JR Alila’s latest novel “A FISHY MATTER” is now available at both createspace.com and amazon.com. It is also available as a kindle e-book.
In Joseph R. Alila’s first novel, Sunset on Polygamy (ISBN 13: 9781495402135) , marital cultural lore and spirituality combine to breed a tragic confusion in a land faced with a deadly new disease epidemic, with public debates raging as to whether the killer is ancestral chira (curse) or Acute Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
I this work of fiction, Joe Ochom, a young man testing his verbal skills in the art of seduction, soon realizes that corralling an educated girl (Megan) requires more than adorning his high school blazer in the marketplace. He proves indecisive and cowardly in the battlefield—a weakness his principal competitor, polygamist Jim Kokech, exploits to the fullest.
Having crushed the young bookish competitor for the attention of Megan, suddenly faces a revolt from his four wives. Felicia, the first wife—exploits the situation to punish her “wayward husband”; she locks him out of her bedroom just when they must celebrate the planting season as the principal “spiritual co-owners” of the home. Jim’s pastoral calendar comes to a sudden halt—reminding him that Luo marital life indeed is a complex “religious journey” with the first wife as the center of worship. Suddenly, the spiritual battle among the women, symbolized by the clearly demarcated hallowed boundaries between their farms, reaches their bedrooms. The home enters a conjugal lockdown that Jim and any of his junior wives could only breach at the risk of dire spiritual consequences. The crafty second wife, Milka, engages Jim in a believable romantic ruse that fools even Felicia. Wrought with jealousy at her archenemy, Milka, Felicia yields to Jim—prompting a stampede among the women for access to him. Jim’s male folly still thinks he’s having fun.
Baby boom! A year later, Felicia looks from the sidelines as the home welcomes three newborns, with Maria, Milka and Nyapora presenting a child each to their shared husband. Felicia has reached menopause, but instead of embracing her new physiological reality, and aging gracefully as the matriarch of her home, she becomes angry at Jim and her co-wives for “breeding like rats.” Struggling with a broiling bout of jealousy at her co-wives and nursing unpredictable desires of her husband, Felicia brews one immoral “romantic” mischief after another and nearly kills her husband while trying a cultic solution to her marital problems. Depressed, Felicia flees to the Big City to escape the shameful spectacle she is among the women of Korondo Ridge.
But Korondo Ridge has no rest; Exit Felicia, and tragedy brings home Gina—a beautiful young widow who has just returned from the Big City with the body of her late husband, George Amolo. Now, to the utter dismay of elders, Gina refuses to receive any man into her bed, arguing that her husband died of “a strange new disease”. The elders refuse to listen, asserting that George died of his father’s “chira” (curse), which only the very wise among them could cleanse. Amolo protests, saying that Malaria killed George. Concerned for the spiritual health of their Korondo House, the elders eventually convince Gina to enter a one-night “marriage” with a “Jakowiny” (a vagabond) “to settle George’s restless spirit.” Reacting to the “technical marriage,” men troop to Gina’s house to proffer their applications, believing the vagabond (like the Biblical scapegoat), has wandered off with “chira” that killed their fellow warrior.
Tragedy! The killer malady the elders call “Chira” is AIDS—the killer the Luo aptly nickname “Ayaki”—I loot you. Gina soon develops loose morals and dispatches one man after another to his grave, their wives in tow. Tragic: Ayaki kills people and “chira,” with which it shares symptoms, gets the credit. Gina’s misleadingly healthy look, beauty, and longevity only add to the tragedy.
Felicia returns to Korondo Ridge amid the Ayaki epidemic in the land, but even the epidemic has not changed people‘s ways:, men still embrace polygamy; men still inherit sick widows, and sure, her Jim has married young Megan, capping his conquest over Joe Ochom the narrator. But as the Luo of old said, the ferocious buffalo provides the hide for a brave warrior’s shield—Jim dies holding a toxic jewel in his hands; leaving teaching lessons in vanity and immoderation.
You, Tom Okoth, accepted your new circumstance as a two-woman man, and you drowned the sounds of protests and disagreements from your friends and family in alcohol and more alcohol, and before you knew it, waking up in houses of widows, near and distant, became a habit; before you knew it, waking up in emergency wards with stitches across your face became normal; before you knew, it inheriting widows became a habit; before you knew it missing school became a habit. With a few years you lost your job: first as the headmaster of Soko Intermediate School, then as a teacher. Chief Omolo, your “friend,” chaired the school board that sacked you. At a local bar, he fed you some beer then hired a cyclist to drop you somewhere behind your home. What a fried you had in Chief Omolo! You left home the day after, never to return for another three years!
You never returned home the day after the sack, not because of your shame as the man and headmaster of a school who had drank away his job, but because you met a jewel bedecked, pearly mermaid in a Homa Bay hotel. Yes, you met the mythical mermaid, except yours was not a myth. She was a real woman with flesh and blood: She was intelligent, ingenious, and beautiful, and apparently wealthy. That was your mermaid. The morning after you met, you thought she was not real; she had suited you and dumped thousands of shillings on you. Her name was Luna Green. She hence gave you the name Mr. Tom Green. You were her new husband, and more. You had found yourself in Luna’s arms in a classy hotel in Homa Bay, where you’d landed the day after the sack, having filed an appeal against your dismissal by your school’s board at Ndhiwa KNUT (your local teaching trade union) office. Well, you had filed your case, then visited Homa Bay to drown your shame—once and for all—in the may many bars in town. Then you met the mermaid known as Luna Green. By midmorning of the morrow, you (now Mr. Tom Green) were touring the waters of Lake Victoria in Luna’s personal motorized boat, The MV Lunar Rock.
A week later into the whirlwind of a tour, dazed, dazzled and believing that you’d met a mermaid out of the Lolwe, you wedded Luna or she married you (if you get my Luo sense of the verb ”marry”) in Ahero Town—some bishop presiding. A day later, you were in a dreamy mansion in Ngong—that famous land of the Maasai. You would lead a dreamy three-year life as the husband of Luna the Gemstone Dealer. By the end, that came, suddenly, you’d a degree in business administration.
Then your life with the gem dealer known as Mrs. Luna Green came to a screeching halt, when she disappeared while in advanced pregnancy with your child. Within a short order you watched and listened as Green Gems Inc crumbled. The mansion you called yours was put on sale by creditors of Green Gems Inc. Apparently still controlling events from her hideout, Luna, willed that you be paid 39000 shillings, and that you left home immediately. In no way were you to leave with any other clothes except the ones on your back.
Scared, you scampered off with your life after a brief enquiry with Nairobi Police let you know that there was no person in Kenya known as Luna Green or Tom Green. Even you didn’t exist. If you had suspected that Luna was a genie or mermaid, you’d no more reason to doubt. You’d be back to Korondo Village to your longsuffering wife and your children, never to use the name Tom Green again. In three years, you, Tom Okoth, had travelled to hell and heaven and back to another round in hell.
I’m author Joseph R. Alila, a native of Kenya living in Schenectady, New York, from where I have penned twelve novels and two epic poems. You may not have read my poetry and verse that address a variety of areas of the human experience, but you are welcome if you love writings that go beyond the mundane of daily life. I’m a chemist and teacher by training, and I for a while considered my writing as something recreational, something I did to pass time. Fourteen publications later, learning the art of writing on my feet, the literary bug has bitten me, and friends and fans say that I’m a good novelist with particular strengths in the narrative and analytical forms and with a penchant for stinging dialogue. I laugh at such suggestions, but they may be right; it may be true that writing is like wine: the creator’s output gets better with his or her age, where the wine in a bottle gets better with time in the cellar.
I started writing from what I knew well, and that was telling stories about life in a traditional Luo home–in which I grew up before I flew to multiethnic, then multinational diaspora destinations. I’ve written extensively on my Luo people’s polygamous marriages and other cultural practices, criticizing them where criticism is due, and shedding a sage’s light in an effort to put meaning to old traditions. My mournful caution against the practice of polygamy in the era of the AIDS virus came to light in SUNSET ON POLYGAMY.
My writings have tended to be anthropological–treating my subjects as actors or victims of their environments and times. My novels, WHISPER TO MY ACHING HEART, SUNSET ON POLYGAMY, THE LUO DREAMERS’ ODYSSEY: FROM THE SUDAN TO AMERICAN POWER, NOT ON MY SKIN, MAYA, BIRTHRIGHT (A LUO TRAGEDY), THE WISE ONE OF RAMOGILAND, and lately MAYA are informative anthropological treatises on peoples and their physical, spiritual, political, cultural, and social circumstances.
I must admit that when I set out to write my earlier novels, for example SUNSET ON POLYGAMY, I had no voice or agenda. My objective was to tell stories about my Luo people and my experiences as a Christian, a Luo, an African, and a world scholar uprooted from his home base to chase scientific dreams abroad. But fourteen novels and two Epic Poems (RATENG’ AND BRIDE and THIRTEEN CURSES ON MOTHER AFRICA) later, I find himself increasingly speaking for the burdened and voiceless peoples wherever they are in the world: I speak for the African women and widows (in THE THIRTEENTH WIDOW, SUNSET ON POLYGAMY, and WHISPER TO MY ACHING HEART) whose perilous yokes are the marital culture and practices whose original intentions were protective, but which cultural practices now have turned spiritual death traps, from which there is no escape.
I’ve found a mournful political voice in two of my works: In RATENG’ AND BRIDE, I visit with and relive, in poetry, Kenya’s tragic 2007 Presidential contest, pointing at errors from which the nation hasn’t recovered). In the epic poem, THIRTEEN CURSES ON MOTHER AFRICA, my message is that increasingly dependent Africa is an old shadow of its pre-colonial self; Africa is inundated with perilous crises, a lot of which are due to amnesia, nature, poor leadership choices, greed, dictatorships, and brother-on-brother conflicts, with Ebony the African Woman and her children bearing the brunt of the deadly forces.
In THE LUO DREAMERS’ ODYSSEY: FROM THE SUDAN TO AMERICAN POWER–a novel inspired by and about the Obama Presidency–I endeavor to make a tortuous historical-cum-spiritual fictional march of my Luo people from their slow fifteenth-century times in Old Sudan to East Africa, only for one of us to occupy the world’s only citadel of power. If some of my predictions about the current American Presidency seem to have come to pass, they have to be taken as illustrations of what thoughtful fiction (science or otherwise) can achieve.
Collectively, in the novels, THE WISE ONE OF RAMOGILAND, THE LUO DREAMERS’ ODYSSEY: FROM THE SUDAN TO AMERICAN POWER, and BIRTHRIGHT (A LUO TRAGEDY), I shed a sage’s torch, liberally illuminating various aspects of the Luo journey, Luo cultural practices, Luo spirituality, and Luo thought. No wonder, my literary breakthrough novel BIRTHRIGHT (A LUO TRAGEDY) has been a classroom text in African Anthropology at an American University.
Finally, the novels, NOT ON MY SKIN, THE AMERICAN POLYGAMIST, SINS OF OUR HEARTS, THE CHOIRMASTER (A SPIRITUAL TRAGEDY), and MAYA, I explore our day’s very dynamic American experience, consciousness, and attitudes at street level, inside houses of worship, and at the work place.
My readers could be right, my literary journey no longer is recreational; like aged wine, it has come of age. Welcome, sample it, and however it tastes, let others know, and holler here on Amazon.com.
In the novella WHISPER TO MY ACHING HEART, novelist Joseph R. Alila (“The Milayi Curse”) tells a story about two eighteenth-century Luo widows who battle against great odds to become mothers of a future people. In this moving romantic story, a young widow (Apiny) is the bearer of the damning spiritually untouchable label in the patriarchal African society. Ejected alongside her widowed mother-in-law (Awino) and ridiculed by friends, Apiny waits for fifteen years before she receives another man in her bed. Even then, her moment of triumph only comes after Awino (an old widow whose womb is all but shut) remarries and raises a miracle son (Otin), who answers the call to marry Apiny and redeem his fallen brother’s honor. However, even after getting all the handsome sons and beautiful daughters she wishes to get from her youthful lover, Apiny is not at peace in her heart. She mourns and struggles, in her heart, as her youthful husband inevitably bows to Luo cultural demands and receives a virgin wife (Nyogola).
In Apiny’s senior years, the reality of her age and jealousy against Nyogola and her sons combine to motivate her (Apiny) to eject Otin publicly. Now, being a well-behaved jater (levir or substitute husband), Otin exits Apiny’s house without a fight, as one Magundho, an older man, eats by her fireside
In this story, the desire of one woman to honor the wishes of a fallen husband, and another woman’s resolution to establish a legacy of a fallen son, cement the widows together into a unified purposeful whole; that oneness enables them to survive the pain and humiliation of rejection, and they triumph in the end.
I have a couple of writing projects in mind, including a love poem and a historical novel. Look out for them in the coming years. The outbreak novel, BIRTHRIGHT (A Luo Tragedy), and an America street literature, MAYA, can be found here.
In the Novel, THE WISE ONE OF RAMOGILAND, Joseph R. Alila addresses the role of spirituality in life and politics in a society under cultural and political transitions. As a battery of ‘colonial forces’ conspire against Africa’s old way of life, wizards and prophets, who are loosing clients of the ordinary kind to New Way Churches, are forced to adopt to the new spiritual reality, even if it means taking funny-sounding Greek names.
In this work of fiction, Alila exposes the work of a woman of wisdom (Angelina Nyangi), her Ramogi people, their ways, their political leadership, and the perils of political cohabitation in Kenya’s young, multiethnic, multiparty democracy.
Nyangi’s lifetime experiences remind the reader that modern religious dispensations might have robbed soothsayers and wizards of a lot of clients of the ordinary kind but not the important ones: She discovers that the new political and business elites love to have their ancestors’ “sixth sense” watching over their backs. She is their ancestors’ sixth sense, only she is no prophet.
Now, in her sunset years, Nyangi reminisces about a life well lived, but one which had seen many antsy professional close calls shared between corrupt politicians and such strange clients as a professor of knowledge. If Angelina’s longevity has become abusive, the unseemly conducts of her eldest son and the supposed “Seer-in-waiting” (Thomas) continues to hang around her neck like a bad dream.