Author Joseph R. Alila’s newest novel, BIRTHRIGHT, is a narrative of how one man’s cruel silence over his son’s ancestry almost destroys the latter among a people who value bloodline, protocol, and order in marriage. The battle over birthright in the home of one Odongo Ougo of Thim Lich has turned tragic on many fronts. Atieno, a victim of a marriage protocol that destined her to the rank of second wife, even though she is older and longest-surviving wife of Odongo, has had enough. Atieno swears son Okulu on an oath to finish off Aura and her son Juma. Primed to kill, Okulu, an abused son Odongo only halfheartedly had embraced as his own, seriously wounds Aura, his stepmother, necessitating emergency surgical intervention. Next, Okulu turns his nighttime rage on Juma, Odongo’s juvenile son with Aura, and his spiritual first son, who has just posted a perfect middle-school grade and is heading for a famous Kenyan high school.
Talk of instant justice, Okulu’s blind rage turns tragic, as he, for a period, loses the function of both hands after Grace, Juma’s dog, bites him off a rabbit carcass.
On a night of many unusual events, Juma, the boy running for his life, rescues a young woman sinking into a hot volcanic quagmire in an alien land. Just when Juma thinks that he has met a future wife, he discovers that she is his stepsister, by way of his father’s youthful indiscretions.
A couple of nights later, Abich, Atieno’s youngest child, is on the prowl at the hospital, where Aura lay indisposed, when hospital security arrests her for impersonating a nurse with the intent to cause harm to a patient. Odongo declares no contest and pleads with a Dr. Otago to set her free. Talk of guts, as an angler becomes fish, Abich moves on to marry the arresting doctor-in-charge (Dr. Otago), as Odongo looks on ashamed and in silence.
It takes these tragic events, and the subsequent unraveling of Odongo’s past of unsettling acts against women, including Atieno, to start real dialogue in his home and resolve historical injustices that had driven a woman and two of her children into desperate criminal acts.
The center holds, Aura recovers, and the Odongo home sees four more baby boys, but Odongo must face his past demons to assuage the afflicted and reestablish his honor. Okulu turns out to be Odongo’s biological son, and he is a man after all. But what restitution could Odongo pay to Okulu after all the years of communal abuse of the latter by his kin? Okulu the villain has become the invalid victim.
In the novel, BIRTHRIGHT, JR Alila captures ‘Luo birthright’ as an imperfect spiritual vehicle to power and privilege in a polygamous Luo home.
Author Joseph R Alila was born in 1956 in Ndhiwa, Kenya, among the Luo people of Nyanza region. A graduate of Education, Social sciences and Chemistry, Dr. Alila has written several anthropological novels about the Luo marriage experience, visiting current themes such as polygamy and diseases epidemics (“Sunset on Polygamy”), widow inheritance and diseases epidemics (“The Thirteenth Widow”), widow inheritance and clan stability and growth (“Whisper to My Aching Heart”). JR Alila’s other works reflect on his world spiritual journey (“The Milayi Curse;” “The Choirmaster;” “Sins of Our Hearts“). In some of his writings, JR Alila has struggled with the politics of ethnicity and spirituality in Kenya (“The Wise One of Ramogiland;” “Rateng’ and Bride”). Finally, a number of novels and one poem capture JR Alila’s world journey as “a Diaspora man and world citizen” caught in the thrill of Obamaism (“Not on My Skin;” “Thirteen Curses on Mother Africa [epic poem];” “The American Polygamist;” “The Luo Dreamers’ Odyssey: From the Sudan to American Power”). In the new novel, BIRTHRIGHT, JR Alila looks at ‘Luo birthright’ as an imperfect spiritual vehicle to power and privilege in a polygamous Luo home.