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Recycling the African archive

Set in the imaginary, neo-colonial country of Bururi, A Dreamer’s Paradise follows the tragic life of Muthina, a victim of poverty, family breakdown, political intrigue and fate.

Muthina distinguishes himself as a gifted and diligent boy throughout his schooling career. At this stage of his life, he has absolute faith in the redeeming power of education. Motivated by a vision of scholarly success opening up economic opportunities, he hurls himself into the world of books and against all odds becomes the top student in the country.

However, the portrayal of Muthina is problematic in that it fails to engage or problematize his naive faith in education. Prematurely hurled into the world of adulthood, Mathina still fails to grasp the forces pitted against him. His dream turns into an indefinite nightmare from which he never recovers. The protagonist lacks initiative and becomes a purposeless victim of political manipulation and circumstance.

Karanja provides no image of hope for the country of his imagination. More disturbingly, he fails to probe the systemic problems underpinning many African countries. His villains are motivated by personal greed and pure malice. Thus the arch-villain Gitonga is portrayed as a hateful being without any positive attributes. Karanja could have handled the rise of the neo-colonial elite in contemporary Africa in a more engaging fashion.

Although thin thematically, the book is a reasonable exploration of the individual psyche. The author’s primary occupation is to examine how Muthina responds to a range of social forces confronting him. While in prison, Muthina is reduced to a dreamer, completely withdrawn from the real world. But just why he finds solace in the image of light remains unclear.

In this, only his second novel, Karanja displays remarkable craftsmanship. As he develops confidence to explore more contemporary issues and adopts a more nuanced approach towards his exposition of African nationalism, he will grow in stature to become an eminent voice in African literature.

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