Thursday, October 9, 2008

Book Review - A Farm Called Kishinev

Following is a review of A Farm Called Kishinev by Majorie Oludhe Macgoye. It was published by East African Educational Publishers, Nairobi, 2005.

Although presented in novel form, this book carefully recounts the efforts around the turn of the last century of the Zionist movement and the Imperial British government to create a Jewish settlement in what is today Kenya. The area in question was Uasin Gishu, the region surrounding Eldoret. At the time when the suggestion was under consideration, the Uasin Gishu plateau was deemed to be empty of African inhabitants and thus available for European settlement.

Arthur Marjore Macgoye, a muzungu who married into Kenya, did a superb job of research. She presents the facts, machinations and considerations - sometimes in excruciating detail - of those pushing or considering an East African option to Palestine. A commission was sent to the area, but despite its luke-warm endorsement, African was not chosen. Palestine remained the priority. As history shows there was no massive movement of European Jewry to Kenya.

From there the novel elaborates beyond the facts. Some Jews jumped a Zionist endorsement and immigrated. Their lives – arrival in Mombasa, travel to Londiani by rail, onward by ox cart, staking out a farm, becoming farmers, relations with nearby Nandi tribesmen and Boer farmers, the growth of Eldoret, and the internal challenges of remaining Jewish in a predominantly non-Jewish society – are the gist of the story. The trials and tribulations are recounted through the eyes of Benjamin, grandson of Isaac, the initial pioneer. By Benjamin’s time, Jewish families had truly become part of Kenya. This assimilation provides the opportunity for commentary on contemporary Kenyan society.

However, there is more. A second part of the book is a manuscript purportedly written by Isaac just before his death in 1943 and then finished by Benjamin that conjectures what Uasin Gishu would have been like if a Jewish homeland had been established in the region in 1898. The conjectures are an interesting bit of speculation.

A Farm Called Kishinev required dodged concentration because the narrative wandered around. Many details of the intricacies of Jewish culture escaped me, but I thought the Kenyan aspects to be accurate. This novel will appeal to those interested in Kenya’s history and in particular the role that the Jewish community played or might have played in Kenya’s development.

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