By Sheila Murray
Published November 22, 2012
The first thing that crossed my mind as I started reading Stories from Life by Ogova Ondego of Kenya was the question: ‘Did the writer experience any of these events at first-hand or are they entirely a work of fiction (as the disclaimer says)?’
The events are so vivid and some are truly shocking, particularly those presented in The Shriek of Terror which, in the midst of stories about village life, Christmas, the Matatu, adds to the horror. I then thought that the compilation of 19 stories and poems in the 56-page anthology was an incredibly honest portrayal of life in much of Africa – the normality of it, the ordinary, domestic day-to-day aspect, the importance of domestic animals – and then suddenly the reader is plunged into extreme brutality and chaos.
The writing style is similarly ‘matter-of-fact – things happen to people and the lesson is that we have to be vigilant at all times, for example as presented in ‘It Could Happen To You, Too’. ‘The Shriek of Terror’, and also 13-year-old Mina Ogova’s ‘Evil Knocks on My Door’ are written in a similar pared down conversational style, making hard-to-read descriptions all the more disturbing.
I can see how the author has been influenced by the Bible and his rural/urban experience (as he writes in the introduction), which makes for a rich potpouri of stories, experiences and fables.
I love the stories by the children written at 12 (Fadhili Ogova’s ‘The Day I Almost Died’), at 17 (Karama Ogova’s ‘You Think You Had A Bad Day? Try This!’), and at 13 (Mina Ogova’s ‘Evil Knocks on My Door’), which are full of life, adventure and again, the almost hum-drum telling of events as they occur with an unexpected twist at the end.
It’s great that the writer appears to have encouraged the children’s writing and it makes me wonder what they are now studying at university.
I also wonder if Ogova Ondego has written any film scripts given his interest in film. I think some of the stories would translate well into film as the writer is adept at forming pictures from words.
There are, however, some phrases and words that have an ‘old school’ feel to them. Today you wouldn’t find many constructions in books written in the United Kingdom, for example, in ‘Christmas in my Village’ on page 21 that go,’…children are excited that they are going to play with their urban-based brothers and sisters…’. Here in the UK one would read ‘…going to play with their city-dwelling brothers and sisters’. This is an observation that the English language is constantly changing in the UK whereas the pace of change is slower in Africa due to the many indigenous languages and because English tends to remain as it is taught at school – not incorrect, but with a different texture.
All in all, I very much enjoyed reading the stories as they gave me an insight into life in Kenya that I wouldn’t normally be exposed to – even if I were to visit.
Sheila Murray is an independent arts manager and consultant based in Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom.