Published on 04/2/2012
The Dream Chasers by Claudette Oduor © 2011
Subject matter: A love story between a Luo girl and a Kikuyu boy during the 2007 national elections in Kenya
Pages: 42 pages
Publisher: Master Publishing (an imprint of the Can Do! Company)
The first thing that strikes you about The Dream Chasers is its kaleidoscope of descriptions: commonplace aspects of Kenyan life seen through the eyes of a young Luo girl, and sensuously explored. The second, in stark contrast to the detailed analysis of everyday activities and objects, is the deliberately distanced engagement with characters.
The Dream Chasers is the story of Lulu and it begins 4 months before the 2007 national elections in Kenya. A chronologically structured narrative, which with its opening sentence looks ahead to a tragic future incident, it traces the increasing momentum of the elections parallel to the development of Lulu’s relationships with her mother, her father and her best friend Muchai.
The book begins with Lulu and her mother sitting in the verandah of their Nairobi home, engaged in the mundane task of cleaning rice. Immediate allusions are made to the mental instability of her mother, a woman who is embittered, resentful and prone to episodes, which “threw acorns on the windows of Mama’s mind … and hurled her wits about like linen on the clothesline.” By the end of the first chapter, Lulu is in tears: overwhelmed by her mother’s regression back into mental instability and by Muchai’s impending marriage to a Kikuyu girl, a girl that his family considers suitable for him and whom they have encouraged out of fear that he would “bring home a Luo girl”.
In the chapters that follow, Lulu’s interactions with her mother and Muchai gradually intensify forcing her to escape to her father’s and stepmother’s home in Mombasa. But there too she is disoriented by how much has changed, and surrounded by tension, conflict and physical violence she returns in a wooden state to Nairobi and takes refuge in mundane activities like watching television and cleaning rice.
Parallel to these escalating personal narratives runs the intensified pace of Kenyan politics, which are given a voice by the radio and television sets in Lulu’s home. And as the turmoil in the country increases, the chapters shorten into dialogue heavy paragraphs filled with disbelief, shattered hopes and fear.
As the story nears its conclusion, Lulu’s descriptive narrative resumes and the effect of the post-election violence on her and her loved ones is described in heart rending personal terms; descriptions which resonate all the more loudly because they depict a microcosm of the “inside-out wounds” which the entire country experienced: “One could never know when they were healed because one could never see when they were smarting.”
Claudette Oduor is a 23 year old Kenyan. The second of eight children, she studied law at Catholic University and recently moved to Garissa in northeastern Kenya, where she is involved in humanitarian activities. The Dream Chasers is her first novel, written in 2010, during her last year of law school and it has been long listed for the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize, which is an annual award given to a first book.