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Reviewed by Vincent Dublado for Readers' Favorite
An intense historical novel that spans decades, The People of Ostrich Mountain by Ndirangu Githaiga chronicles the life of a Kenyan family that begins in 1952. A 14-year-old girl named Wambui Karanja, who lives in the small village of Kiandutu, is witness to the oppressive British colonial rule as they try to suppress the Mau Mau uprising. Wambui is a math prodigy and has been accepted at a prestigious boarding school where her math teacher, Eileen Atwood, becomes her mentor and friend. After graduation, Wambui returns to her village to help with her family’s finances by running a hardware store. After forty years, Eileen goes back to England after being forced into retirement, but she feels alienated in her own country after decades of absence. Wambui has a son who becomes a doctor in Chicago, where he similarly experiences the pain of alienation through discrimination.
Written with keen realism, Ndirangu Githaiga’s debut novel is rich in lyrical prose brimming with dramatic moments. He paints with words and ensures that he provides the right colors to represent all aspects of identity in his characters. He writes with a confident knowledge about his subject—that sensitive part in Kenyan history that needs to be told. He captures the conflict between the Mau Mau and the British with ease as if he has been a first-account witness. Similarly, as the plot progresses forty years after, Githaiga is in touch with the persistent contemporary social issues that people of color find themselves battling. The People of Ostrich Mountain is a great historical literary piece. For an author who comes from an ethnically and culturally diverse continent like Africa, it isn’t surprising that Githaiga writes about war, culture, and identity, much like writers such as Chinua Achebe, Ayi Kwei Armah, and Alain Mabanckou. Powerful and absorbing, this novel is a must-read for its vivid depictions and literary relevance.