By Nyambura Mutanyi
This year, South Africa celebrates 20 years since its return to the international sports arena and this week, we explore a book from its time as an international pariah. Ng’weno’s book is the tale of a daring investigative journalist in Kenya who pursues a story of international magnitude in the face of opposition from the government and his editor.
Scoop, the journalist, has acquired a reputation for his sleuthing when first we meet him. He is weighed down by the seemingly trivial goals of his editor. Here is a man who has been given a free hand in the task of making news suddenly curtailed…and all for a story that has no international ramifications. His editor seems to think that his readers would be more interested in local colour than international flavour. He has, obviously, not counted on the powers of cunning possessed by Scoop.
Scoop’s biography sounds very much like Ng’weno’s. American-educated, he returned to a newly independent country to write for a new newspaper just like his main character. The exploits on the pages of the book, though, are beautifully and uniquely Scoop’s. On some level, the story is very reminiscent of the stories we read in childhood: Famous Five, Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew come to mind. This view on my part may be because of the time in which the book was published. 1975 is not exactly last year and the world of cutting edge investigation has grown by leaps and bounds but Scoop is a veritable Sherlock Holmes at times and makes for a memorable character.
This book feels like a trip into the past-we all know how enticing time travel is-and a brief introduction to the world that once was. Set in two African countries, it explores the role of independent countries in the fight for liberation in South Africa. The man that sets off the events that occur in the book is a good Afrikaner who has run afoul of his government and seeks help from Black people, a counterintuitive action if ever there was any. The racial climate in South Africa and Kenya at that time is given quite some space. The twists and turns that await the reader have at their core the racial tensions and politics of that age. The unexpected relationships between different characters make for a fast narrative that seems a bit contrived at times. Love is the one thing that is weaved in all these relationships…not all of them between two people. Ng’weno has displayed his grasp of the history of the nation on more than one occasion; his sense of history regarding the relationship between Kenya and South Africa is evident in this book.
Reading it, one will be taken by the atmosphere Ng’weno creates-the clothes, streets, cars, attitudes and prices. Twenty shillings seem to go a mile on the pages of the book! In Laura, he creates a character who voices all the frustration of a woman liberated from the clutches of patriarchy yet still held down by it. Written in a time when women had not gained the right to bear ID cards in Kenya, it’s a reminder of just how far women have come. Laura serves to contrast the standard journalist like herself and the unconventional Scoop; more than a few of us will recognize ourselves in the two.
The spelling and punctuation in the latest edition leave a lot to be desired and sometimes subtract from an otherwise engrossing read. However, Ng’weno’s tale of spy intrigues, the exhilaration of journalism and the moral and personal cost of the pursuit of the story more than compensates. At 146 pages, this short read that leaves one asking for more.