In her debut novel, Lynch writes about the injustice of colonial rule and institutionalized segregation through the story of a young Goan tailor who moves to Africa.
As the novel opens in Goa in 1913, Sabby Mendes is a 15-year-old tailor’s apprentice. Hearing of people leaving Goa for East Africa, Sabby decides to try his chances in Kenya. Perhaps to reflect his youth, Sabby’s first-person thoughts are given in simplistic, sometimes clichéd language. For instance, he justifies his choice of Kenya with “it would be different, and I was ready to try something that was not like Goa.” He settles in Nairobi, where he eventually opens a tailoring business. He thrives professionally but remains lonely; luckily, it’s love at first sight for him and Trinia, the Goan woman his parents choose for his arranged marriage. Lynch successfully weaves in momentous historical events—Princess Elizabeth’s visit to Kenya, the Mau Mau Uprising, and Africanization under Jomo Kenyatta—as well as technological and cultural shifts. Best of all, she gives a strong sense of life in a three-tiered racial hierarchy: colonizers at the top, then Asians, and Africans at the bottom. Train cars are segregated, and Goans give up their seats at Sunday Mass to let Europeans sit in front. Racism is an unfortunate reality that only hits home for Sabby when his youngest daughter wanders onto a whites-only beach. The book’s scope is perhaps too wide, however, necessitating awkward indications of time passing. The insistent chronology seems more appropriate to a family memoir. Lynch grew up in post–World War II Nairobi, so likely this novel has autobiographical elements. A plodding pace and some punctuation problems don’t overly distract from the elegiac tone that follows a late bereavement and Sabby’s sense of displacement as more and more Goans, including his children, accept British passports and emigrate. He insists “my heart is here in Kenya,” and the tender finale proves it.
A touching story of attachment to a beloved, troubled place.