Another Matata winner for Menezes
Among The Jacaranda
A novel based on true events
Available on Amazon and most E-book platforms
Review by Cyprian Fernandes (Yesterday in Paradise, Stars Next Door)
Among the Jacaranda is the third in the Matata series: Just Matata (reissued as an expanded edition as Beyond the Cape 1920-1950) and More Matata (1951-1963) by the Kenya born author Braz Menezes, a former award-winning architect.
The first three books quickly established a large fan base for Menezes who quickly became recognised for imbuing the hero of the books, Lando, with wit, humour, a sense of adventure as well paying homage to Kenya and especially Nairobi. No doubt Among The Jacaranda is already assured of a following; probably more in E-books than the printed variety, both are easily available.
I am finding reviewing this exceptional trip down nostalgia road a tough gig. Not only because I get a left-handed compliment but because, like Menezes, I was born and raised in Kenya and I think the author is a couple of years older than I. Hence it is easy for me to walk down familiar roads to familiar suburbs, Goan social clubs, especially the Goan Gymkhana (where I was a rare visitor) and many, many familiar faces.
Some one questioned the other day why East African Goans over-feast on their past lives in the former British colonies. History. Just a shared history and the unbreakable links that a community gives birth to. Even more, authors like Menezes, Mervyn Maciel (the doyen author of Bwana Karani) also act as low-level historians charting the lives and times of Goans and prove to be invaluable in the absence of any recorded history or documented almanacs. Even more importantly, fact or fiction based on true events, serve enlighten the non-Goans in our respective adopted countries about everything Kenyan in historical terms.
More importantly, Lando mirrors to a large degree the lives of young Goan men and women who began university life in the 1960s, got their first job, excelled at sport, or towards the end of the 1950s or early 1960s faced the heartbreak of being forced to leave the country with their parents on the onset of independence. On the other hand, there were many young people who achieved the move to university life overseas and committed themselves to a future back in independent Kenya. Menezes’ hero, Lando (who, I am sure is based largely on his own life) did just that.
So if you have slightest connection (and even if you have no connection) with Kenya, then hope along for a nostalgic safari.
For a young man who had not travelled much before, there is all the wonder of a European holiday to explore. You will have to buy the book to enjoy the details.
Lando, seeking fame and fortune as a future architect, heads for university in Liverpool in 1964. Even though the UK is running a high fever, fighting to “keep Asians out”, Lando is unphased. He is aware of it and is concerned about the treatment and abuse being meted out to Indians who already settled in the UK. However, Lando is just an observer.
It is not long before our intrepid hero meets a white girl and takes the first steps towards falling in over a period of many months. Menezes takes us on a romantic journey that is rather seamless, without drama of any kind and the two later head for Kenya to make bliss official at the wedding ceremony in Nairobi. As I said, it is all very seamless.
On his return to Nairobi, Lando spends as much time as he can at the Goan Gymkhana. To his delight, most of his friends are still there and club continues to function in an independent Kenya with little change. These days, in Sydney, Australia, I chew the nostalgia fat with one of the friends he mentions in the book: Felix. With a bunch of other ex-Nairobi friends who meet at a bowling each Friday, come rain or shine or whatever, we celebrate our collective past.
There is much, much more to this valuable contribution to the historical record of the Goan community in Kenya, especially Nairobi.
I loved it. Because it is everything so familiar. Another winner for Menezes.
Cyprian Fernandes is a former Chief Reporter of the Nation.
A glimpse of Mombasa
‘We drive over the Makupa Causeway that links the mainland to the island of Mombasa. A short while later we are crossing the Nyali Bridge and heading north. It is about 5 pm when we pull into the magnificent portico of the Nyali Beach Hotel.
It’s pure luxury to wash of the day’s dust, change into clean cotton evening wear, and sip a long cold drink on the terrace of the hotel. The terrace, set high up on a promontory of coral, offers beautiful views of Old Town Mombasa and the large colonial mansions.
The pin sky turns slowly to a bright orange as the sun disappears over the island.
An overnight stay at this beautiful hotel and its stunning view of Mombasa was the big surprise I had managed to keep secret from Eleanor.’