Novelist JR Alila


Sunset on Polygamy; The American Polygamist; The Thirteenth Widow; The Milayi Curse; The Wise One of Ramogiland; Sins of Our hearts; Whisper to My Aching Heart; Not on My Skin; The Choirmaster; The Luo Dreamers Odyssey (From the Sudan to American Power); Birthright (A Luo Tragedy); A Fishy Matter; Rebels


Thirteen Curses on Mother Africa; Rateng’ and Bride

I am author Joseph R. Alila, a native of Kenya living in Schenectady, New York, from where I have penned thirteen novels and two epic poems. My poetry and verse address a variety of areas of the human experience, and 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 (as was the case in the lost scripts of the staged plays, THE FRUITLESS TREE and WHAT A HUSBAND, written in the 1980s). Thirteen novels and two poems 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 strengths in the narrative and analytical forms and with a penchant for stinging dialogue. I laugh at such suggestions, but the readers may be right. Sages long gone were right in their observation that writing is like wine: an author’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 about 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 national and then multinational diaspora destinations to pursue scholarly dreams. I have 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 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 and THE THIRTEENTH WIDOW.

My writings have tended to be anthropological–treating my subjects as actors or victims of their social, spiritual and physical environments and times. The novels, WHISPER TO MY ACHING HEART, SUNSET ON POLYGAMY, THE LUO DREAMERS’ ODYSSEY: FROM THE SUDAN TO AMERICAN POWER, NOT ON MY SKIN, BIRTHRIGHT (A LUO TRAGEDY), THE WISE ONE OF RAMOGILAND, MAYA, and lately A FISHY MATTER and REBELS 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 Luo home base to chase scientific dreams abroad. But fifteen novels and two Epic Poems (RATENG’ AND BRIDE and THIRTEEN CURSES ON MOTHER AFRICA) later, I find myself 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, THE MILAYI CURSE, WHISPER TO MY ACHING HEART, and REBELS) whose perilous yokes are the marital culture and practices whose original intentions were novel, and protective (as in WHISPER TO MY ACHING HEART, REBELS and THE MILAYI CURSE), but which cultural practices turned spiritual death traps, from which they have struggled to escape.

I have 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, I mourn increasingly dependent Africa, which has become 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 came to pass, they must be taken as illustrations of what thoughtful fiction (science or literary 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, Luo politics, and Luo thought. No wonder, my literary breakthrough novel BIRTHRIGHT (A LUO TRAGEDY) has been a classroom text in African Anthropology and thought in universities.

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 workplace, through the eyes of diaspora wanderer.

My readers are right, my literary journey no longer is recreational; like aged wine, it has come of age, to quote sages gone before us. Welcome, sample it, and however it tastes, let others know, and holler here on amazon.


BIRTHRIGHT (A Luo Tragedy)

Literary Breakthrough: Joseph R. Alila’s newest novel, BIRTHRIGHT (a Luo Tragedy),ISBN 13: 978-1456382254, has been adopted by an IVY League School to be part of its African Cultural Anthropology curriculum.

Birthright (A Luo Tragedy)

When you read JR Alila’s novel, BIRTHRIGHT (A Luo Tragedy), you feel the pain and hear the groans of a hurting Aura, smell the refuse of a rural people, feel the shame of a father who continues to walk with a moral baggage, feel the solitude of a rogue woman who has set her son on a path to hell, empathize with a son who has been shortchanged by his father, feel the suspense felt by a young woman who is gradually sinking into a quagmire as she awaits the return of rescurer who has gone for a fishing pole, and hear the cry of angst of a young woman who realizes that the bird in her hands is untouchable, after all. That is a tragedy! READ it here:

The Milayi Curse (a novel)

In The Milayi Curse, Joseph R. Alila (the Author of “Sunset on Polygamy”) tells a story about a centuries-old conflict between two ancestral cousins, the Jamokos and Milayis, both members of the Jokamilai—a fictional Luo (Kenyan) clan. The conflict is of a spiritual as well as social nature, with one early Christian Priest (Father James O’Kilghor) struggling to make sense of an alien culture and reconcile the Jokamilai. It is a tale about spirituality, honor, betrayal, pride, poverty, wealth and uneasy kinship in fast-changing times, with Christianity and formal education breaking class barriers, bursting myths, and “turning things upside down.”   
Charles Milayi, a poor orphan, graduates out of middle school with excellent grades. Just when his widowed mother (Consolata Milayi) has lost hope of her gifted son ever stepping into a high school, he becomes a beneficiary of “a secret enemy hand of providence” only known to Father James. Father James protects the identity of Milayi’s benefactor because a Jamoko publicly sponsoring a Milayi child could unsettle many souls on either side of the unhealthy blood divide in Jokamilai, more so because the benefactor’s son (Thomas Jamoko) cannot graduate out of middle school.  
Charles Milayi excels in his studies, joins college, and becomes a lawyer, a businessperson, and a cabinet minister. Having broken through the economic class barrier, Charles marries none other than the Prime Minister’s daughter. However, back home, Hon. Milayi’s people remain bitterly divided along bloodlines, thanks to the century-old curse with origins in old wars, pillage of war spoils, and ancestral wealth. The so-called “Milayi curse” feeds a social schism and spiritual war blamed on the unsettled spirit of a fallen war hero named Milayi Raburu.  
The endless cold war among ancestral cousins has made Father James O’Kilghor’s ministry to the Jokamilai a trying experience, even for a man known for his controversial “Africanized-evangelizing strategies” that allow active traditional priests and witch doctors to receive baptism.


The Spirit of the Japanese

These people in the picture (see link below ), their tools and the horror of a wasteland they believe they will reclaim, defines a Japanese mindset most of us do not know. Looking at the small man (on picture-frame) and his giant equipment in an uncomfortable, definitely oily, saline environment gives me, a stranger thousands of miles away, some hope, and that hope and hard work appear to define the Japanese people. They need it to face the cruel hand nature and nurture played against them during the last Great Tsunami as the world watched, helplessly.

Birthright (A Luo Tragedy)

JR Alila’s 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 bloodlines and order in marriage. The battle over birthright among the sons of Odongo has turned tragic. Atieno is a victim of rape; she then enters a marriage that destines her to the rank of second wife. Her son Okulu is a beaten man: he walks with the tag of bastard (kimirwa); he is of dubious virility because of a grandfather who saw him as an alien seed, and he watches helplessly, as Juanita, his wife, breastfeeds another man’s sons, because the clan must grow. Recent events have alarmed Atieno: Juma, Odongo’s spiritual first son, has just posted a perfect middle-school graduation grade. Before that, Odongo relocated Okulu to a piece of land near the latter’s maternal uncle’s home. In Atieno’s analytical mind, Odongo literally had returned Okulu to his mother’s people.

While high on an oath Atieno just administered, Okulu critically wounds Aura, his stepmother. Then Okulu turns his rage on his stepbrother, Juma, Odongo’s spiritual first son. In a twist of instant justice, Okulu’s blind rage turns tragic, as he loses the function of both hands after Grace, Juma’s dog, bites him off a rabbit carcass.

The same night, Juma is running for his life, he rescues a young woman from a quagmire. But she is the metaphorical untouchable pearl he never would touch, for she is his stepsister.

If Owinyo and five of the Odongo daughter should come out as the peacemaker in this novel, Then Abich must join her mother and Okulu as the bad trio. But sometimes good things happen to bad people; Abich reaps a abundantly from her notoriety, when she captures a “mentionable” new husband amid the tragic drama to have visited Thim Lich in her time.

BIRTHRIGHT (A Luo Tragedy) unfolds within the context of a polygamous marriage in a traditional African home, which is a religious institution with social and spiritual bounds. When husband and wives breach the rules, the tragic conflicts like what befell the Odongo home are the more probable. BIRTHRIGHT should be judged alongside great literary works worldwide.


A “Ker” among the Luo is a kind of spiritual leader even as he acts as the Chairman of THE LUO COUNCIL, a cultural political body. Can such a man be identified through a contested election? Who sits to elect such a body. Why is there a struggle between South Nyanza and Central Nyanza leaderships over the venerable, and if I may add, burdensome, Stool in Ramogi land? Shouldn’t the Stool of Ker be a lifetime seat? Anybody out there?