This week’s other featured books, “The Trash Detail,” by Bruce Pratt and “The Year of the Return,” by Nathaniel Popkin, can be found by scrolling down below this post, or by clicking the author’s name on our Authors page.
THE BOOK: Busara Road.
PUBLISHED IN: 2019.
THE AUTHOR: David Hallock Sanders.
THE EDITOR: Doug Gordon.
THE PUBLISHER: New Door Books.
SUMMARY: Busara Road is a tale of discovery, adventure, and wonder in Kenya as an American Quaker boy comes of age in a troubled nation coming of age itself. After the death of his mother, 11-year-old Mark Morgan moves with his father to start a new life at the Kwetu Quaker Mission high in the rain forest of western Kenya. It is 1966, just after Kenya’s bloody struggle for independence. As Mark embraces his own independence in this wondrous new home, he falls in love with the Kenyan people and culture, and with one girl in particular. But beneath the calm surface roil ominous currents of animosity left over from the long fight against colonialism, and what Mark discovers here changes him forever.
THE BACK STORY: “Busara Road was not originally conceived as a novel. Rather, it began as a short story that progressively got way, way out of hand. I was interested in the idea of transplanting a young American boy into a young foreign nation. Because I had lived in Kenya as a boy shortly after independence, that felt like a natural choice of locale and time period. My original short story, however, grew into not just a novel, but eventually a completely unmanageable three-volume series that I imagined would follow Mark throughout his childhood in Kenya, his life back in the U.S., and his old age back in Kenya. Happily, though, I came to my senses and distilled that idea down to just nine months of Mark’s childhood in Kenya, which is the story that became Busara Road.”
WHY THIS TITLE? The title refers to the dirt road that cuts through the Kenyan landscape and the Quaker mission where Mark lives. Virtually every aspect of life at the mission and in the surrounding villages relies on Busara Road, and Mark spends a great deal of his time on or along the road. Also,
Busara is a Swahili word for wisdom, insight, and common sense, and for Mark, Busara Road becomes in a very real sense his road to wisdom and insight.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? I think readers may be intrigued by the setting and premise of the book, as well as the many characters from very different backgrounds. For Kenya, the post-Mau Mau and post-independence period was an immensely optimistic and hopeful time. It was also a time of lingering violence and anger and danger. During Kenya’s long struggle for independence, the Quakers were important in creating numerous schools and organizations working for justice, and once independence was achieved, the Quakers turned these institutions over to the Kenyans. Busara Road provides a small glimpse into this historical context, including the lingering tribal and other interpersonal complexities of the time, through the eyes of a young outsider who is striving to make sense of his new life in Africa. While the story focuses on the experience of an 11-year-old boy, this is not a novel for young readers. It is very much an adult book, and one that I hope will draw readers into a world they’ve not experienced before.
“Sanders presents an engagingly written story with a dramatic historical underpinning. Mark is an appealing character who’s thoughtful, open to new experiences, and courageous…. A sensitive and vivid coming-of-age account in a compelling setting.” Kirkus Reviews.
“David H. Sanders, a gifted writer of fiction and a child of missionaries, transmutes his personal experience into a novel that stands alongside The Poisonwood Bible.” Joy E. Stocke, co-founder of Wild River Review “Busara Road is a beautifully written, slow-burning drama that touches on devastation and collective memory, culminating in the piercing discovery that knowing the truth comes at a personal cost.” Karen Rigby, Foreword Reviews.
“Brimming with mystery, magic, emotional truth and wide-eyed adolescent wonder, Busara Road compels the reader on a vivid and engrossing adventure marked by discovery, duality and bursts of lyrical beauty.” Tracy DeBrincat, author of Hollywood Buckaroo and Troglodyte.
AUTHOR PROFILE: In addition to the publication of my novel, I’ve had my short stories published in a range of journals nationally and internationally, seen a couple of my short plays produced for the stage, and for eight years hosted a fiction reading series on both stage and public radio. For the past 30 years I’ve also run my own communications consulting business. As for awards and accolades – to paraphrase Frank Sinatra: “I’ve had a few. But then again, too few to mention.” If anyone’s actually interested, here’s a link to my website where you can find more info: https://davidhsanders.com/).
AUTHOR COMMENTS: “Writing his book I was very interested in the parallels between a young boy coming of age and a young nation coming of age. Both experiences can entail great optimism and promise, but of course there are no guarantees that that promise will be realized. Now I’m interested in the idea of bringing Mark back to Africa late in his life, when both he and Kenya have aged in ways not expected. I’m hoping that one day that idea will become another novel. However, the writing of this first book – from first scribblings of a short story, to numerous failed novel drafts, to an extended research trip back to Kenya, to more drafts, to, finally, a finished and published novel – took me so many years that the idea of starting all over is a bit daunting! That’s why I’m focusing at the moment on completing a collection of short stories.”
Kwetu Quaker Mission, Western Province, Kenya—July 1966
Brilliant sunshine poured from a blue-white sky. The blazing light had already begun to darken the boy’s pale skin. African voices laughed from somewhere down the red dirt road. Cowbells chimed in the distance. Verdant jungle towered behind him.
Eleven years old and newly arrived at Kwetu Mission, he shimmered with the thrill of discovery.
A cinderblock wall rose before him. Only a narrow metal door and a grease-encrusted window pierced its gray expanse. Muffled voices seeped through the filthy glass. He cupped his face against the window to block out the sunlight. It took his eyes a moment to adjust to the dark interior.
A bare bulb hung from the ceiling. Its harsh light revealed two African men. One of them sat on a wooden chair with his back straight as a cane. He wore a shirt decorated with circles of color that exploded like fireworks.
The standing man wore a short-sleeved khaki shirt that revealed a stump of flesh hanging where his right arm should be. He gripped something in his left fist that caught the light. A straight razor, which the one-armed man brandished inches from the other man’s face.
A scream jolted the boy’s body. He spun toward the sound, and watched laughing children in the adjoining yard chase a bicycle wheel into the jungle.
He returned to the window and pressed his forehead against the glass. The tableau hadn’t changed.
But now the man in the fireworks shirt started to rise.
The one-armed man shook his head. With a single flourish, he swiped the razor across the other man’s throat.
“But why Africa?”
The Presiding Clerk, an elderly gentleman dressed in gray, shook his head with concern and leaned back on the couch. His shoulder-length hair glowed white against the red vinyl.
Mark understood that the Clerk’s question was meant for his father, but the old man’s eyes, aflame with the firelight reflecting in his glasses, focused on the boy.
Mark’s father had invited the Clearness Committee to their West Philadelphia home for a mix of potluck and discernment. International Quaker service was as much a spiritual mission as a practical one, his father had explained to Mark, and the committee was there to help them discern God’s will in making their decision.
But Mark was getting tired of the committee’s questions. Tired of behaving like the little man his father warned him to be. Resentful that his father wanted to rip him away from everything familiar only a year since his mother’s death.
He turned away to gaze out the window through the red bangs of his Beatles haircut. A web of ice crystals crept across a corner pane. A car passed by outside, fishtailing in the fresh snow that had turned West Philadelphia temporarily pristine.
He shuffled his sneakers as he waited for his father’s response. Tugged at his collar, careful not to dislodge his clip-on tie. Sweat dripped beneath his blue sports coat, and he fought the sleep-inducing pull of the over-heated living room with its lingering aromas of his father’s fried chicken and butch wax.
“As I’ve said,” his father finally answered, “to be a light in the jungle. To . . .”
One hand smoothed his short, waxed red hair.
“. . . to spread Christian witness. To foster Quaker education in a new nation. It’s a fresh beginning. For Kenya. For us. Frankly, I want to build a new life for me and my boy at Kwetu Mission. And I thought you were here to help us.”
Teacher Hedy, Mark’s First Day School instructor, uncrossed her arms. She was a large woman with a gentle voice that belied her size.
“Of course we are, Reece.”
Hedy was Mark’s favorite grown-up at Meeting for Worship. She was also one of the few people who could stand up to his father without angering him. His mother had been another. Since his mother’s death, Mark had found it didn’t take much to make his father angry. His mom had always had a way of calming his father. It was hard now to remember her before she got
sick, before the disease had drained her fervor, stolen her waves of auburn hair. But in his distant recollections she always appeared to glow, like a lantern or firefly, with kindness, strength, and love. Like Teacher Hedy, but at half the size.
“However,” Hedy continued, “this committee is not a rubber stamp. We’re convened to help thee discern the leadings of the Spirit. To help thee heed God’s calling.”
Mark didn’t think his father was listening—to God or committee. He feared his father’s mind was already made up, no matter what concerns the committee, or Mark, might have about such a dramatic uprooting.
“And you too, Mark.” Teacher Hedy leaned forward with a warm smile. She clutched the embroidered collar of her peasant blouse, but Mark had a clear view into the valley between her breasts.
“This is a big change for an eleven-year-old. Have you given careful consideration to the unknown challenges your father’s service might bring?”
“I think so,” Mark answered, but he wondered how it was possible to know the unknown.
A bean pole of a man who had been silent all night roused his body upright.
“What about Mark’s schooling, Reece?”
“There’s a mission school right there. He’ll go to that.”
“And his friends here in America? This is such a radical change. What do you say, Mark? Do you really want to make this move?”
Mark glanced at his father.
“I guess so.”
The bean pole crossed his arms and sat back. “I don’t think you guys have any idea the loneliness waiting for you out there.”
“Loneliness,” Mark’s father said after a long silence, “is the soil in which this idea took root.”
The Clerk pulled a hand through his cloud of hair.
“But Reece, why so soon after your wife’s passing? Plus it’s so dangerous there right now. Kenya’s just barely independent, and the Mau Mau are such recent history. Is this really best for you and the boy? I don’t understand why you need to go so far away.”
“I confess to the same concern, Friend.” Teacher Hedy again. “International Quaker service is a profound responsibility. Especially in Africa. One must serve in obedience to the spirit of Christ while living in one of the most challenging environments on Earth. I am concerned about your responsibility as a parent, Reece. Is not your primary calling to attend to matters here at home?”
“Africa will be our new home.”
“But what will you actually do there?”
Mark sat up. He had the same question.
“That, I’m afraid, is still a bit vague.” His father forced a grin. “But that’s part of the appeal, isn’t it? I’m told I’ll be ‘a teacher who teaches the teachers to teach.’ Kenya’s ramping up its own school system now that the Brits are gone, and the Quakes are doing the teacher-training. So I’ll be involved with that. Plus there are village schools scattered about the country that need help, so I guess I’ll be traveling various places, doing some consulting, that kind of thing. But I guess I won’t really know until I get there.”
The committee reached consensus that night. They advised against the move.
“Perhaps wait a year or two, Friend,” the Clerk told Mark’s father. “I’m sure Way will open—just give it more time.”
Mark was relieved by the committee’s decision. Losing his mom was awful. Losing his home would make it worse.
But when the formal job offer came in January, Mark’s father accepted by return post.
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