This book is a small book.
A small book that must be read as a slow book.
A small book with a big title, “Drunk”, calling out our demons from its covers.
A book you take out during those awkward moments of idleness when the phone addict in you wants to stop your dirty ways so instead, you pick up Drunk.
Or the book in between those long Uber rides home when the Uber driver after giving a full account of his love life or lack thereof, remembers you rate him afterwards and establishes that oh so dreaded “awkward silence”. (I always give 5, especially for such stories so don’t be shy ☺️, jussayin).
And if you are one of those people who like to look like you are a supporter of Kenyan creatives, you read it in every public space you find. Heck you also post that you are reading the book on all your social media handles. Here, you are always guaranteed of one person who will be like, “Haiya, si this is that book by Bikozulu” (Because you really don’t do the guy any justice by saying just Biko, and Jackson Biko sounds to stuck up and he is nothing like that, I can testify .) You say “eeeh” because we Kenyans are too lazy to provide articulated answers, so we stick to vowels which somehow makes sense and have differentiated meanings depending on intonation. And if you are lucky like me, you go ahead to show that he even signed you an autograph commenting on your smile, because Kenyan men got game and this smile must be recognized.
Anyway, now that we have the setting in place let’s just talk about the book because this is after all an attempt at a book review, right?
I never got why we say Kenyan men are not romantic until I read this book. I don’t know if I’m failing to cite some smart woman somewhere but truly the romance is in the writing and Drunk is not your typical African novella. It is straight to the point, messy, witty, and raw just like the jamaas who go around frowning at any Kenyan woman who says they love Nigerian men. And this is one of the things that make you fall in love with the writing of this not-so-romantic story. It echoes so much of what millennials face in our quest for catching feelings (‘love’ just doesn’t feel right). And Larry is a guy we all know. The guy we crashed through or swerved off. The bad guy turned good. Good boy turned bad. Or the bad guy who was always bad, but fairy tales had us thinking we could change. Another reason to be reading more books like Drunk and less books like…fill in the gap.
Anyways, I digress. We History majors tend to do that a lot. This isn’t a book you read thinking of the ending because there is none. It ends as abruptly as it started leaving more questions than answers like why can’t people just ask for help? Why did Larry relapse? How long does it take for God to answer prayers? And how does Malkia end up? Of course, for the deep thinkers there are the so-ever omniscient questions like why is life so unfair? What is the essence of dreams? What causes a father to disengage from a child and is motherhood this noble of a cause? Regardless of your intellectual-ism (because everything deserves an -ism in this ever so woke generation), there are questions to ponder.
My favorite aspect of the book was how ordinary the story was because every story is worth telling. It was not about a cosmopolitan African living between three continents, or an oppressed African woman who somehow overcomes all obstacles to be successful. These stories must be told, but not all stories must be told like this. It was neither shiny nor depressing. It was just there. There were most of us are living. There were most of us have learnt to navigate this thing we call life, sometimes after too many lessons learnt, sometimes with scars to narrate the silent battles we’ve fought. There. It was a book about surpluses. A man who has weaknesses, alcohol, and women. I say surpluses because the weakness is not in the alcohol or the women but in Larry’s inability to control his desires. Some consider his behavior self-inflicted, for the liberal folk one could argue that it was a manifestation of his deteriorating mental health. A materialization of the trauma of being rejected by a father and his own rejection of a dad. But don’t we all have someone to blame for the things that go wrong in our lives? What draws the line between the drunk and the tipsy?
And as with any story there is the supporting cast, some who come in with consent, some whose encounter is violent disrupting all that was once considered the norm. I never could out-rightly tell what the difference between a good day and a bad day was. Like who leaves their house thinking they are gonna get in a road accident on Waiyaki Way? A road we all use so often that we take for granted the grace that lets us be so sure when we say to our loved ones, “See you in the evening.” But don’t be mistaken, it’s not all sad and teary. There is flirting and lots of sex and sales tips and the love of a mother and so much. But who lingers on the good parts anymore?
So, is this a book to be read or not? You tell me. My evidently more-than-two-cents is that it is never a waste of time to read a book and this one for sure is entertaining. If all else fails, this is one heck of a Kenyan writer and if you really want to know contemporary Kenya, there is no better lens thank Biko’s.
Now off to go get intoxicated on something, because aren’t we all drunk bodies walking around looking like functional human beings?