Excerpted from The Red Moon by Kuwana Haulsey. Copyright © 2001 by Kuwana Haulsey. Excerpted by permission of Villard, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
A Conversation with Kuwana Haulsey, author of THE RED MOON.
Q: What motivated you to write THE RED MOON? Where does the title come from?
A: Most people don’t believe this when I say it, but the entire plot for THE RED MOON came to me while sitting on the floor one afternoon in my apartment in Brooklyn. At that point, I knew nothing about the Samburu tribe and very little about African culture in general. But for some reason, I believed in the reality and the truth of this vision that I had. So I packed up everything that I could carry and 2 ½ months later, I was on a plane bound for Nairobi. I didn’t know anyone, couldn’t speak Swahili and wasn’t really even sure of where I was going to sleep once I got there. All I knew was that I had been given this idea for a reason and I had to see it through to the end. Once I got there and began making friends, I started telling people about what I was doing and asking them if they knew which tribe it was that I had been writing about. The overwhelming response that I got was “Oh, that’s easy. That’s the Samburu.” And when I finally got to Samburu, I found everything almost exactly as I had envisioned it thousands of miles away in my tiny Brooklyn apartment.
On my first trip to Samburu, I stayed in a town called Maralal with the district water chief, a man named Karanga and his sister Christine. Karanga lived at the top of a long, twisting hill overlooking the town. One evening we all decided to pile into the car and go into town to visit the local lodge. Trees lined Karanga’s driveway, blocking the view of the mountainside. So when we backed out of the drive and onto the road, I was stunned by the sudden appearance of the full moon hanging down low over the valley. The moon was huge and shaded a deep, radiant crimson. I was awe struck. I had never seen anything like it.
After I started to learn more of the Samburu language, Maa, I discovered that the Samburu have a name for the moon that described what I’d seen. In Maa, it is called Lonyuki Lapa, which means the red moon. But for the Samburu, Lonyuki Lapa also means the time of the month when it is appropriate to circumcise young girls–the fourth day after the new moon.
For my protagonist, Nasarian, the red moon at first symbolizes death–the death of her mother, the death of her dreams. But as she begins to evolve, she starts to understand that the essence of death is rejuvenation and rebirth and transmogrification. That understanding parallels the metamorphosis that also begins to take place in her life.
Q: What do you hope that people reading this novel will take away from it?
A: Of course, I want people to be entertained and I want them to learn about cultures that they might otherwise never come into contact with. I want the readers to be captivated by the places and people that they meet. And hopefully the experience will open their eyes and minds to beliefs, traditions and convictions that may not only be different than their own, but perhaps completely opposite to everything that they have ever known or held to be true.
I hope that the character of Nasarian will resonate with people who read this book and in her they will be able to recognize many aspects of themselves. The situations and circumstances that she finds herself in are extreme, but at the heart of it is a young woman who wants to change her world to reflect her own vision of who she is and what her life will be. I think that is probably the most important theme in the book. Nasarian must discover that life is about making choices. She must realize that even in choosing not to choose, in deciding to give up and be buffeted about by the circumstances that surround her, she is making a very strong, definitive choice. As she begins to comprehend the fact that, moment-by-moment, she is the driving force that is creating the reality in which she lives, her life starts to take some drastic turns. I believe that this realization of personal power and control can be a life altering moment of epiphany and I want to confront my readers with that idea.
Q: Tell us about your experiences in Africa.
A: The time that I spent living in Africa was one of the most exciting, fascinating and awe-inspiring times of my life. The friends that I made in Kenya took me into their lives as though I was family in a way that I could not even have fathomed being from a place like New York City. In New York, people oftentimes don’t care to know their neighbors, much less random strangers that drop in from the other side of the world. In Kenya, I got to do things that I would never have imagined I would do–like hiking through canyons and up mountainsides and volcanoes while herds of giraffes and zebras quietly kept pace a short distance away. I had to sleep with goats inside our hut because we were afraid that the lions that had snuck inside the manyatta before would come back and try to steal more animals. It was the best way to protect the animals because although the lions might not mind venturing inside our fence, they wouldn’t be so bold as to walk right up into our huts (or so I was told…).
Q: Is life really like that today?
A: The information age has gripped Africa just like it has the rest of the world. Things are changing more rapidly than ever before. Five years ago, when I wrote to my friends back in Nairobi, it usually took me at least a month to receive a reply. Now most of the people I know are on-line. So we can communicate daily if we want to.
But for many people, especially in rural communities and villages, not many things have changed. Moreover, some people and some tribes, like the Samburu for example, have chosen to live in much the same way as their ancestors lived. In those cases, their lives are still very similar the characters in the book. They perform the same rituals, live by the same traditions and beliefs as I described.
Q: Who are your favorite novelists?
A: Just like everyone else in the world, I must pay homage to Toni Morrison. Her words tend to melt into your mind, creating swirls of pictures and feelings that take time, patience and careful thought to properly digest. Alice Walker is another writer of that ilk as is Zora Neale Hurston, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and James Baldwin. I also love people like Chinua Achebe, Amy Tan and Maya Angelou. Though their styles are probably as different as they can possibly be, each of these writers writes with eloquence, passion and humor (yes, I do find Chinua Achebe humorous-- sometimes). They were pioneers who wrote about experiences and people that might not otherwise have been given a voice in literature. Other writers who are less well-known but still incredible craftspeople in my mind are women like Anita Desai who wrote “Clear Light of Day” and Ama Ata Aidoo who wrote “Our Sister Killjoy.” Their stories address the politics of the personal worlds of women in developing nations like India and Ghana.
Q: Briefly describe your next project.
A: My next project is going to be a novel called KEEPERES OF THE WORD, which is based on a true story. In the novel, a young reporter named Kori Howard heads down to Tampa, Florida from New York to cover a story about a nationally renowned pastor named Reverend Dr. Hollie T. Washington. But unbeknownst to her, she is about to become embroiled in one of the biggest scandals to hit Florida in more than a decade. The story breaks when Hollie’s wife, Carlene Nader-Washington, sets fire to a waterfront mansion that she claims belongs to her husband and his mistress. What Kori uncovers over the course of the novel is a paper trail that leads to millions of dollars in embezzled church funds, a succession of well-kept mistresses, and other even more shocking revelations that, if she reveals them, could destroy Hollie’s life. Ultimately, as Kori is drawn deeper and deeper into his world, she must decide if forgiveness and redemption are even possible--- not only for Hollie T., but for herself as well.
From the Hardcover edition.
2. 1.By the time Nasarian reaches the US she has left Kenya behind but kept it in her heart. She seems to have made peace with the legacy of her parents and Agustin. What does she learn from Nima, Ngatuny and Agustin? What does Nasarian mean by ubuntu?