Book Review: KasKazi

Author: The Hekaya Arts Initiative

Book Blurb: Abdi wants to create a new tune and galvanise his dying band, find his father and, reunite with his lover. When his love is tested, Abdi follows the winds north from Kilwa to Mombasa, carrying his hopes and dreams along. He must survive heartbreak and escape a near death experience to overcome the folly of youth.

Back from London with a heavy baggage, Mumtaz must deal with the reality that hers is a small town. Can she withstand the guilt and gossip?

KasKazi is a travelling fiction book, written by over 15 writers from the Swahili Coast. It is the first of it’s kind book that I have ever read and I was intrigued by the idea when I first heard about the project. My dumb self assumed it was going to be different stories told by different people… It is not.

According to Abu Amirah, the founding editor of the Hekaya Arts Initiative, the reason he called the book ‘travelling fiction’ is that this one story travels from writer to writer, with each one adding and building on the story. Diverse, multiple voices, each with their own writing style, coming together to write a singular story. The result, this work of art.

Abu Amirah during the launch of his book in 2020 in Kampala,Uganda.

Every writer has a signature style, one that defines them. When the concept was explained to me and I finally got it, I was worried about the different styles that the different writers would bring to the table or to the story, in this case. However, my worries were unfounded. The story in itself is not jarring, the transition from chapter to chapter is seamless, a huge credit to the writers and the editors.

The main character, Abdi, is a twenty-five year old who lives with his single mother and is part of the band, Kas Kazi. He is passionate about music and wants to try a new sound. His restlessness and search for meaning and belonging is something that all youth have faced at one point or another. This leads him to some pretty interesting situations.

The pictures painted by the words are so vivid. I found myself walking with Abdi in Mombasa, experiencing Mombasa with him, seeing the different places, seeing the food, actually smelling it. I was hungry just reading about the mahamri, biriyani, the teas (Oh Sweet Lord, the teas), Wenger’s juice, and so, so much more. I’d move to the coast just for those teas. The only other book that has ever made me hungry while I read about the food described therein was Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.

This book is a deep look into what the Swahili Coast is really like. We see the images on the internet, the beautiful sites but we don’t really understand what lies beneath the picture perfect cities and the glorious beaches. Kas Kazi endeavors to pull the veil and show us what really happens. It delves into the hopes and dreams of the youth on the coast and what they have to do to survive on the coast. I found that the prominent theme was finding oneself. Through the journey Abdi takes, he’s search for belonging, for meaning, for hope, for a different sound.

Simply put, I enjoyed this book.

Book review first appeared on Mable Amuron`s blog-

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