Dance of the Jakaranda (Paperback)

Dance of the Jakaranda By Peter Kimani Cover Image

Dance of the Jakaranda (Paperback)

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Kimani reimagines the rise and fall of colonialism in Africa by telling the story of the birth of Kenya's railroad.


“This funny, perceptive and ambitious work of historical fiction by a Kenyan poet and novelist explores his country’s colonial past and its legacy through the stories of three men involved with the building of a railroad linking Lake Victoria and the Indian Ocean — what the Kikuyu called the ‘Iron Snake’ and the British called the ‘Lunatic Express.’” —New York Times Book Review, Editors’ Choice


Set in the shadow of Kenya’s independence from Great Britain, Dance of the Jakaranda reimagines the special circumstances that brought black, brown, and white men together to lay the railroad that heralded the birth of the nation.


The novel traces the lives and loves of three men—preacher Richard Turnbull, the colonial administrator Ian McDonald, and Indian technician Babu Salim—whose lives intersect when they are implicated in the controversial birth of a child. Years later, when Babu’s grandson, Rajan—who ekes out a living by singing Babu’s epic tales of the railway’s construction—accidentally kisses a mysterious stranger in a dark nightclub, the encounter provides the spark to illuminate the three men’s shared, murky past.


With its riveting multiracial, multicultural cast and diverse literary allusions, Dance of the Jakaranda could well be a story of globalization. Yet the novel is firmly anchored in the African oral storytelling tradition, its language a dreamy, exalted, and earthy mix that creates new thresholds of identity, providing a fresh metaphor for race in contemporary Africa.



PETER KIMANI is a leading Kenyan journalist and the author of, most recently, Dance of the Jakaranda, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. The novel was nominated for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in the US and long-listed for the inaugural Big Book Awards in the UK. He has taught at Amherst College and the University of Houston and is presently based at Aga Khan University’s Graduate School of Media and Communications in Nairobi. Nairobi Noir is his latest work.

Product Details ISBN: 9781617754968
ISBN-10: 161775496X
Publisher: Akashic Books, Ltd.
Publication Date: February 7th, 2017
Pages: 344
Language: English
Kimani’s descriptive and inventive prose recounts personal stories of love and tragedy within a context of racial hierarchies and the fallout of colonial rule . . . Babu’s story feels weighted by history in a way that will remind readers of Gabriel García Márquez’s work . . . Kimani’s complex novel will leave readers questioning the meanings of citizenship and belonging during an era of significant social upheaval in Kenya’s history.
— Booklist

Kimani’s novel has an impressive breadth and scope. His illustration of the construction of the railway from Mombasa to the hinterland of Kenya in the early 20th century follows three men — a British colonial administrator, a Christian preacher, and an Indian — whose lives have intersected in unexpected ways.
— Los Angeles Review of Books, “Reclaiming Africa’s Stolen Histories Through Fiction

Peter Kimani, an acclaimed writer and poet, has brilliantly constructed this novel’s plot . . . [His] lyrical prose, such as portraying the train as ‘a massive snakelike creature,’ and his breathtaking descriptions of ‘God’s country’ bring the beauty of the land before our eyes.
— Historical Novels Review

A rich tableau of layers and textures . . . The book has some brilliant moments of vivid and evocative writing.
— Huffington Post

African colonialism is confronted in this subtle, multilayered Kenyan tale . . . Lyrical and powerful . . . Kimani weaves together a bitter, hurtful past and hopeful present in this rich tale of Kenyan history and culture, the railroad, and the men and women whose lives it profoundly affected . . . This is a thoughtful story about a country’s imperialist past.
— Kirkus Reviews