The Feminist Press makes a worthy addition to its Women Writing Africa series with this 1986 novel by a British-born but long-time Kenya resident.
In vividly detailed if schematically organized fashion, Macgoye tells the story of one woman whose life parallels the years leading to Kenya’s independence from Britain and its growing stature in the world. This is the author’s best-known work (closely followed by The Present Moment, below), and it reveals her as an effective scene-setter, as well as trustworthy guide to history and the way people live, but limited as a fiction writer by her ambition to make one woman’s life a symbol for historic realities. The protagonist, Paulina, comes to Nairobi as a 16-year-old bride in 1956, the year Britain imposed martial law on Kenya. Pregnant and frightened by the big city, country-reared Paulina soon suffers a miscarriage. Husband Martin often beats her for various minor infractions, but he’s not a monster, only a man under pressure trying to make his way in a difficult and changing world. Further miscarriages occur before the marriage becomes so strained that Paulina leaves Nairobi and moves to Kisumu, a provincial town where she becomes a teacher and seamstress. She also falls in love with a married man and bears his child. But in early 1970, after this son is killed by soldiers firing on a crowd, she returns to Nairobi and works as a housekeeper for a wealthy black family. Years pass, Paulina begins to savor the many opportunities available to women in newly independent Kenya, and she and Martin resume their marriage on a more hopeful footing.
Most interesting, but more an exercise in factual recapitulation than a story of human vagaries.