By Nyambura Mutanyi
Men in Kenya are under attack. They are beaten, abused, maligned, and sidelined. It appears, with the seemingly rampant attacks on their persons, that they have no one in their corner of the psychological ring. Enter Life Journeys: Scaling Heights, a book of personal accounts compiled by Susan Wakhungu-Githuku tagged as ‘Conversations With High Achieving Men In Kenya’.
Is the political discussion the length and breadth of the Kenyan conversation? Are our men involved, animated, by anything other than the constant political intrigues that mark our national conversation? This book steps in and answers with a resounding ‘Yes’ and does it with much panache and gloss. Coming in the wake of the 2010 compilation by the same author, Life Journeys: Seeking Destiny, that relayed the stories of high-flying women, this book turns it attention to the lives of a varied group of men in and from Kenya.
Published last year by Footprints Press, Life Journeys: Scaling Heights is a coffee table book that seeks to be both inspirational and a means to spur introspection on the part of the nation’s men and boys. Profiling 85 men who are Kenyan in a variety of ways (see the former Safaricom CEO Michael Joseph), it draws stories of fortitude, achievement and mettle from these men and combines them with refreshing pictures by Bobby Pall to bring in a fresh voice in the national discourse on what it means to be a man in Kenya today.
The book focuses on the men about whose lives we are learning speaking in a personal voice about their lives and the paths they have taken to get to the apex of their careers. The common thread is that these men are high achievers. Their means of getting to the top are myriad and this lends certain richness to the book. Wakhungu-Githuku speaks in the book of seeking to provide role models for Kenya’s boys and young men. The personal telling of these stories distils the variety of these men’s lives in a way that is, in a word, autobiographical.
To think of this book as a set of mini-autobiographies of Kenya’s high-achieving men, then, is in-arguably one of the best ways to look at it. This provides a strength for this tome. In one book, the reader gets a peek into the minds of those that move and shake the country as well as those who have been the conscience of the country (see the storied conservationist Richard Leakey and the cartoonist Gado) at one point or another.
One of the things I loved about this book was the welcome break it gives the reader from the national obsession with politics. In an election year (and in all years, some would say), it is well nigh impossible to speak of the state of the nation without being muddled in the miasma of deceit and deception that is the political arena. This book lends itself to posterity by capturing a snapshot of what the makes a man an achiever. As well as a timely reminder of what can be viewed as achievement. Drawing men from multiple fields, ranging from medicine to the arts, media and entertainment; it offers one a glimpse of what success is and gives the reader insight into all the various ways to get to the top. In a word, passion. All the men in this tome are fiery about what they do. In view of the compiler’s stated goal of capturing the changes in the global landscape as epitomized in the Kenyan experience, this is a resounding success.
There is a universal element to the book. Ranging from such people as Awori Hayanga, a cardio-thoracic surgeon making waves in the Diaspora, to those we’ve come to regard as ‘the usual suspects’ (Equity’s James Mwangi, the famous cardiologist Dan Gikonyo) there is something in it for everyone. It also situates religion in a way that speaks to the decidedly secular and those that regard themselves as thoroughly religious (see Reuben Kigame, Timothy Njoya) by showing the commonality of the human experience outside of the markers we adopt over time. The singular view of what it takes to be successful is smashed by the multiplicity of experiences. Take, for example, the inclusion of such artists as Patrick Mukabi and the actor Charles Bukeko. This book brings together so many stories as to be a cause for a shift in what Kenyans can aspire to. In a sense, the landscape of aspiration and achievement has been altered and redefined. Silver spoon, true grit; this book brings those stories together to display in living colour the wonderful country that is Kenya.
Each personality brought their own fresh voice to the discourse and Pall’s pictures are illuminating. The book aims to present a rich plethora of voices but this might also prove to be its undoing in some readers’ views. While, as I stated earlier, there isn’t a singular path to success; the accounts are delivered in such a way as to deny the reader a means of direct comparison. There are vast outliers in the telling of personal tales. Some deliver their tales with charming wit and pith while some accounts feel drawn-out. This may, however, work in the book’s favour as it caters to the taste of the quick reader as well as that of the person (common enough in Kenya) who enjoys reading motivational and how-to books.
That said, this book is going to be a worthwhile addition to the homes of Kenyans everywhere. As a country, we are constantly in search of those that embody Kenyan success. This book answers that question and seeks to fill the gap that defines the Kenyan experience. Wakhungu-Githuku, with this book, sets the stage for conversations that one hopes will occur in the homes, offices, and schools that this book will end up it. A worthwhile read that will appeal to a large swath of people, it is well worth the time one takes to look through it. And a rewarding experience with each reading. Recommended.
Publisher: Footprints Press
Year published: 2011
Price: Kshs. 5,850