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Dance of the Jakaranda


Kimani reimagines the rise and fall of colonialism in Africa by telling the story of the birth of Kenya’s railroad.

$16.95 $12.71

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What people are saying…

Peter Kimani has been nominated for the 2018 Grand Prix des Associations Littéraires, Catégorie Belles-Lettres!

Nominated for the 2018/2019 People’s Book Prize!

Nominated for the 2018 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Fiction!

A New York Times Notable Book of 2017!

“This funny, perceptive and ambitious work of historical fiction by a Kenyan poet and novelist explores his country’s colonial past and its legacy through the stories of three men involved with the building of a railroad linking Lake Victoria and the Indian Ocean — what the Kikuyu called the ‘Iron Snake’ and the British called the ‘Lunatic Express.’”
New York Times Book Review, Editors’ Choice

“Kimani has done a game job managing the carpentry of this ambitious novel, bringing great skill to the task of deploying multiple story lines, huge leaps back and forth in time and the withholding and distribution of information . . . Once Kimani has his plotlines all set, his writing relaxes, and it’s here that you can see his raw talent . . . I grew up in Kenya, and I have never read a novel about my own country that’s so funny, so perceptive, so subversive and so sly.”
New York Times Book Review

“A fascinating part of Kenya’s history, real and imagined, is revealed and reclaimed by one of its own.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Kimani’s novel has an impressive breadth and scope. His illustration of the construction of the railway from Mombasa to the hinterland of Kenya in the early 20th century follows three men — a British colonial administrator, a Christian preacher, and an Indian — whose lives have intersected in unexpected ways.”
Los Angeles Review of Books, “Reclaiming Africa’s Stolen Histories Through Fiction”

“Transporting the reader through history, the book leaps to the 1960s with the taste of independence in the air. Our protagonist is now Rajan Salim, grandson of Babu. As the doors of the Jakaranda Hotel remain open, everywhere you turn there is a reminder that although the colonialists may be gone and the war may be over, the battle has just begun.”
African Arguments, included in list of Must-Read Books of 2018

Dance of the Jakaranda, the new novel by Peter Kimani, is a layered and moving exploration of the history of Kenya, juxtaposing a story of conflict during the nation’s colonial period with a narrative set in its early days of independence. It’s a novel in which the central characters constantly surprise the readers, and Kimani’s explorations of history encompass multiple sides of art and infrastructure.”
Vol. 1 Brooklyn

“Destined to become one of the greats . . . This is not hyperbole: it’s a masterpiece.”
The Gazette

“The author has built here not only, on these pages, not only a railroad, but the singular triumph of a highly diverting novel. Besides weaving an excellent plot-line, he offers the reader a classic, understated writing style that haunts much of this book, turns it into a minor masterpiece.”
RALPH Magazine, Starred review

“But the novel has way more strengths than I can describe here, including the beauty of lyrical narration that combines irony, flashback, humour, allusions and inter-textual references, all of which are expertly manipulated to give the reader a gem of a story populated by composite characters, a story that, though revisiting old themes and times, does so with the freshness that one would expect of established literary geniuses.”
Daily Nation

“A multi-racial nation-building tale that begins during the construction of the railway from Mombasa to Nairobi. There are three men at its heart: two white, a British administrator known as ‘Master’ and an Anglican minister; one brown, an Indian technician who sires a male child, a birth that will reverberate down through the years.”
Toronto Star

“Dance of the Jakaranda is colorful and ironic . . . A fascinating story told in an unforgettable voice.”
The Guardian (Trinidad & Tobago)

“In his American debut, Kimani illustrates the discordant history of East Indians in Kenya through a fabulously complicated set of intriguing characters and events . . . Highlighted by its exquisite voice, Kimani’s novel is a standout debut.”
Publishers Weekly

“Kimani is the first African novelist to use historical fiction to claim Indian diasporic history and political belonging as one that is unquestionably Kenyan . . . Kimani’s most radical contribution in writing Dance of the Jakaranda has been his demonstration of how historians can recover this African South Asian identity. The constitutional recognition given to Indians fifty years after their deportation shifts popular discourse a hair’s breadth away from the politics of indigeneity, giving the South Asian diasporic archive a small but significant opening to locate a thick, albeit contested, history of belonging in its Kenyan homeland—a history, as Kimani reminds us, that is replete with contradictions and rumor.”
American Historical Review

“Peter Kimani, an acclaimed writer and poet, has brilliantly constructed this novel’s plot . . . [His] lyrical prose, such as portraying the train as ‘a massive snakelike creature,’ and his breathtaking descriptions of ‘God’s country’ bring the beauty of the land before our eyes.”
Historical Novels Review

“A compelling story conveying a powerful social and cultural critique along with a marvelous portrait of the beauties and wonders of Kenya, all punctuated with tragedy.”
New York Journal of Books

“A rich tableau of layers and textures . . . The book has some brilliant moments of vivid and evocative writing.”
Huffington Post

“Through lyrical, seductive prose, Peter Kimani weaves an impressively intricate tapestry of events and characters that give much-needed names and faces to an important facet of Kenya’s colonial history.”
Black Book Quotes

“I loved the storyteller’s voice and the gradual unravelling of the secrets of past generations, which had long shadows that reached into the present and affected the young couple at the heart of the story. The historical matter is deftly woven in.”
The Girdle of Melian

“Kimani’s descriptive and inventive prose recounts personal stories of love and tragedy within a context of racial hierarchies and the fallout of colonial rule . . . Babu’s story feels weighted by history in a way that will remind readers of Gabriel García Márquez’s work . . . Kimani’s complex novel will leave readers questioning the meanings of citizenship and belonging during an era of significant social upheaval in Kenya’s history.”

“African colonialism is confronted in this subtle, multilayered Kenyan tale . . . Lyrical and powerful . . . Kimani weaves together a bitter, hurtful past and hopeful present in this rich tale of Kenyan history and culture, the railroad, and the men and women whose lives it profoundly affected . . . This is a thoughtful story about a country’s imperialist past.”
Kirkus Reviews

“The characters are human, teaching us that even someone who does wrong is not all bad, and Kimani writes with such vivid detail that one can easily visualize the vast scenery. Reminiscent of Iman Verjee’s Who Will Catch Us as We Fall, this novel will appeal to readers of historical and literary fiction.”
Library Journal

“In this clever and mesmerizing story, the author takes the reader on a journey to another time and place, where twists and turns provide a truly entertaining ride.”

“Kimani steps into the minds and hearts of all his characters, regardless of the colour of their skin and decisions they have made, be they good or ill.”
A New Day

“This very human face of a multi-racial developing country shines a light on not only our differences but our very basic similarities.”
Eyes on World Cultures

Dance of the Jakaranda is a rare gem: a new story, a new voice, a new way of seeing the world. This is what a brilliant novel looks like. Peter Kimani is a rare talent, an important new literary voice in Kenya, in Africa, and the world.”
—Mat Johnson, author of Loving Day

“In this racially charged dance of power, the railroad into the interior of the country becomes a journey into the hearts of men and women. It is a dance of love and hate and mixed motives that drive human actions and alter the course of history. Kimani’s writing has the clarity of analytic prose and the lyrical tenderness of poetry.”
—Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, author of Birth of a Dream Weaver


Set in the shadow of Kenya’s independence from Great Britain, Dance of the Jakaranda reimagines the special circumstances that brought black, brown, and white men together to lay the railroad that heralded the birth of the nation.

The novel traces the lives and loves of three men—preacher Richard Turnbull, the 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 dark nightclub, the encounter provides the spark to illuminate the three men’s shared, murky past.

With its riveting multiracial, multicultural cast and diverse literary allusions, Dance of the Jakaranda could well be a story of globalization. Yet the novel is firmly anchored in the African oral storytelling tradition, its language a dreamy, exalted, and earthy mix that creates new thresholds of identity, providing a fresh metaphor for race in contemporary Africa.

Read a guest piece by Peter Kimani at Publishers Weekly on “10 Essential African Novels.”

Read interviews with Peter Kimani at The Gazette, Kenya Buzz, Africa Is a Country, and Vol. 1 Brooklyn.

Read a guest post by Peter Kimani at Public Books.

Check out Peter Kimani’s interview with Africa Is a Country.

Dance of the Jakaranda included in LA Times feature on the LA Times Festival of Books.

Listen to interviews with Peter Kimani on BBC World News’s Focus on Africa and Paul Holdengräber’s Quarantine Tapes podcast.

Book Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Published: 2/7/17
  • IBSN: 9781617754968
  • e-IBSN: 9781617755033


PETER KIMANI is a leading Kenyan journalist and the author of, most recently, Dance of the Jakaranda, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. The novel was nominated for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in the US and long-listed for the inaugural Big Book Awards in the UK. He has taught at Amherst College and the University of Houston and is presently based at Aga Khan University’s Graduate School of Media and Communications in Nairobi. Nairobi Noir is his latest work.

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