If writing a book review for Children of our alley was akin to writing a review of books then by all means reviewing Fresh paint is like reviewing a library. The book is a product of AMKA Kenya’s monthly meetings as a space for female writers in Kenya  to be creative. Most of the authors in the book are actually first timers when it comes to being published and I must say, for a first time, they’ve tried.

The book, being a book for women by women, is mainly centered or themed -at least I got the impression that it is – around the plight of the woman in African society. Amazing and inspiring stories and poems about women who have overcome when the odds were stacked against the. Ladies who were raped, who went through difficult traditionals, who faced FGM and hence forth and hence forth. I believe that, is the books strongest point seeing as it points out some evils that society as let slide for a while under a blanket of false pretence.

The book is themed on the plight of women in the African society. That, I think, is the book’s weakest point. As one reads some of the stories, and poems for that case, in the book a lot can be said to be lacking in subtlety and literary style. A couple of the stories just put it out there. Almost as if to say “This is a story about rape and if you have a problem with that, read another one.” Sometimes as writer’s we are called to disguise our messages behind flowery words. Sure Kipling may have taken this a tad bit too far and hence it can be taken a bit far but Poe managed to hide what he was saying in such a way that you’d find it if you brewed over his words (see the purloined letter a great example of this). I just found that many of the stories (and poems) in the book lacked a certain tenderness and subtlety towards how they conveyed their message.

 The book’s largest failure however, wasn’t in the quality of the stories, not by a long shot, I mean Colognewas an amazing story, and the poem Mine child took me places (and I’m not even a mother). So no, if you look through the book there are a couple of very well written stories. My main qualm with this particular book is the editing. I had the pleasure of making it to the launch and heard them sing praises about their editor and I must say, he didn’t do a good job. Several instances you find a lonely ‘am’ just sitting there without an ‘I’ to accompany it. Severally I found words were missing, misspelled, wrong tenses – where a sentence started in past tense and ended in present – and sometimes a sentence just didn’t make sense. This played a big role in just stealing away the beauty from the stories. Look at Over My shoulders, for example, in my opinion probably one of the better stores in the book, but whoever edited it didn’t take that extra two seconds to find the errors and hence it moved from being a leisurely read to being a laborious read.

Of course I can’t analyze how they use their words or the styles used because that will need a great deal more space than the host has been graceful enough to accord to my borderline incoherent mumblings. I can say however that there are some pieces in this book that are magical. I am torn between giving you an excerpt from my favorite story in the book, Cologne and my favorite poem, Mine Child. I have decided though, since I am more inclined towards poetry that I will give you an excerpt from my preferred genre, poetry. Here’s a few words from the first piece in the book, Mine Child by Grace Kamau:

I will call you love, it is how you came,

I will call you pain, it is what I feel,

I will call you child, I will let you be,

I will call you mine for you will always be.

Now just to make a few things clear, this is not a bad book. I’ve seen worse. That being said I think we have amazing Kenyan female writers and some of them are in this book. So it makes no sense to me when we sell this book as a the best of young women writers in Africa. So maybe what I am trying to say is this is a good book, but by the time you are getting to the end of it you can’t fight the feeling that they could have done better.

Fresh Paint is available at the Goethe Institute and retails for Kshs.500.

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