Saqi Books imprint Telegram has signed Dance of the Jakaranda, a "standout" debut adult novel by Kenyan author Peter Kimani.
Publishing assistant Elizabeth Briggs acquired UK and Commonwealth rights to the title from Akashic Books in the US.
Set in the shadows of Kenya’s independence from Great Britain, Dance of the Jakaranda reimagines the rise and fall of colonialism in East Africa by telling the story of the first railroad across The Great Rift Valley. The novel traces the lives of three men – preacher Richard Turnbull, colonial administrator Ian McDonald and Indian technician Babu Salim – whose lives intersect when they are implicated in the controversial birth of a child. Years later, when Babu’s grandson Rajan – who ekes out a living by singing Babu’s epic tales of the railway’s construction – accidentally kisses a mysterious stranger in a nightclub, the encounter provides the spark to illuminate the three men’s shared, murky past.
"Peter Kimani’s beautiful blend of African oral storytelling and magical realism transcends the common depictions of colonialism and cliché texts on Africa, putting a contemporary twist on the themes of globalisation and the ascension of cultural diversity", the publisher said. "The Dance of the Jakaranda uses an earthy mix of the languages spoken throughout Kenya, vividly creating an acute intimacy with a land – and peoples – undergoing extreme and rapid change."
Born in 1971 in Kenya, Kimani was one of three international poets commissioned by National Public Radio to compose and present a poem for Barack Obama’s inauguration in January 2009. Kimani is a prominent journalist on Kenya’s national news circuit, writing weekly columns for the Standard and Daily Nation. His work has also appeared in the Guardian, New African and Sky News. He received Kenyan honour the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for literature in 2011, for his children’s book Upside Down (OUP).
Briggs said: "Dance of the Jakaranda is one of the most extraordinary accomplishments I have read in a very long time. It pulses with life from its compelling beginning to powerful close. I couldn’t be prouder of my first acquisition for Telegram."
The book was heralded as "a standout debut" by Publishers Weekly and was published in the US this spring to approving reviews. Writing for the New York Times, Fiammetta Rocco described Kimani as a "raw talent" and said she had never "read a novel about my own country that is so funny, so perceptive, so subversive and so sly."
Dance of the Jakaranda will be published in the UK in February 2018.