Once again the writer captures our imagination within the pages of the third in the Matata series. Among the Jacaranda is a charming and well-crafted account of real life events as experienced through the eyes of the writer’s alter-ego, Lando.
In this book we join Lando as he embarks on his journey to England to study at the University of Liverpool. Through him we live the experiences of student life in England in the early 60’s. Lando will take us on his journey through Europe where we are sucked into his adventures, sharing his angst at being robbed by border guards and his relief of being offered a way to continue his travels. We become enamored by his romantic liaison with the lovely Eleanor and we rejoice at his subsequent marriage to her.
Lando imbues us with a sense of excitement when he returns to his beloved Kenya, on completion of his studies. If one is of Kenyan birth, Lando will awaken dormant memories of a rich and intrinsically vibrant life in the paradise we had left behind to migrate to foreign lands. To those not of Kenyan birth, Lando takes you on a sensory exploration of a beautiful country abounding in scenic landscapes, vast wildlife preservation parks and finest beaches. When Lando introduces the ever-engaging Eleanor to Kenya, we view this land through new and eager eyes that willingly accept its shortcomings without rancor and revel in its perfections, of which there are many! With Lando and his new bride we share the trials and uncertainties of establishing a life in post independent Kenya. They are presented with a myriad of challenges, which they tackle with their indomitable spirit and sense of adventure.
Throughout the pages of this book, the writer’s easy style is nonetheless captivating as he reveals his own life experiences through his protagonist, Lando. Mr. Menezes’ ability to lace fact with his wry wit makes for a delightful page-turner. The reader will share in his palpable joy at the birth of his beautiful daughter and grieve with him at the passing of his Mother whom he/she has come to know and enjoy through the pages of this story.
This is a story of family, of adventure, of maturing adulthood. I consider myself privileged to have read Among the Jacaranda and wish to thank Mr. Menezes for so unstintingly sharing this life journey. I absolutely recommend that everyone read this book. If you enjoy this read, you will want to also get your hands on Beyond the Cape (Book 1) an expanded second edition of Just Matata, as well as More Matata (Book 2), for equally fascinating and informative reading. Whether you are born of Kenyan soil, or not, you are guaranteed of a great reading, seeing life through the eyes of a man who has seen and experienced much.
His books are being read in the UK, Europe, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, India, Kenya, Brazil, and USA. In Canada, a few Indie bookstores like Ben McNally (Toronto) and A Different Drummer (Burlington) carry his books on consignment. “I hope to persuade Indigo Books to carry them at least in some stores,” Braz Menezes says, “because the stories are very relevant to Canada’s transition to a multicultural society.”
The latest of his Matata* Trilogy: “Among the Jacaranda – Buds of Matata in Kenya” will be launched in Mississauga this week. The guest list is closed because of seating capacity.
At 79, Braz Menezes is a young man in a hurry. Braz Menezes was born in British-ruled Kenya to parents from Goa, India (then Portuguese India). In 2007, while sitting on a beach in Cuba, he observed his then 9 year-old granddaughter, making notes as she was going to write a story about her holiday. He wished he had recorded some stories of his youth. He took a decision.
He decided to chronicle his experience of living through the last fifty years of Imperial power in the Portuguese and British Empires, in the Matata Series. (*Matata means trouble in Kiswahili).
Ah, yes, how very fortunate for me and other fans of finely crafted writing:
More literary magic by Braz Menezes!
This is the long anticipated sequel to two previous novels by Braz, to complete the trilogy. It is like a longed-for and missing part of a trip-tic image to complete a painting on one’s literary wall. We are being treated to the author’s style of taking the reader on another fascinating journey consisting, in fact, of many travels through life in a personal, cultural, historical, and geographic sense.
Lando, who we have had a chance to get to know in considerable detail in the preceding two accounts, has determined to return to London to further his education, and to complete his studies as a future urban planner. He does so with the blessings of his parents, and with a granted scholarship to facilitate the completion of his plans, hopes, and ambitions, and the fulfillment of his dreams. We are being introduced to his new-found friends, and accompany them on their exciting vacation trips in Europe.
Braz’ narrative is fast-paced, and invites the reader to relish all that is being done, seen, heard, taste-tested, explored and discovered: countries, cultures, fine food and drink, good people, occasional crafty schemers, the exciting sights and sounds of history, diverse geography, fascinating flora and fauna. Lando meets and falls in love with Eleanor, a fellow student. They share personal interests, travels, adventures, learn to solve problems and face challenges together. They become a couple, bringing together diverse families of different cultural origins in two countries on two continents. Let me not give away all the delightful details and secrets in this brief review…
Lando and Eleanor move from the UK to Kenya, to establish themselves, and to adjust to the demands and conditions of life in a newly independent country, with a traumatic history, and a very complex multi-cultural setting which is not without conflicts and in part also with tragic consequences. Lando and Eleanor welcome Alice Emily into their family. Lando attempts to establish himself as an architect in his own right, and is hopeful for a successful future in a new and very competitive economy.
Braz weaves a fascinating literary fabric, which combines the colorful threads of race and ethnicity, language, religious differences, and cultural traditions. He builds bridges between Goa on the Indian subcontinent, the land of his ethnic, religious, and cultural ancestry, and Kenya as a British colony and subsequently as a struggling independent nation with incredible political challenges, and not infrequent turmoil. Braz also fashions various historical, geographic and personal links to England and Europe in a style of writing which is simply fascinating.
It is a book I found difficult to put down for even a momentary pause to fetch another cup of coffee… I recommend it highly, and it even foreshadows the possibility and prospect that this literary trilogy might in due course welcome a literary sibling to form a quartet. I can hardly wait! I am certain that it also promises to be great!
Gerhard A. Fuerst,
Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA;
retired Adjunct Professor of Social Science,
Western Michigan University
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 love 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.