reveal or inform us about the inner selves of each of the characters? 

2. Who killed Odidi Oganda and why did they kill him? How does each member of Odidi's family respond to his death? What burial traditions and customs does the Kenyan family observe and what views of death do they share? What does the novel seem to reveal about death and the process of grieving?

3. Why has Isaiah Bolton come to Kenya to meet with Odidi? Is his trip successful? Does he ultimately find what he was looking for? How does his presence in Wuoth Ogik affect the members of the Oganda family? What is Isaiah’s relationship with Ajany like, and how does it evolve over the course of the novel? What do the two have in common?

4. The Trader is a “gatherer and carrier of stories.” (84) Why do people share their stories with the Trader? What do they gain from this? What does the Trader gain? 

5. Many of the characters in the novel share common experiences. Several of the characters, for instance, have lost children and many have left home. What are some of the other common experiences depicted in the book? Are the characters bound by these common experiences? 

6. Speaking of the deceased Odidi Oganda, Justina says: “That sister calls him Odidi; me, I say Odi-Ebe; you say Moses. Many people. One person.” (247) What does Justina’s observation reveal about identity and the nature of relationships? In fact, many of the characters in the story have multiple names. Which characters choose to employ false names and why do they use these aliases? 

7. Consider the structure of the book and the author’s use of flashbacks. What major themes does this literary device help to reinforce? For example, how does the structure of the book help to support or enhance the themes of history or memory?

8. Evaluate the author’s use of repetition as literary device. How does repetition create a sense of the poetic or lyrical and why is this stylistic choice significant? Where do we find examples of poetry or song in the novel? What are some of the subjects they depict, and what significance do they have for those who listen to them or perform them? 

9. Dust is a book filled with haunting silences and secrets. Discuss some of the major secrets kept by the characters. What does it mean to say “to name something is to bring it to life”? (251) Likewise, why do the characters take oaths of silence or refuse to speak certain names aloud? Why does the narrator say that silence is one of the languages of Kenya? Find some examples in the text to support this. Who reveals their secrets by the book’s end and what is the outcome of the revelation?

10. Explore the themes of leaving home and homecoming in the novel. When Ajany reflects on her decision to leave home, she wonders: “Was it possible that two separate feelings of place could exist between [her and Odidi]?" (119) Why does Ajany leave home while Odidi remains? What does the author mean when she writes “Places are ghosts, too”? (121) What other examples of homecoming or leaving home are found in the novel? What are the characters' reasons?

11. Discuss the impact of political and economic circumstances on the characters’ process of decision making. What are some of the decisions that the characters are faced with and how do they handle them? Are the characters able to stand up for what they believe in and do what they think is right, or must they compromise in order to survive? 

12. Which characters in the novel are artists and what are some of the subjects of their art? Do we discover what these characters hope to gain from practicing their art? Why did Ajany’s parents burn her artwork when she was a young girl? 

13. Does your impression of any of the characters change over the course of reading the book? How does your impression of Hugh Bolton, Nyipir, or Akai evolve? Why? Likewise, do any of the characters change their minds about their fellow characters as the story goes on, and if so, how does that affect their relationships with one another?

14. Consider the treatment of superstition, myth, and religion in the novel. How are the characters’ views of life and the world around them shaped by these ideas? What are some of the myths and superstitions referenced in the book? How is Christianity depicted? What do the characters find faith in?

15. What role does truth play in the novel? Are the stories recounted by the characters or told to each other always true? Are the characters reliable storytellers?  If not, what causes them to lie or to otherwise refrain from telling or admitting the truth? 

16. In Chapter 40, why does Isaiah build a cairn? 

17. Discuss Owuor’s use of native language in the book. Why might she have chosen to leave some passages in a native language rather than to have the entire novel printed in a single language?

Suggested Readings

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart; Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Half of a Yellow Sun; Akpan, Uwem. Say You’re One of Them; Boyd, William. A Good Man in Africa; Danticat, Edwidge. The Dew Breaker; Englander, Nathan. The Ministry of Special Cases; Farah, Nuruddin. From a Crooked Rib; Forna, Aminatta. The Memory of Love; Marciano, Francesca. Rules of the Wild; Matar, Hisham. In the Country of Men; Mengiste, Maaza. Beneath the Lion’s Gaze; Obradovic, Nadezda, ed. The Anchor Book of Modern African Stories; Ondaatje, Michael. Anil’s Ghost; Osondu, E. C. Voice of America; Smith, Alexander McCall. The Girl Who Married a Lion; Thiong’o, Ngugi wa. In the House of the Interpreter; Vasquez, Juan Gabriel. The Sound of Things Falling.

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