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Ndirangu Githaiga
Place of Cool Waters
When Jude Wilson decides to travel halfway across the world to visit the graves of his childhood Boy Scout heroes, he unwittingly signs up for a lot more than he imagined. Growing up in the placid little Pacific Northwest town of Clarksville could never adequately prepare him for what he encounters in the vibrant, mercurial streets of Nairobi, where context defines meaning and words alone are not always sufficient to communicate across a cultural gap. He meets Qadir Mohamed—the affable manager at the youth hostel where he is staying—and a valuable friendship develops between two people from disparate backgrounds with seemingly little in common. In Kenya, the past is never far away, though it is sometimes remembered differently by insiders. As a result, the unexamined triumphal legends from Jude’s scouting days begin to unravel in the face of new discoveries. It is, however, a disastrous taxi ride and ensuing case of mistaken identity that emerge as the defining moments of this life-changing trip, leading him to stumble upon truths about himself that he was previously unaware of.
Githaiga (Ten Thousand Rocks) explores the duality of identity and belonging in this heartwarming story. Jude Wilson, adopted child of Scoutmaster Tom Wilson, grew up in an idyllic childhood overflowing with time spent outdoors, camping, and challenging his father to scouting tasks, while Qadir Mohamed, a Somali living in Kenya, is also adopted—by his uncle Hussein—and desperate to make a life for himself, despite the dangerous prejudice he faces. Their paths inevitably cross when Jude embarks on a quasi-pilgrimage to Kenya (to visit the gravesite of Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the worldwide Boy Scout movement) and runs into Qadir, the manager of his hostel.

Jude’s voyage takes a deadly turn when he rejects Qadir’s offer to help procure a taxi, a decision that leaves him robbed and left to die in the bush. Readers will appreciate Githaiga’s skill at mirroring the two men’s alternating perspectives, prompting reflection on the similarities in their vastly different worlds while driving home the pervasiveness of their discrimination. Jude, the only Black person in his workplace, first experiences racism when his boss targets him on the job, and his reluctance to protest this treatment is vividly portrayed while managing to stay relatable. Meanwhile, Qadir’s exposure to prejudice as a Somali is equally arresting, particularly in the details Githaiga uses of a terror attack on a local mall, and later scenes of Jude visiting a memorial effectively build the case that white men portrayed as heroes may have been misrepresented.

Githaiga chooses to divulge heavyweight secrets in the prologue, which plays down the novel’s surprises and sacrifices tension in favor of setting the scene—however, although some fans may wish for a heftier build-up to Jude’s reveal, the story gains traction when contemplating the men’s separate but intertwined experiences, leaving readers with much to consider.

Takeaway: This warm story explores the interplay between identity and discrimination.

Great for fans of: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini; Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: NA
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A