Dust- Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

Reading Around the World : Kenya

How obtained: second hand store ($3.25)

Also written for the Second hand book challenge and Africa Reading Challenge

Set in Kenya in 2007, Dust is an exploration of the web that connects a family, a community, the higher ups in the city, the criminals and the politics of the day, and how these have been shaped by an unstable past full of brutality and hardship. At the beginning, we are running alongside Odidi, a young man who is running for his life. He remembers snippets of his childhood, he hopes to reach his love safely, he has futile regrets about some of the things he put in motion. He dies, and the story moves to what happens next with his family- the timid artistic sister, the stoic father with a dark past, the forever disappearing, distant mother. The story also intersects with a collection of travellers and officials, and a man named Isaiah who had come from England to meet with Odidi in an effort to find out who his father was.

The writing style is interesting- the descriptive passages are often condensed down to just the key words. This can sometimes make it harder read; it becomes a bit fragmented.

“A single white butterfly.

Scattered rock, red dust, and heat. Burning grass. The fire had left a trail. A mishmash of tracks, churned up soil, leading out of the homestead.


The descriptions are often akin to poetry, but again sometimes the odd choice of word or simile takes away from the meaning.

“the new day’s light drips and engraves humps into surfaces”

There are also a lot of quotes/phrases in the local language, with only about half translated, so I often felt I was missing something. This feeling wasn’t helped by the content- which was a lot about how the characters were feeling with opaque implications that the past (the revolution etc) was affecting this, but without saying what exactly happened. A major theme was the silence that all survivors of the turbulent times had to keep- because of oaths taken, and in order to continue to survive. How terrible things could happen, but noone can speak of them, or they will be ruined or killed, and so more terrible things are allowed to happen.

And so things get worse.

And people keep on with their lives.

And sometimes, people find love, comfort, meaning and answers.


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