Toronto-based author Eric Walters has written a sensitive story about a Kenyan boy, Muchoki, who is newly homeless because of political violence. A president elected from the Kikuyu tribe in 2007 sparked tribal killing that began with the burning of over fifty unarmed people, including women and children, cloistered inside a church in Eldoret.
The fictional Muchoki’s story begins in a displaced persons camp but is rooted in that historical event. Muchoki, his mother and sister survive, but with their identity totally erased because of the this massacre. Muchoki’s malaria-ridden mother tries to renew a sense of hope and belonging in her children by telling them some of her tribe’s family stories.
As Muchoki tentatively embraces his Kamba bloodlines, he worries that he may not be welcome in his mother’s family because of his Kikuyu father. The thirteen year old grapples for identity as a product of two traditionally exclusive tribes. Where can he direct his need for vengeance?
Muchoki’s longing for a place to belong is equaled only by his fierce and endearing loyalty to his sister and his mother. He stoically takes on the responsibility for their care amongst the treacheries of the misplaced person’s camp.
Circumstances suddenly leave Muchoki in charge of his sister in a struggle toward the unknown people that are their only chance of a family. They take an impossible journey across a country racked by hate, surviving each episode only to wonder, will they ever find a home again? As they escape villains and huddle with victims along the road, Muchoki and his sister sort through their feelings about God, justice, vengeance and love.
Although the book is fiction, it has a tone of realism due, at least in part, to the fact that Eric Walters actually walked the 150 km in Kenya that his protagonists journeyed. Also available to broaden the scope of the book is an incredible website filled with video clips, maps and notes from the author about his real-life experiences that helped develop this fiction.
This book is written for children grade five and up, but would be appropriate as a family read-aloud. I found it provoked compassionate consideration of the plight of refugees whose home and sense of identity is shattered. Most important, it comes to logical and inevitable conclusions about the nature of hope and hatred, vengeance and love.
Eric Walters has created a poignant and timely tale with messages for every age to consider. This novel is well worth its price to sit on your shelf as a family favorite for years to come.