#Bookvent – Celebrating my top reads of 2021
My day fourteen #bookvent selection is perhaps an unexpected entry to my list and about as far from my natural go to of crime fiction as you can get. It was a chance read, an offer I found too intriguing and tempting to refuse, but one I am oh so glad I took the publisher and publicist up on. I had read work by this author’s father before, but the idea of reading from the next generation really appealed and the story sounded fascinating. Combining my twin loves of literature and music, my fourteenth pick is …
Unbury Our Dead With Song by Mũkoma Wa Ngũgĩ
A love letter to music, beauty, and imagination.
In the seedy ABC boxing club in Nairobi, four musicians—The Diva, The Corporal, the Taliban Man, and Miriam—gather for a competition to see who can perform the best Tizita. Listening from the audience is Kenyan tabloid journalist John Thandi Manfredi, whose own life makes him vulnerable to the Tizita.
Desperate to learn more, he follows the musicians back to Ethiopia, hoping to learn the secret to the music from their personal lives and histories. His search takes him from the idyllic Ethiopian countryside to juke joints and raucous parties in Addis Ababa where he quickly learns that there is more to these performers than meets the eye. From the humble home life behind the Diva’s glamorous facade, to the troubling question of the Corporal’s military service history, Manfredi discovers that the many layers to this musical genre are reflected in the lives and secrets of its performers.
You know when you read a book and all you are left with at the end is a kind of sigh? A sigh that both captures the feeling of contentment of finishing a book that just captures your heart and the fear of trying to express that to your audience. That is exactly how I felt after reading this book. This is a book which is almost as impossible to define as the almost mythical or magical Tizita that our protagonist, Manfredi, tries so hard to unravel. Ostensibly, this is the story of a journalist who is trying to write a piece about a Tizita competition and the four performers who make up the field. To leave it at, to put it so that is as disingenuous as stating that good music is just seven notes played to a varying accompaniment of sharps and flats. What the author has managed to do so very skilfully in this book, is to bring together a series of stories, from the initial Tizita competition, to the lives of Manfredi, and the four contestants, The Diva, The Colonel, The Taliban Man and Miriam, in a way that is both everything and nothing at the same time. We are invited into each of their worlds in turn, seen through Manfredi’s eyes and experiences, even the examination of his own familial relationships, as he strives towards an almost impossible goal. The musical equivalent of the search for the Holy Grail. To uncover and determine the meaning, the very heart and soul, of the Tizita. Almost a mission impossible. It is a feeling, a need, and a truly individual journey for each person who performs, or listens to, the music. There is no one definition, no one meaning, and Mũkoma Wa Ngũgĩhas conveyed this perfectly in his beautiful and memorable read.
As a music lover, I understood this book, understood what it has to say. I have never heard a Tizita, but I’m not sure that I need to as the essence of the music, of all good music, is that it is impossible to define. It is, or it should be, something that lifts you beyond the everyday. That speaks to you in a way that can be very hard to define, or to explain to another. Good music can lift you, make you cry, but the best always makes you feel something. This is what Mũkoma Wa Ngũgĩ has captured in this book. What he has managed to convey through his prose. Although a book about music might be a story you feel you should hear rather than read, somehow the author has made the music sign through his words. Like the Tizita, this is a book you need to experience written by an author who has transported me so brilliantly into their world, made me so curious about this music, that I just want to go away and experience some for myself. In a word – brilliant.
You can read my full review here.
Happy #bookvent reading all