Thursday, August 12, 2010

Review: African Nights by Kuki Gallmann

genre: world literature/short stories

I have never been to Africa. I have never felt a desert breeze in my hair or fallen asleep to the shuffling of elephants or the breathing of camels. But now, having read African Nights, I feel like I have.

Kuki's love of Kenya - its people, animals and customs, shines through each tale like a blistering sunset. Her stories are of Africa's bounty: the vistas she has climbed, flown, boated and rode to view and the vast diversity of its wildlife. For the most part, though, she celebrates Africa's people and their gracious interactions with her family. Her gift for detail makes each herdsman and trader, each man-of-all-work and friend as fleshed out and observable as the neighbors on my street.

She's an eclectic one, to be sure. I was constantly amazed by what she was brave enough to do and the pets she allowed in her home - she truly sucks the marrow right out of life. The thread throughout this book that was most impressive to me is that Kuki's love of her adopted country is able to persist so strongly despite Africa's brutality: the sometimes savage nature of its native peoples, its climate that can evaporate the life right out of the land and its animals that can deal death in an instant. Kuki embraces it all with an almost otherworldly grace. And yet, she so deeply mourns the loss of those that Africa has taken from her that the stories from her memory feel almost cathartic - joy mingled with intense pain.

Kuki sometimes seems rather flower-childish, a little too "out there," with her wall-less retreat on the savanna and monkey pets, which might be annoying. For some reason, though, it didn't bother me. Maybe it made me feel more like I could believe that all her stories truly happened. I can't call this a page turner because it took me longer to read than any book in recent memory. It's more like a journey - a photo album of snapshots in the hands of an amazing storyteller - and we get to vicariously go along for the ride.

book 4 of 8 for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge 2010


bermudaonion said...

I've never been to Africa either, but I've always dreamed of going there. This book sounds wonderful.

Amy said...

I've been to Botswana and South Africa and it was incredible. I can't wait to go back at some point. This book sounds wonderful!

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