In her second novel to be published in the Women Writing Africa series (see above), Kenyan writer Macgoye spins an intermittently moving, if often didactic, tale.
Here, seven elderly women recall their lives during a period of great change. All seven, members of different tribes and faiths, live in the Refuge, a church-run shelter for the impoverished old and ailing. Like a chorus, their individual voices join to carry a common refrain—a plaint about their present condition—and then separate to resume their own stories, which in turn are interrupted by the others. All have had hard lives, and all have been affected by such political events in Kenya as the Mau Mau revolt against the British, independence, and the short-lived revolution of the 1960s. Bessie lives in the past now as she mourns her only son, a deserter who was seized by soldiers during the military revolt and shot dead in front of her. Light-skinned Mama Chungu recalls how she became the servant, then the mistress, of a white man. Nekesa, a former prostitute, relates how she lost the only surviving member of her family, a brother who had been a soldier in WWII but afterward turned to drink. The ailing Rahel is a soldier’s widow; Priscilla once worked for a white woman whose family was killed by the Mau Mau in Priscilla’s presence; and Sophia, a Moslem, accidentally caused a fire that killed members of her own family. The most interesting and vivid personality is Wairimu, who was determined to make her own way after she was seduced: she left home, worked at various jobs, and became involved in politics as she organized her fellow workers and protested continuing British rule.
Memories are shared and friendships strengthened in a story that suffers from trying to be a history of both Kenya and the old women.