Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Novelist JR Alila

I am author Joseph R. Alila, a native of Kenya living in Schenectady, New York, from where I have penned thirteen novels and two epic poems. My poetry and verse address a variety of areas of the human experience, and you are welcome if you love writings that go beyond the mundane of daily life. I'm a chemist and teacher by training, and I for a while considered my writing as something recreational, something I did to pass time (as was the case in the lost scripts of the staged plays, THE FRUITLESS TREE and WHAT A HUSBAND, written in the 1980s). Thirteen novels and two poems later, learning the art of writing on my feet, the literary bug has bitten me, and friends and fans say that I'm a good novelist with strengths in the narrative and analytical forms and with a penchant for stinging dialogue. I laugh at such suggestions, but the readers may be right. Sages long gone were right in their observation that writing is like wine: an author's output gets better with his or her age, where the wine in a bottle gets better with time in the cellar. I started writing about what I knew well, and that was telling stories about life in a traditional Luo home, in which I grew up before I flew to national and then multinational diaspora destinations to pursue scholarly dreams. I have written extensively on my Luo people's polygamous marriages and other cultural practices, criticizing them where criticism is due and shedding a sage's light to put meaning to old traditions. My mournful caution against the practice of polygamy in the era of the AIDS virus came to light in SUNSET ON POLYGAMY and THE THIRTEENTH WIDOW.

My writings have tended to be anthropological--treating my subjects as actors or victims of their social, spiritual and physical environments and times. The novels, WHISPER TO MY ACHING HEART, SUNSET ON POLYGAMY, THE LUO DREAMERS' ODYSSEY: FROM THE SUDAN TO AMERICAN POWER, NOT ON MY SKIN, BIRTHRIGHT (A LUO TRAGEDY), THE WISE ONE OF RAMOGILAND, MAYA, and lately A FISHY MATTER and REBELS are informative anthropological treatises on peoples and their physical, spiritual, political, cultural, and social circumstances.

I must admit that when I set out to write my earlier novels, for example SUNSET ON POLYGAMY, I had no voice or agenda. My objective was to tell stories about my Luo people and my experiences as a Christian, a Luo, an African, and a world scholar uprooted from his Luo home base to chase scientific dreams abroad. But fifteen novels and two Epic Poems (RATENG' AND BRIDE and THIRTEEN CURSES ON MOTHER AFRICA) later, I find myself increasingly speaking for the burdened and voiceless peoples wherever they are in the world:

I speak for the African women and widows (in THE THIRTEENTH WIDOW, SUNSET ON POLYGAMY, THE MILAYI CURSE, WHISPER TO MY ACHING HEART, and REBELS) whose perilous yokes are the marital culture and practices whose original intentions were novel, and protective (as in WHISPER TO MY ACHING HEART, REBELS and THE MILAYI CURSE), but which cultural practices turned spiritual death traps, from which they have struggled to escape.

I have found a mournful political voice in two of my works: In RATENG' AND BRIDE, I visit with and relive, in poetry, Kenya's tragic 2007 Presidential contest, pointing at errors from which the nation hasn't recovered). In the epic poem, THIRTEEN CURSES ON MOTHER AFRICA, I mourn increasingly dependent Africa, which has become an old shadow of its pre-colonial self. Africa is inundated with perilous crises, a lot of which are due to amnesia, nature, poor leadership choices, greed, dictatorships, and brother-on-brother conflicts, with Ebony (the African Woman) and her children bearing the brunt of the deadly forces.

In THE LUO DREAMERS' ODYSSEY: FROM THE SUDAN TO AMERICAN POWER--a novel inspired by and about the Obama Presidency--I endeavor to make a tortuous historical-cum-spiritual fictional march of my Luo people from their slow fifteenth-century times in Old Sudan to East Africa, only for one of us to occupy the world's only citadel of power. If some of my predictions came to pass, they must be taken as illustrations of what thoughtful fiction (science or literary or otherwise) can achieve.

Collectively, in the novels, THE WISE ONE OF RAMOGILAND, THE LUO DREAMERS' ODYSSEY: FROM THE SUDAN TO AMERICAN POWER, and BIRTHRIGHT (A LUO TRAGEDY), I shed a sage's torch, liberally illuminating various aspects of the Luo journey, Luo cultural practices, Luo spirituality, Luo politics, and Luo thought. No wonder, my literary breakthrough novel BIRTHRIGHT (A LUO TRAGEDY) has been a classroom text in African Anthropology and thought in universities.

Finally, the novels, NOT ON MY SKIN, THE AMERICAN POLYGAMIST, SINS OF OUR HEARTS, THE CHOIRMASTER (A SPIRITUAL TRAGEDY), and MAYA, I explore our day's very dynamic American experience, consciousness, and attitudes at street level, inside houses of worship, and at the workplace, through the eyes of diaspora wanderer.

My readers are right, my literary journey no longer is recreational; like aged wine, it has come of age, to quote sages gone before us. Welcome, sample it, and however it tastes, let others know, and holler here on amazon.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Reading is Life

It is summer, and we all should be picking up some book to read. Reading is life; get a book and start reading.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Not on My Skin (A Novel)

Not on My Skin by JR Alila is a novel whose time has come. The world simmers with hate served hot with bigotry, and nobody seems to know how to stop the vices because of political correctness. Unfortunately, whenever our human heroes open their mouths to speak, each word is meant to appease and divide at the same time.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Prof. Ali Mazrui (Binghamton University) Passes On

Prof. Ali Mazrui (The Late). May God give you eternal rest and peace. You came, dazzled the world with you verbal and mental brilliance, and for many of us Kenyan academic transplants in Central New York and the United States, you were a big tree under whom we often sought rest, shelter, sustenance and wisdom. Your family, the people of the coast, Kenya, Africa, and our alma Mata, Binghamton University, have lost a great mind, and their brightest star, but your wisdom in sound and print will for ever be with us. RIP.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

SUNSET ON POLYGAMY (A Tragedy: Cultural Practices and Disease Epidemics)

In Joseph R. Alila’s first anthropological novel, SUNSET ON POLYGAMY, marital cultural lore and spirituality combine to breed a tragic confusion in a land faced with a deadly new disease epidemic, with public debates raging as to whether the killer is ancestral chira (curse) or Acute Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

In this work of fiction, Joe Ochom, a young man testing his verbal skills in the art of seduction, soon realizes that corralling an educated girl (Megan) requires more than adorning his high school blazer in the marketplace. He proves cowardly—a weakness his principal competitor, polygamist Jim Kokech, is quick to exploit.

With his attention on Megan, Jim suddenly faces a revolt from his wives. Felicia, the first wife, resolves to punish him; she locks him out of her bedroom, just when they must celebrate the planting season as the principal “spiritual co-owners” of the home. Jim’s pastoral calendar comes to a sudden halt—reminding him that the Luo Mikayi—the first wife—is key to a healthy spiritual life in a home. The home enters a conjugal lockdown. However, the crafty second wife, Milka, comes to the rescue: she engages Jim in a believable romantic ruse that fools even Felicia. Wrought with jealousy at her female archenemy, Felicia yields to Jim—prompting a stampede for access to him. He is not having fun.

Baby boom! A year later, Felicia looks on in anger as the home welcomes three newborns, with Maria, Milka, and Nyapora presenting a child each to their shared husband. Felicia has reached menopause, but instead of embracing her new physiological reality, and aging gracefully as the matriarch of her home, she becomes angry at Jim and her co-wives. Struggling with a broiling bout of jealousy at her co-wives and nursing unpredictable desires of her husband, Felicia brews one immoral “romantic” mischief after another and nearly kills her husband while trying a cultic remedy to her marital problems. Depressed, Felicia flees to the Big City to escape the shameful spectacle she has become among the women of Korondo Ridge.

Korondo Ridge still has no rest: Gina—a young widow who has just delivered the body of her late husband, George Amolo, from the Big City—refuses, to the utter dismay of elders, to welcome any man into her bed, arguing that her husband died of “a strange new disease”. The elders refuse to listen, asserting that George died of his father’s chira (curse), which only the very wise among them could cleanse. Amolo protests, saying Malaria killed George. Concerned for the spiritual health of their Korondo House, the elders eventually convince Gina to enter a one-night “marriage” with a akowiny (a vagabond) “to settle George’s restless spirit.” Reacting to the “technical marriage,” men troop to Gina’s house to proffer their applications, believing the vagabond (like the Biblical scapegoat), has wandered off with the chira that killed their fellow warrior.

Tragedy! The killer malady the elders call chira is AIDS—the killer the Luo aptly nickname Ayaki—I loot you. Gina soon develops loose morals and dispatches one man after another to his grave, their wives in tow. Tragic: Ayaki kills people and chira with which it shares symptoms, gets the credit. Gina’s misleadingly healthy look, beauty, and longevity only add to the tragedy.

Felicia returns to Korondo Ridge amid the Ayaki epidemic in the land, but even the epidemic has not changed people‘s ways: men still embrace polygamy; men still inherit sick widows, and sure, Jim has married young Megan, capping his conquest over Joe Ochom (the narrator). But as the Luo of old said, the ferocious buffalo provides the hide for a brave warrior’s shield—Jim dies holding a toxic jewel, leaving behind a bitter lesson in vanity and immoderation.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Nelson Mandela Passes On

Nelson Mandela passes on this day December 5 2013. South Africa, Africa, the World loses a son, citizen, leader, voice, defender of the weak and oppressed. Rest In Peace.

Thursday, August 8, 2013