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Dust Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 28, 2014

3.6 out of 5 stars 50 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Set in arid northern Kenya amid the political turmoil of the latter half of the twentieth century, this powerful first novel will evoke references to William Boyd and even to Graham Greene and Joseph Conrad. From the dramatic prologue in which Odidi Oganda is killed in a hail of bullets, to his sister Ajany’s investigation of his life and death, author Owuor shifts back and forth—from the Mau-Mau movement (in which Odidi and Ajany’s father, Nyipir, may have been complicit), to Kenya’s postindependence hopes and horrors, to the near-present, taking in along the way bloodshed, betrayal, and the critically tragic assassination of Tom Mboya in 1969, after which, we are told, Kenya’s official languages became English, Kiswahili, and Silence. The Oganda family’s relationship to the English colonialist Boltons, including sire Hugh, whose life had crossed Nyipir’s, is at the center of this compelling saga. When Hugh’s son Isaiah comes to Kenya to trace his father’s fate, the intersection of his activities with Ajany’s becomes the driving center of this important addition to the literature of contemporary Africa. --Mark Levine


**Short-listed for the Folio Prize**

“Go buy Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s Dust. In this dazzling novel you will find the entirety of human experience—tearshed, bloodshed, lust, love—in staggering proportions . . . Although written by an East African, Dust is not just for Afrophiles. It is for bibliophiles . . . Akai-ma ranks among the most inimitable female characters in modern literature.” —Taiye Selasi, New York Times Book Review

“An astonishing novel . . . Engrossing . . . Owuor demonstrates extraordinary talent and range in these pages . . . Here in this remarkable novel is a brave, healing voice.” Washington Post
“Inventive, even breathtaking . . . Dust [is] the next step in what I anticipate to be a prodigious career.” —NPR.org
“An amazing novel . . . Dust anchors Owuor as the rightful heir to Kenya’s greatest novelist: Ngugi wa Thiong’o . . . A dazzling narrative, Faulknerian in many ways . . . The rewards are significant, especially Owuor’s unforgettable characters . . . By the story’s end you are rewarded with a genuine sense of fulfillment.” Counterpunch

“Owuor’s fragmentary style is dense but lyrical.” New Yorker

“Brilliant . . . A chilling portrait of Kenya that’s brimming with pain and promise . . . Owuor is taking her place in Kenya’s long line of outstanding writers.”Essence magazine
“Owuor dives back into Kenya’s history as far as the Mau Mau uprising of the 1950s, tracing its postcolonial troubles up to the near-present. As in a baroque Cormac McCarthy production, that history’s defining motif is blood . . . The reader is repaid with scenes of strange, horror-stricken beauty.” Wall Street Journal

“This stunning debut novel grabs the reader’s heart, refusing to let go . . . Owuor represents another shining talent among Africa’s young writers publishing in English. This searing novel, though informed by her Kenyan roots, should not be pigeonholed. These unforgettable characters and universal themes will speak to all readers who seek truth and beauty in their literature.”Library Journal (starred)

“There is hardly any aspect of Kenya that Owuor seems unable to tackle with her unique flair in this masterfully executed novel, from the mid–20th century’s Mau Mau rebellion and its aftermath to the stirring personal destinies of her sundry cast of characters . . . Her writing is exceptionally chiseled.” Publishers Weekly (starred, boxed)
“This powerful first novel will evoke references to William Boyd and even to Graham Greene and Joseph Conrad . . . [An] important addition to the literature of contemporary Africa.” Booklist
“This is a big, big unforgettable book, full of love and full of pain. Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s prose can burn your skin off. Her narrative power tears through the landscapes of Kenya: life, cheap death, torture, love, friendship. Dust is a most visceral, moving novel about a family caught up in the smelt of a Kenya roiling inside the lusts and violences of its adolescence, determined to move past it. Epic in scope, Dust covers over sixty years of betrayals, love, mysterious caves, colonial brutalities, epic love, political betrayals. A crisis that brings the nation to the brink of self-destruction. You will meet a mother with an AK-47 you will never forget, a father shamed by a secret, betrayed by a nation. The varied landscapes of Kenya have never been more tenderly made alive. We gush and cry through the floods of rivers and rage that burst past civilities and boundaries; we melt at love that has to live with blood needlessly shed; we gasp at lives most unexpectedly saved. We can carry all of this unbearable world, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor proposes, because it is beautiful. This is the novel my twenty-first century has been waiting for, for our world in these seismic times.” —Binyavanga Wainaina, author of One Day I Will Write About This Place 
“The prose has an appealingly rough-hewn poetry, built on clipped sentences and brush-stroke evocations of the dry landscape . . . Owuor has style to spare.” Kirkus Reviews

Reviews from the UK:
Dust is a fine, compassionate novel that relishes the complexity of human relations. It is written in a language that is often beautifully observant, and is alert in its insight and sympathy . . . Absorbing . . . The narrative skilfully shifts focus between these stories without losing direction or tension . . . At the core of Owuor’s novel, disguised by its intensely poeticised evocation of experience and its desire to avoid an easy emotionalism, is a moral concern to forgive past wrongs. This is not to grant her creations an easy salvation, but it is the only way forward for them—and for Kenya.” —The Guardian
“Richly evocative . . . Owuor’s language is pungent, poetic, almost synaesthetic . . . What emerges is a subtle, sensitive portrait of a place.” —The Telegraph


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307961206
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307961204
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #311,757 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 6, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Before publication date in late January 2014, I hope that Amazon will have activated the "Look Inside" feature. The enthusiastic endorsements that have been used in advance publicity for this debut novel -- praising its epic scale, emotional turmoil, and historic sweep -- may well be true, but the reader has to feel comfortable enough with the actual writing to get the measure of the book. If the feature is enabled, read the first three pages. I had hoped that their staccato fragmented style might be a feature of the Prologue only, but no, Owuor returns to this manner frequently throughout. Here is a small sample from the third page, a young man running for his life:

-- He runs through the stench of decay, the perfume of earth hoping for rain, habits and dreams of Nairobi's people: smoke, rot, trade, worry, residues of laughter, and overbrewed Ketepatea. Odidi runs.
-- Incantation: Justina! Justina!
-- Shelter of faith.
-- The mob screams, "Hawa!"
-- Justina! Faith into sorrow into longing: I need to go home.
-- "Waue!" The answer.
-- Memory's tricks. Odidi soars into the desiccated terrains of Wuoth Ogik, the home he had abandoned: his people reaching out for him, cowbells, bleating goats, sheep, and far mountains....

The quality is obvious; there are some fine images in Owuor's writing and a knife-point immediacy; it means a lot more to me now that I have got halfway through the book than it did when I first read it. But the fragmentary style is exhausting.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor takes you on an elegiac journey, introducing you to complex personal histories and tragedies. Set in northern Kenyan's dust, darkness and daylight, this novel is a memoir of lives transformed by tribal and political conflicts, and colonial processes and imperialistic excesses. The novel presents a tour de force narrative about lost fathers, brothers, sons and women and descends into the labyrinth-like individual stories to present a tale of a family, country, humanity.

A sister Ajany returns to Kenya to find her brother Odidi. She has seen his corpse, but she seeks a closure, an understanding of Odidi's life before his tragic end. The siblings grew up in a dusty Kenyan countryside, in a massive house, where all the books are inscribed with a name of a foreigner or a stranger, Hugo Bolton. Their mother Akai is a mysterious women, who has her own complex narrative of love lost and found, that emerges in bits and parts as we read the novel. Their father Nyipir is a person who in one life acquires many incarnations. He is driven by his own needs, greed and wants into a few incarnations, but he is forced into many more to just survive Kenya's turbulent times. Servant of a white man, gravedigger, sepoy, cattle thief, husband, father, a friend to many smugglers and wanderers, a young man who wanted to travel to Burma to retrieve his father and brother's bodies to bury them in their own country. There is a fascinating singer of water songs, Ali Hida Dada, a policemen whose own complex life journey crisscrosses through the personal histories of Nyipir, Akai, Ajany, Odidi and a fifth person, Galgalu who is attached to the Nyipir-Akai household, like a foster son. Isiah Bolton, a son in search of a father who disappeared in Kenya.
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Format: Paperback
I have never written a review before this novel begs for it. I agree with the other reviewers that the prologue and the first half of the novel is mind bending for all the reasons they gave: fragmentation, trying too hard to be lyrical, and foreign words that aren't always translated ( disclaimer: I did understand the Swahili, but was lost on the water songs).
I have given up on a lot of books before, so I was getting to the point of doing so, but I decided I rather see how she was going to end the story and I must say it was worth it, but then again I felt like the backstories of Akai and Nyipir should have been the novel itself.
I went on to read Yvonne's interview and was glad to hear that it didn't start out as a novel, but she turned her writings into one and everything made sense.
I do give it a four stars because I loved the ache, the coping mechanisms of these traumatized characters, and finally the paysage she described vividly of Kenya.
Yes this book isn't for beginners on contemporary African literature or for anyone who hasn't picked a "dense" novel, but I will buy it to remind of books that can redeem themselves in the end. The flaws I found in this book made me feel better about myself as a writer, because the best books are like one's children, there are qualities to be found overshadowing the flaws and this is that book.

Kenya does need this book.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I bought this book specifically because it was written by a Kenyan author. We lived in Kenya for several years in the 80s and fell in love with the country so I was eager to read a novel about Kenya. But in all honesty I found it a challenging book to get through. The authors prose is very lyrical and at times I found it overly so - perhaps that reflects more my desire to get straight to the points in a story than her skill as a writer. However there were other aspects of the novel which made it challenging. First the author often has the characters speaking in local dialects and/or Kiswahili but she doesn't always translate the phrases/conversations into to English. I found this frustrating and wondered how much information I was missing to both the story and the development of some of the characters. Also quite a bit of the book revolves around things that happened during a particularly turbulent time in Kenyan history. Even with my modest background in Kenyan history I was often puzzled and confused by many of these references. So between the use of dialect, writing style and the historical references the book didn't come together for me till the very end when the secrets were revealed and the plot lines converged. The last chapter was both masterful and frustrating because it leaves the reader unsure and wondering what really happened to the key characters.

If you want to read a novel about Africa this may not be the best place to start. But if you've got some background on Kenya and/or Africa its worth the time it may take to get into and through this novel.
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