Leaves of the Banyan Tree by Albert Wendt

I think the blurb gives a pretty good idea of what kind of book this is:

An epic spanning three generations, Leaves of the Banyan Tree tells the story of a family and community in Western Samoa, exploring on a grand scale such universal themes as greed, corruption, colonialism, exploitation, and revenge. Winner of the 1980 New Zealand Wattie Book of the Year Award, it is considered a classic work of Pacific literature.

It is, in other words, a Big Novel about Important Things. And although it occasionally feels a bit self-consciously epic, on the whole I think it pulls it off. It’s the story of Tauilopepe, a matai in the village of Sapepe. I can’t think of an English title which is quite equivalent to matai, but it means he is the official head of an extended family, one of three in Sapepe. 

Having been expelled from theological college, Tauilopepe is ambitious, driven at the start of the novel by a resentful sense of underachievement, and convinced of the superiority of modern, European ways of doing things.

So the novel is partly about the decline of the traditional Samoan way of life; the coming of Western agriculture, a wage-based economy, Western buildings, and the loss of influence of the village council, the loss of the old stories. But it’s also a story of greed, power and dysfunctional family relationships that could take place in a shoe factory in Bradford.

On the whole I really liked it: it’s a successful portrayal of a time and place, Tauilopepe and his son Pepe are both great characters, and the whole thing moves along at a sufficient pace to keep me reading — it felt like quite a short 400 pages. If I was going to be super-picky, I’m not completely sure about the ending; without wanting to give away too many details, a new character unexpectedly turns up and throws everything up in the air. I’m not completely convinced by the character, who seemed a bit stagey to me, and that slightly diminished my pleasure in the ending, narratively neat though it is.

Anyway, here’s a little extract:

‘There she is,’ Toasa said, sweeping his walking-stick across the bush. ‘No one has touched her before. Anyway no one who’s alive to tell us, eh? She has remained pure since God created these islands. Line up!’

All the men except Tauilopepe, who remained beside Toasa, formed a line at the foot of the green wall. ‘Remember, no one has touched her before!’ Toasa shouted. The men advanced cautiously. ‘What are you waiting for for, eh? You don’t want to deflower her? You scared of her?’ A few of the men laughed. Tauilopepe advanced to a short tree and chopped it down with one blow of his axe. ‘There, see that?’ called Toasa. ‘It’s easy. She won’t scream and charge you in court with rape! Many of the others followed Tauilopepe’s example. ‘Good! Come on now, raise your baby-sized manhoods and chop, cut burn!’ The line advanced; the axes and bushknives started biting into the flesh of the living wall.

When the first big trees thundered to the ground, tearing and levelling all the small vegetation before them, some of the men cheered. Their axes and bushknives took on greater fury. Soon the snapping chomping sound of iron biting deep shattered the silence and chased the birds like wood chips into teh air and away towards the range. Toasa moved from group to group, encouraging them to hack and chop. ‘Prove your manhood!’ he said.

Leaves of the Banyan Tree is my book from Samoa for the Read The World challenge. If you’re wondering, btw, ‘what kind of Samoan name is Albert Wendt?’, well, I was curious myself; according to Google he had a German great-grandfather. And if you’re wondering about the reference to ‘Western Samoa’ in the blurb above: the Samoan islands are divided between a US dependency called American Samoa and a nation which was called Western Samoa but changed its name to Samoa in 1997. (Western) Samoa was German Samoa until the end of WW1 and then run from New Zealand until independence in 1962.

» the picture, Samoa in the late 1940’s/early 1950’s, was found on Flickr and is © Lorena Haldeman.

What I learned today

I knew that jellyfish had a sessile stage in their life cycle — they’re related to sea anemones, and have a sea anemone like stage when they are anchored to rocks or whatever. But I discovered from Wikipedia today that it’s more complicated than that: for a start, the jellyfish/anemone thing (called a polyp) can reproduce asexually, budding off new polyps. But also, when it’s time to produce a mobile, sexual adult jellyfish, the polyp doesn’t detach from its rock one day and swim away. Instead, it buds off adult jellyfish which swim away, leaving the polyp where it was.


Which, frankly, is deeply cool. This image (found in Wikipedia) showing the life-cycle of the jellyfish is from Das Meer by Matthias Jacob Schleiden. As is this other rather fabulous image:


That might be enough random stuff from Wikipedia for one day.

That letter

I was considering what it was about that weird political letter that made me put in the effort to blog it. I think it’s two things, really. The first is that we are increasingly surrounded by the mass produced and mechanically produced, and I find amateur, hand-made things more and more appealing. Of course, even a hundred years ago, people lived their lives surrounded by mass-produced stuff, but as technology improves, more and more things can be done by machines. It’s now rare to see a hand-painted shop sign, for example. Concert flyers, fanzines, even posters about lost cats, have usually been run up on someone’s computer, and have the generic similarity that comes from everyone having the same few typefaces and little idea about how best to use them.


It may seem slightly odd to be talking about the handmade in the context of a letter which is typewritten, photocopied, and stapled together, but I guess ‘hand made’ is sort of relative: each technology looks laborious and hands-on in the light of the next one. Hell, even things from the first generation of home printing look that way: I got a flash of nostalgia the other day because there was a sign in the optician’s window printed in Algerian.

The other thing about the letter which caught my attention, I think, was that slight whiff of paranoia to it. I think there’s an incredible pathos to these public displays of paranoia, not least because they are often superficially quite funny, like the killed by freemasons guy, or the graffiti that appeared at Charing Cross reading 

ARE THEY Putting
Nanotechnology in your
Food & Water?

ON Benefit
The Mentally

I once stumbled on an internet discussion forum for people who believed they were being spied on by the US government: it was about the saddest thing I’ve ever read, but the sheer bizarreness of the delusions just seemed to be crying out to be made a joke of.

My letter-writer isn’t quite so clearly suffering from paranoid delusions as those cases, but still, distributing anonymous political tracts by hand, asking people to pass them on, to write to the queen and ask her to dissolve the political system as the last chance to save the country: I’m pretty sure that inside this person’s head is not a happy place.

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The whitethroat on the gorse bush knows 
the opposite of cold is song;
the beetle on the burnet rose
knows the whitethroat to be wrong.

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for reverence of his Sabot day

I downloaded a reader app for my iPhone and, browsing around Project Gutenberg for something public domain to read, I came across A Chronicle of London from 1089 to 1483, as transcribed and published by a couple of C19th antiquarians. There’s an awful lot of bureaucratic stuff about the mayor and sheriffs of London, and who’s in the Tower at the moment, which doesn’t have much interest for the casual reader. But there are enough little anecdotes like this one to hold the interest:

And in this yere, that is to seye the yere of our lord a mlcclviij, there fel a Jewe into a pryve at Teukesbury upon a Satirday, the whiche wolde nought suffre hym selfe to be drawe out of the preve that day for reverence of his Sabot day: and Sr. Richard of Clare, thanne erle of Gloucestre, herynge therof, wolde nought sufrre hym to be drawe out on the morwe after, that is to say the Soneday, for reverence of his holy day; and so the Jewe deyde in the preve.

This is in 1258, shortly after the death of Hugh of Lincoln and 30 years before England became the first country in Europe to expel its Jewish population.

The iPhone isn’t ideal for reading, but if you choose a fairly low-contrast combination of colours for the page and the text, it’s entirely manageable. I haven’t read anything very long yet, but if I was going on holiday I think I could do worse than take a dozen assorted books on my phone: a few Victorian novels, some poetry, who knows. Hell, if you’re willing to actually pay for the books, you can get ones which are still in copyright. The Chronicle actually works quite well because I can just dip into it from time to time and read a few pages without worrying about losing the thread.

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2009

My list for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch:

Blue tit 3
Great tit 2
Long-tailed tit 2

Chaffinch 2

Robin 2
Dunnock 1

Magpie 1
Carrion crow 4

Green woodpecker 1

Town pigeon 4
Woodpigeon 2

Sparrowhawk 1

Which is basically pretty rubbish — it was very quiet today — but is livened up by a couple of decent species: sparrowhawk, which is increasingly common around here but by no means something I see in the garden often, and green woodpecker, which it turns out I have seen once before on a BGBW, but was still pleasing.

Most ridiculous gap on that list: blackbird. I mean, come on. Almost as surprising, no ring-necked parakeet.

Lots of possibles that didn’t show: wren, goldcrest, goldfinch, nuthatch, coal tit, great-spotted woodpecker.  The garden has been weirdly short of birds for the past two or three years, though. We used to have lots of starlings: I’ve seen about two this year. Same with greenfinches. There used to be lots more chaffinches. I haven’t seen siskin this year.

I don’t know why this is true, but it’s faintly depressing. Ho-hum.

A weird letter

A couple of days ago, this peculiar typewritten envelope was put through the door:

The ALL CAPS typewritten envelope reeks of ‘political nutjob’ and the red cross in the corner, for those of you who don’t know, is the English flag — the cross of St George, in fact — which during major football tournaments can be passed off as support for the England football team, but at other times tends to be a sign of racist views.

So I thought I had a pretty good idea of what the letter was going to be about, but in fact it was odder than that. For one thing, notice that the envelope starts with a poem of sorts:


Inside, we find 5½ photocopied pages stapled together, all still typewritten all-caps. From now on I’m going to start using lower-case , though, because  it’s easier to read. The writer introduces himself/herself:

Dear reader,
I introduce myself as a person who has lived in London for over 78 years since birth,
I have children, grand children, also great grandchildren,
I know of pre war years, fear free streets, open front doors and when life was simply happy for all.
I also know of the war years, and the Blitz,
also death from the skies, for like many others I was here, I also know of post war years and the happiness and joy of realising I had not died like many others in the bombings of London.
So in fact like many others I had great fear at the front of my life, my youth was taken from me,
but now in my old age once again like many others fear is deep within my final years, when my mind should be calm before I am called,
leaving behind my descendants and an England on a path to destruction,
many young as well as the majority of the old have curfew fear,
no we dont go out after dark its not safe, wrong places at wrong times,
it dousnt look very good does it.

Which is actually kind of moving. But what surprised me was the proposed solution: write to the Queen, and ask her to abolish political parties, let her know directly what your concerns are, so that she can abolish the corrupt political system that has brought us 86 years of Con/Lab government. Apparently that’s ‘the only solution to prevent the revolution that will destroy the England that you stand upon.’ Although frankly, a mass grass-roots movement to completely overthrow our political system doesn’t seem like a way to avoid revolution.

The whole thing is long and rambling and repeats itself; but the other bit that stands out is about getting police back on the streets:

As is well known there are few crime preventers upon the streets.
Ref, =coppers with legs=
Even few of those are without fear,
Because they have no means of protecting their own lives let alone the general public.
Few criminally intent go alone,
more often than not the minimum is two but the norm is about four =++,
the first thing that must be done is to reintroduce our preventers,
yes you have it, the bloke in blue with legs,
it can be done you know,
but he must be given the tools for the job.
The rapid fire sleeper dart pistol capable of a multi knock down,
not straight away of course, but who is going to kill a copper if they have a dart in their arse and sleepie byes follows a little later,
it is an ugly solution to an ugly problem but its the only one to deal with todays primitivity,
deaths will occur in instances of dart dose and alcohol combinations also drugs.
In these instances the arresting officer will be exonerated following coronas report.
In the light of the approaching recession these problems must be taken up before further degeneration takes place.
The following is a must. Stop and search vehicles for knives and guns.
Instant custodial sentence for those caught in possession, no trials.

I don’t why I’m sharing this with you really; it’s just an interesting thing. You can see the whole letter on Flickr here if you want.

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Caribbean Reading Challenge: my list

My list for Scavella’s Caribbean Reading Challenge. I actually haven’t really decided on most of the books for my list yet, but I thought it would be useful to have a single place to put them anyway. So here we go:

  1. The President, Miguel Angel Asturias (Guatemala)
  2. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz (Dominican Republic)
  3. Annie John, Jamaica Kincaid (Antigua)
  4. Masters of the Dew, Jacques Roumain (Haiti)
  5. Beka Lamb, Zee Edgell (Belize)
  6. ???

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

I really enjoyed this one; it’s lively, full of energy. Funny. It’s written in a colloquial style, sprinkled with slang, bits of Spanish and SF references.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a novel about a Dominican family in New Jersey. Oscar himself, obese and nerdy, was born in New York, but the book interleaves his story with the family history; his mother’s life in the Dominican Republic, then further back again to tell the story of her parents. It is, among other things, about the immigrant experience, about being a Dominican in New Jersey but always slightly an outsider in the DR. And what it means to be Dominican anyway if you can’t live up to the stereotype, if you are in fact a fat nerd. And the sections about his family before they left the DR, there are other things: life under dictatorship and so on. 

Glancing over the Goodreads reviews, they seem to mainly trend towards OMG this is teh best novel EVAR with a sprinkling of people who are irritated by one or other of the books quirks: the heavy use of Spanglish, the footnotes, the multiple narrators, the fact that the book is only partly about what the title says it’s about. One of the people in my mother’s book group  apparently disliked it because he likes books to start at the beginning and then go in a straight line to the end.

You probably have a pretty good idea before you start what your tolerance is like for that kind of thing; personally the non-linear narrative and the various narrative voices don’t bother me at all, and while I’m not a big fan of footnotes in novels they weren’t especially irritating in this book. The Spanglish/Spanish was more of a problem for me personally because I don’t know any Spanish, and while a combination of context and the remnants of the French and Latin I learned in school were enough to deduce what some words meant, whole sentences were generally beyond me. I’m certainly not suggesting that he shouldn’t have used the Spanish, and it added to my enjoyment more than it spoiled it, but I was probably missing out on a lot of what was going on. Caveat emptor.

I wouldn’t go quite as far as best book EVAR either; I don’t think it’s even the best novel I’ve read this year, and I’ve only read two. But I did thoroughly enjoy it. Here’s an extract:

It seemed to Oscar that from the moment Maritza dumped him—Shazam!—his life started going down the tubes. Over the next couple of years he grew fatter and fatter. Early adolescence hit him especially hard, scrambling his face into nothing you could call cute, splotching his face with zits, making him self-conscious, and his interest—in Genres!—which nobody had said boo about before, suddenly became synonymous with being a loser with a capital L. Couldn’t make friends for the life of him, too dorky, too shy, and (if the kids from his neighbourhood are to be believed) too weird (had a habit of using big words he had memorised only the day before). He no longer went anywhere near the girls because at best they ignored him, at worst they shrieked and called him gordo asqueroso! He forgot the perrito, forgot the pride he felt when women in the family had called him hombre. Did not kiss another girl for a long long time. As though almost everything he had in the girl department had burned up in that one fucking week.

Not that his “girlfriends” fared much better. It seemed that whatever bad no-love karma hit Oscar hit them too. By seventh grade Olga had grown huge and scary, a troll gene in her somewhere, started drinking 151 straight out the bottle and was finally taken out of school because she had a habit of screaming NATAS! in the middle of the homeroom. Even her breasts, when they finally emerged, were floppy and terrifying. Once on the bus Olga had called Oscar a cake eater, and he’d almost said, Look who’s talking, puerca, but he was afraid that she would rear back and trample him; his cool-index, already low, couldn’t have survived that kind of paliza, would have put him on par with the handicapped kids and with Joe Locorotundo, who was famous for masturbating in public.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz is my book from the Dominican Republic for the Read The World challenge, and is my second book for the Caribbean Reading Challenge.

» The photographs, Thanksgiving In Paterson, NJ and Desfile y Festival Dominicano de New Jersey, are both © remolacha.net and used under a Creative Commons by-nc licence.

Verbal ticks and burrs

Peter has an amusing post over at slow reads about a particular linguistic bugbear:

For my entire five-year teaching career, most students have addressed me as “Wait,” as in “Wait, do we need to write this in our sketchbooks?”

These little verbal tics just don’t bother me, and I offer sincere thanks to whichever deity is responsible for the fact. Because it could so easily have happened; I care about language and have copious supplies of pedantry. I should be a natural candidate for writing snippy letters to the Times about young people who say, like, whatever, and supermarket signs which mention ‘eight items or less’, but no, I just don’t care. Even the greengrocer’s apostrophe: meh.

And if perfectly innocuous colloquial language used by well-meaning people sets your teeth on edge, I can only assume you must walk around in a constant state of seething irritation. It must be like having someone following you around, standing just behind you and scraping their fingernails on a block of polystyrene. And we should save all that useful anger for something important, like stupid font choices.

My easy-going approach to language isn’t limitless. One thing that really, really winds me up is when people take it on themselves to correct what they perceive as my errors. The all-time winner being someone who, in apparent seriousness, told me that the ‘correct’ plural for octopus is octopodes. ‘Because it’s from Greek, not Latin’.

» apparently, if you do suffer from verbal ticks, there are special tools you can buy. Including a lasso.

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Bird of the Year 2008: best performances in a supporting role

I know it’s getting slightly late for yearly round-up posts, but hey-ho.

Best Plant

The wildflowers on the cliff-tops in Wales were quite something: gorse, foxgloves, bluebells, red campion, sea campion, thrift, kidney vetch, burnet rose, dodder, spring squill, centaury, ox-eye daisies, cowslips. It really was spectacular. So it’s really just a matter of picking a species. I was actually tempted by bluebell, because although it is a fairly common flower and I see it regularly, it is so lovely and it was great to see it in such large quantities; especially on Skomer, where much of the island was covered by sweeping fields of bluebells or red campion.


But I thought I’d pick something more typically seasidey, so I think thrift is the obvious choice. That’s a close-up shot above, but it doesn’t give you a sense of the quantities: big cushiony pink piles of it.

Best Insect

Seeing glow-worms was a genuine life-time ambition fulfilled. They’re not as spectacular as some of the species of bioluminescent insect found elsewhere — just a few gentle green glowing dots in the grass on a June evening — but they were still fabulous.

Best Invertebrate (other)

Umm, let me see. I quite enjoyed pottering around looking for rock-pools in Pembrokeshire, though I didn’t find much apart from a few mussels and sea anemones, so let’s go for something I can post a picture of: an unidentified species of red sea-anenome.

Best Fish

It’s hard to think of anything for this one. The best I can come up with is probably the enormous fat brown trout in the Test in Hampshire.

Best Amphibian, Best Reptile

I haven’t been out of the country this year, and that means there are only a total of twelve species that are even possible (three snakes, three lizards, three newts, two toads and a frog), not counting a few breeding populations of introduced species and the occasional vagrant marine turtle. And I didn’t see any of the rarer ones.

But there was one day last June when all the baby frogs apparently decided to leave the pond at once, and the lawn was full of these tiny tiny little froglets. So that was neat. The Flickr set is here.

Best Mammal

I saw a bat hunting for insects in daylight over the lake in the local park at the end of March, so that was a noteworthy sighting. Perhaps it had just emerged from hibernation and was having its first proper meal of the year? I don’t know what kind of date they come out.

But the easy choice for Mammal of the Year was Grey Seal, which breeds in large numbers in Pembrokeshire. It wasn’t seal breeding season when I was there, so they weren’t all over the beach in big numbers and there were no little fluffy white babies, but there were plenty of seals lurking near the islands.

It’s not much of a picture, but just as evidence that I did see at least one seal:

Best Ecosystem

I think you will have seen this coming: I’m going to go for the islands off the coast of Pembrokeshire. Because, you know, seals, shags, choughs, puffins, wild flowers, ravens, peregrine… and most notably, perhaps, the seabird colonies on the cliffs where the guillemots, razorbills and fulmars nest.  These weren’t easy to photograph, because they were on cliffs, so you were either peering down from above, or peering up from a boat. Still, this gives you an idea:

There’s a wider view of some of these cliffs that gives some idea of the scale here, but there’s no point reproducing that photo at 500 pixels wide.

Sitting on a boat and watching a raven come and steal guillemot eggs: how cool is that? The guillemots did try to resist, but the raven just flung them out of the way. It’s not easy being an auk.


  • via Carl Zimmer, sciencey mini-zines
    (del.icio.us tags: science zines )
  • ‘The Earth Observatory is a website run by NASA’s Earth Observing System Project Science Office. Bringing together imagery from many different satellites and astronaut missions, the website publishes fantastic images with highly detailed descriptions, feature articles and more. Gathered here are some standout photographs from the collections in the Earth Observatory over the past several years.’ The Big Picture is usually worth a look, but these are especially fab.
    (del.icio.us tags: Earth photos )

On Prince Harry

In the wake of my royal namesake’s latest act of fuckwittery, there have been serious questions asked about whether it indicates a racist culture in the armed forces. It seems equally relevant to ask: what does it say about the culture at Eton?

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  • 'The remarkable Ripley Scroll is, in simple terms, an alchemical manuscript that shows in pictorial cryptograms the production of the philosopher's stone (the elusive ingredient that produces incorruptible gold out of lesser metals; and/or the elixir of life).' Extraordinary.
    (del.icio.us tags: C16th alchemy )


  • 'Europe may become a significant source of "exported" measles in poor countries that have done a better job eliminating the virus.
    A study in The Lancet this week finds that the WHO is unlikely to meet its goal of eliminating measles in the European region by 2010 because vaccination rates in many countries, including Germany, the UK and Italy, are too low to stop the spread of the virus. In contrast, Latin America eliminated measles in 2002, but has since suffered outbreaks "imported" from Europe. While measles rarely kills in Europe, in poorer countries malnutrition and limited healthcare make the virus far more lethal'. That's actually the complete story, so don't follow the link. It just seemed worth flagging up. It would be nice to think that all the anti-vaccine people, the conspiracy theorists and homeopaths and fruitcakes of various persuasions, would see this news and feel deep shame, but no doubt they have their self-justifications ready.
    (del.icio.us tags: measles vaccination Europe )

A Grain of Wheat by Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o

A Grain of Wheat is a novel about the inhabitants of a village in Kenya in 1963 in the last few days before the celebrations for Uhuru — that is, Kenyan independence. It was originally published in 1967, so the material was completely current at the time, although after finishing it that I read in the introduction that

Ngũgĩ revised A Grain of Wheat in 1987, to make the ‘world outlook’ of his peasants more in line with his ideas of the historical triumph of the oppressed.

and that

Ngũgĩ has said of the 1967 version of A Grain of Wheat that his ‘peasant and worker characters’ had the ‘vacillating mentality of the petite bourgeoisie’.

As far as I can gather, the revisions were relatively minor, and I guess I support the author’s right to mess around with his earlier work if he wants to, but I still find it vaguely frustrating not knowing what was what. And it seems like an odd thing to do, to me. But there you go.

Incidentally, Ngũgĩ’s early work, including this book, was written in English, but for the past 30 years or so he has written in Gĩkùyũ. Rejecting the colonial language has obvious political and social significance, but to switch from a language with hundreds of millions of speakers to one which is a minority language even in Kenya is still a striking decision.

The characters in the book are all dealing with the aftermath of the Mau Mau rebellion, having lost family members or having suffered detention, forced labour and torture. There’s something slightly topical about that at the moment; not just because we recently learned that Barack Obama’s grandfather was tortured by the British at that period, but also because insurgents being detained without trial and tortured  have been in the news recently.

I didn’t read the book, though, as being principally about the relationship between colonist and colonised. Rather, it’s about the relationships between the Africans and the way they’ve been affected by events. Some of them worked for the British; others fought them. A man returns to his wife after years away in prison to find she has had a baby by another man. No one is left untouched.  All this is told in flashback, so we gradually learn how characters became the way they are.

Obviously none of this would have happened if it wasn’t for the British, so they (we) are central in that sense, but still, the novel is building up to Uhuru, when the young Duke of Edinburgh will sit in a stadium in Nairobi and watch the flags changing over, and the British part of the story will peter out. I read the novel as being about what is left behind; in that sense it reminded me of How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone, Saša Stanišić’s novel about Yugoslavia. A war of independence against a colonial power is I suppose a peculiar kind of civil war, and it tears apart the fabric of the country in a similar way.

Here’s an extract.

He took a jembe and a panga to repeat the daily pattern his life had now fallen into since he left Maguita, his last detention camp. To reach his new strip of shamba which lay the other side of Thabai, Mugo had to walk through the dusty village streets. And as usual Mugo found that some women had risen before him, that some were already returning from the river, their frail backs arched double with water-barrels, in time to prepare tea or porridge for their husbands and children. The sun was now up: shadows of trees and huts and men were thin and long on the ground.

‘How is it with you, this morning?’ Warui called out to him, emerging from one of the huts.
‘It is well.’ And as usual Mugo would have gone on, but Warui seemed anxious to talk.
‘Attacking the ground early?’
‘That’s what I always say. Go to it when the ground is soft. Let the sun find you already there and it’ll not be a match for you. But if he reaches the shamba before you — hm.’

Warui, a village elder, wore a new blanket which sharply relieved his wrinkled face and the grey tufts of hair on his head and on his pointed chin. It was he who had given Mugo the present strip of land on which to grow a little food. His own piece had been confiscated by the government while he was in detention. Though Warui liked talking, he had come to respect Mugo’s reticence. But today he looked at Mugo with new interest, curiosity even.

‘Like Kenyatta is telling us,’ he went on, ‘these are days of Uhuru na Kazi.’ He paused and ejected a jet of saliva on to the hedge. Mugo stood embarrassed by this encounter. ‘And how is your hut, ready for Uhuru?’ continued Warui.
‘Oh, it’s all right,’ Mugo said and excused himself. As he moved on through the village, he tried to puzzle out Warui’s last question.

 A Grain of Wheat is my book from Kenya for the Read The World challenge.

» The cigarette card from the Empire railways series is from the New York Public Library online collection. There is a train that features quite heavily in the book, so it’s not a completely random choice of image.