Book Reviews

Abdilatif Abdalla: Poet In Politics

Volume 13, Issue 3 | Published 04/04/2017  

Editors: Rose Narie Beck & Kai Kresse
: Mkuki na  Nyota
Reviewer: Prof. Kithaka wa Mberia

Abdilatif Abdalla: Poet in Politics is a product of convergence of minds. On May 4-5, 2011, an important event took place in Leipzig, Germany. The event was attended by people from far and wide and with a great variation in terms of ages and experience. The gathering was a symposium attended by scholars of Swahili literature, literature enthusiasts, students of Kiswahili, media people, and invited guests. They came together to honour Abdilatif Abdalla, one of the most respected poets of Kiswahili. A month earlier, the famed poet had retired after fifteen years as a lecturer for Swahili at the Institute of African Studies, University of Leipzig. 

Among those who attended the symposium was the giant of African literature, Ngugi wa Thiongo. Also in the gathering was the dynamo of creative writing in Kiswahili and a critic of note Said Ahmed Khamis. Others who attended the symposium included Rose Marie Beck, Kai Kresse, Mohamed Bakari, Alena Rettova, Ekkehard Wolf, Geddrum Miehe and Ken Walibora Waliaula.

An Intellectual Journey With My Teachers

Volume 13, Issue 3 | Published 04/04/2017  

Essay in honour of Professor Yash Pal Ghai

Author: Issa Shivji
: Strathmore University Press
Reviewer: AwaaZ

This 46-page booklet was published by Strathmore University Press as a present to Issa Shivji on his 70th birthday and as a taste of their larger forthcoming liber amicorum, a book of friends, in which former students and colleagues pay tribute to Yash Pal Ghai’s body of work.

Ghai was Shivji’s teacher (1968-9) in University College, Dar es Salaam which Ghai joined in 1963 as a lecturer and rapidly ascended to the position of Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Law. The foreword by the Strathmore Law School gives an insight into the vast terrain of Ghai’s accomplishments and work, Shivji throws light on Ghai’s tremendous commitment to scholarship and his amazing humility.

The Sultan`s Spymaster

Volume 13, Issue 3 | Published 04/04/2017  

Peera Dewjee of Zanzibar

Author: Judy Aldrick
: Old Africa Books
: 978-9966-7572-0-3

ReviewerRamnik Shah

`Spymaster` or not, Peera Dewjee was an important aide to successive Sultans of Zanzibar during the latter half of the 19th century and a book about him was long overdue. Judy Aldrick has done an impressive job of documenting his life and achievements, despite a paucity of material about his origins and precise role in the service of the Sultans.

She begins with this disarming disclaimer: `Very little is known for certain about the early life of Peera Dewjee, except that he was born in 1841 and came from Kera, a farming village in central Kutch`, but then builds up a plausible picture of his family and background as a member of the Ismaili Khoja community with roots in Kutch and their migration to East Africa via a spell in Bombay.  She struggles really to chart a more detailed course of Peera`a trajectory.  Even as regards the general profile of Indians in Zanzibar at that time, and how he fitted in there, she has to make do with assumptions and conjecture in the absence of concrete data, based in part on the writings of Burton, Stanley, et al.


Volume 13, Issue 3 | Published 04/04/2017  

Author: V G Kumar Das
: Partridge Publishing, Singapore, 2016
Reviewer: Mohamed M Keshavjee

Gowri is the biography of an Indian woman written by her son some 18 years after her passing as a tribute by him, as an eldest of seven siblings, to a mother whose trials and tribulations, as a widow, he witnessed first-hand. Being the eldest and a male child, he was perhaps best placed to understand the travails of his mother, and being in a diasporic setting in British Malaya where minorities had to struggle to survive, greater responsibilities devolved on his shoulders to care for his widowed mother and his siblings than would have been otherwise the case. So far then, the biography says nothing new. It is about the struggle for survival of millions of people across the globe and the sacrifice of a kind, gentle and caring mother is what all stories of motherhood are about. How the family grew, what they did to survive, how they sent their children for further studies, the new recipes they developed, the friends they made and the new members they embraced into their family through interfaith marriages, is what all Indians, in one way or another, have experienced in both India and the Diaspora and are still facing today.

My Camera, My Life – Parts 1, 2 & 3

Volume 13, Issue 3 | Published 04/04/2017  

Author: Sir Mohinder Dhillon
Publ: Mkuki na Nyota Publishers Ltd. 672pp
ISBN: 978-9987-753-60-4
ReviewerJohn Sibi-Okumu

To write an autobiography is either to convince oneself or to have been convinced by others that one has led an extraordinary life and, in all likelihood, the general public will be entertained, educated and enriched by reading it. Autobiographies, therefore, have something of the subjective in them, in that their authors choose what they want to reveal and something of the objective, in that what they reveal must be deemed to be factual.

Mohinder Dhillon’s My Camera, My Life scores so highly on all these  fronts that a Hollywood-Bollywood-Nollywood and, closer to home, Riverwood film version in years to come could be a distinct possibility. Should that happen, so vast is the span of a long life that the scriptwriter would have to decide whether to choose a slice of life, Selma-style treatment or a more comprehensive Mandela-style one. If the option turns out to be the latter, the casting agent would first have to search for an actor or actors to play the young Mohinder. In adolescence, the chosen one would have to be dashingly handsome but also unusually tall and gangly at first, filling out as the story progresses and thus leading him to be portrayed, as an adult, by an undoubted superstar like, say, Amitabh Bachchan.

Authors: Karim Murji and John Solomons
Publ: Cambridge University Press, 2015
ReviewerMiriam Maranga-Musonye

The twin issues of race and ethnicity continue to influence history sometimes overtly and sometimes covertly. In the edited volume Theories of Race and Ethnicity: Contemporary Debates and Perspectives Karim Murji and John Solomons revisit these issues and give them new impetus in the 21st century. Reading this text in the height of the US presidential campaigns in October 2016 was quite an incisive coincidence for me. The text which is divided into two parts was, according to the editors, conceived out of the need to have an in-depth discussion on research agendas on race and ethnic relations spanning the last 20 years. Part I deals with critical debates in the last 20 years or so while Part II deals with current developments in theoretical approaches to the study of race.

In the introduction, the editors situate the volume within the context of scholarship in the field of race and ethnicity and specifically state that this text was spurred by the need to move ahead from an earlier text on the same subject, namely Theories of Race and Ethnic Relations (1986) by John Rex & David Mason. Although both texts raise similar questions, their contexts are quite different and Murji and Solomon’s volume reflects on the changing boundaries of race and ethnic studies and brings together diverse perspectives, making it relevant to current political and civil debates.