Written as an autobiography which would ordinarily pass more for fiction than reality, “Belonging in Africa”, is a novel that takes the reader on a journey with several unexpected turns. As you begin reading it, it feels more like a coming of age story about a teenage girl who gets played by a player, has a pity party heartbreak for a few days, and then falls in love with the next man ready to warm her broken heart as he takes her in. The only difference between that and every other coming of age Hollywood film is this time the setting is in Kenya.
Yet even though the story began that way, it is definitely not how it ended. Through its twists and turns, the novel carries you on the ups and downs in the journey of Sarah Janssen. She is the daughter of expatriate parents who live in a posh neighbourhood in Westlands in the eighties. On her eighteenth birthday she goes through an ‘almost every girl’ experience when her boyfriend Leander breaks her heart.
Feeling dejected and alone, Sara finds comfort in her budding friendship with Sam her Ugandan/Kenyan classmate. During the holiday, Sara and her family go on a holiday to Mombasa and over that period of time her relationship with Sam grows. It’s not too long before they are a couple and with the spontaneous spirit that he displays, Sam invites Sara on a trip with him to his friend’s farm in Eldoret. The couple’s holiday is filled with intense feeling. From extremely emotional arguments to the consummation of their love, they revealed themselves to each other, flaws and all.
After coming back to Nairobi, Sam has to plan for a trip back to Uganda to help sort out family issues, being the stereotypical African man of the house. Before he leaves however he tells Sara how he has been thinking about them having a future together. He wants them to go and study in the U.K. The sentiment is all Sara needs to hold on to until he returns from Uganda. Though they also send love letters back and forth which holds their love strong, as they dream on their tomorrows spent with each other.
If that was where the story ended it would have been perfect. On a hopeful note, with the belief that love conquers all, even colour, race, and cultural differences. Yet because this book is based on reality and not fiction, it couldn’t end like that. Life comes with a lot of crap that people have to face and Sam’s trip to Uganda proved that.
An unexpected tragedy occurred and in its after math we learn a lot about the characters and their flaws. One very visible trait shown is their humanity. It is seen in their wondering eyes, doubt, and pride. This novel captures decisions and choices we have to make as adults. The essence of loving through fault is beautifully presented. Then there is the question which every human struggles with at more than one point in their life, “what if?”
Belonging in Africa is a beautiful read that is guaranteed to have you closing the last page with mixed, messy emotions.
The book is published by Lesleigh Kenya. To find out where you can get the book contact them on their Facebook page.
Shingai is an upcoming writer with a passion for words and expression through writing. She lived in Zimbabwe as a child and has traveled to over ten countries. She craves adventure and hopes to be an inspirational writer. She is currently pursuing a degree in English Literature with a minor in Psychology at Daystar University.