Dark side of city inspires Nairobi Noir short tales

Author Peter Kimani (centre) with Standard Media Academy trainees during the launch of his short-story anthology, 'Nairobi Noir' at Alliance Francaise in Nairobi. (Joseph Mathenge, Standard)

Postmodernists who subscribe to the arguments of French literary theorist Roland Barthes popular “death of an author” concept would argue that writers of fiction have no role in commenting about their own tales.

But the controversial concept was defied recently by contributors of the new short story anthology sensation Nairobi Noir when they weighed in on their stories.

Noir is a French term connoting darkness and the anthology consequently depicts the ugly side of Nairobi City. The anthology is one of the many Akashic noir series published in New York.

The new anthology, which prides in 14 short stories, was recently launched at Alliance Francaise in Nairobi in an event where the writers revealed their inspirations and intended themes in their tales.

The most outstanding inspiration that threads through many stories is police brutality in Nairobi. Poverty, violence, colonial influences and cultural shock are also some of the motivators to many writers.

During the conversation moderated by performance scholar Mshai Mwangola, writers painted an ugly picture of irony of police who dispense brutality rather than enforcing the law. Despite their condemnation, police inspired many of the stories.

Winfred Kiunga told of how a real life experience of police killing prompted her to write her Eastleigh-based story She Dug Two Graves. It is a story of Fartun who avenges her brother Ahmed who is tortured and killed by police on suspicion of being a terrorist.

Kiunga said she had worked at Dadaab Refugee Camp where she witnessed brutality on refugees. While in Nairobi, she learnt of the killing of a young man of Somali origin by police and she felt disappointed.

Award winning 'banker who writes' Kinyanjui Kombani also revealed that notoriety of police had informed his writing of “Andaki" based on Dandora slum. Andaki is slang for safe house.

The story opens with a song from one of the artistes in Dandora, singing in agony about how police blackmail and kill them on claims that they are criminals.

“In places like Dandora, police would tell someone to disappear from the city or be reduced to kichungi (sieve), which is a perforation through shooting,” said Kombani.

In the same vein, Stanley Gazemba said the monstrosity of police drove him into penning his Kangemi-set story Turn on the Lights.

Beside police brutality, colonial influences, including racist prejudices and poverty, have also played a significant role in shaping up some stories.