In author Joseph R Alila’s new novel, REBELS [ISBN 13: 978-1548693435], set in Kenya’s 1970s and 1980s, a widowed bride (Betty Kinda), flees from the custody of her parents, leaving her in-laws, who must give her a replacement husband before they burry her late fiancé (Mika Olongo), in an untenable situation. Reaching Kisumu City, Betty meets one Nurse Rose, an annealed widow, who empathizes with her, ‘adopts’ her, and enrolls her in a day secondary school (she is pregnant). Suddenly, tempers flare across the Nyogunde Valley, pitting Betty’s in-laws (the Ombos of Korondo Ridge) and her parents (the Kindas of Rabuor Ridge) as elders debate how the Ombos would burry and mourn their son when his widow/bride is in school tens of miles away.
Betty eventually accepts one Luka Okiya—the replacement husband her in-laws ‘post’ to her. Okiya, the Luo jater (levirate), turns out to be a perfect match with Betty; after all, he is the man whose overtures she ignored in favor of the late Olongo.
Thanks to Nurse Rose, Betty catches the metaphorical wind and flies with it, with Okiya in tow. The cultural rebels, who even ‘tie the knot’ in an unprecedented (at least on Korondo Ridge) sneak church wedding, graduate from college–Betty with a degree in law and Okiya with a degree in government—with their three sons and a daughter cheering them on!
While the Okiyas sweat it out among Kenya’s urban diaspora, raising children as they climb the academic ladder and eventually become senior government officers, back home, on Korondo Ridge, several verbal wars rage on over heritage and land.
At its core, JR Alila’s REBELS is about the modern Luo at war with her past that is not letting go easily. In this enduring, heart-warming love story, we affirm that even rebels sworn to unity can stumble. When Okiya falters, in anger, after their son Mark calls him an unthinkable name, Betty is tested to the limit. She must weigh building the legacy of her late husband (Olongo) against her continued loyalty to Okiya—the jater (levirate) who pulled her out of the spiritual cloud of her late husband and joined her in chasing a modern dream, formal education. Betty, the trained family lawyer, discovers that a Luo jater (levirate) can’t be divorced! But yes, he can be ejected. Will she do that at the expense of family unity?