Welcome to Matata Books
BEYOND THE CAPE – Stephen Luscombe (UK) October 2016
Beyond the Cape is Braz Menezes’ first book in his Matata Trilogy. The three books are historical fiction but they very much set in a believable world telling the story of a Goan family’s experience spanning both sides of the Indian Ocean from the 1920s until decolonisation and beyond. Ostensibly it tells the story of Lando, who in this book is a young boy growing up in Kenya. In reality, the story uses Lando’s life very much as a microcosm of a typical experience that any number of Goans might have lived through at the tail end of empires (as both the Portuguese and the British Empire have a role to play in this story). It also follows various branches of Lando’s family tree to allow the story to move back in time or across the vast geographical spaces inhabited by the diffuse Goan diaspora. The title of ‘Beyond the Cape’ is chosen well as the fictional account is also book-ended by an introduction and a concluding author’s note that puts a historical context to the story contained within these chapters. The historical explanation helps explain why the front cover sports a painting of a fifteenth century Portuguese Caravel plunging through dangerous seas. It also explains the role of Catholicism to the story and the reasons why certain parts of the world were more familiar to the Goan community than others. This historical context is by no means exhaustive and the fictional account itself reveals far more history than you might expect from a book with a historical fiction label.
He gives a wonderfully rich account of all sorts of facets of the life of the Goan community in East Africa whilst not shying away or ignoring some of the more difficult issues that confronted the community or the life that they led in Africa. He explores a multitude of themes and raises difficult issues and questions of morality in a believable but accessible manner. Issues of hierarchy, race, religion, morality all find themselves worked into the wider themes of family, community, education, economic opportunities and bureaucratic realities all within the wider imperial framework.
I would say that it is a delight to read an imperial story from the perspective of those who are most certainly not the rulers or the privileged.
What People Are Saying About More Matata
MORE MATATA- Love After the Mau Mau – Stephen Luscombe (UK) October 2016
Braz Menezes’ second volume continues the story of Lando and the Goan community in East Africa after the young man returns from his unhappy time in a boarding school back in Goa. It follows him through the upheavals of the Mau Mau rebellion and towards independence for Kenya in 1963. The book actually connects the reader to even more modern events on the eve of the election of Barack Obama (with his own Kenyan connections) to the presidency of the United States and to the backdrop of Kenyan political upheavals following their own 2007 elections. The author cleverly links these two events to the final days of empire in East Africa and gives some insight into how the seeds for future disruption and discord were sown in the last days of British rule.
The story reveals that there is both an element of individual choice in attitudes to race whilst still having to work within constraints or expectations from a surrounding culture or group of people. So, soldiers, settlers, British, Goans, Africans, tribes, rich, poor… might all have an umbrella starting point to racial attitudes, but each individual can select for themselves whether to embrace those group norms or forge ideas and concepts of their own…None of this is stated outright in the book, but careful reading allows you to follow a multiplicity of attitudes towards race in a part of the Empire that had very much been defined by racial differences and found itself catapulted towards having to address these issues sooner than it had anticipated.
The first over manifestation at having to confront issues of race, tribal identity and raw power politics was in the form of the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s. …Once again, the book does a good job at explaining how the realities of this emergency seeped into the everyday lives of all concerned – even the liberal British teachers who found themselves uncomfortably carrying around pistols to defend themselves from unknown Africans – the very people some of them presumably were keen to come to Kenya to help in the first place.
The conflicting views of Goans themselves towards independence and the Mau Mau form a powerful thread through this second book. There are those who sympathise with the aspirations of Africans but appreciate that their own community had been some of the biggest beneficiaries of European rule with their relatively privileged positions in government and leading industries and businesses at least vis a vis the Africans. Idealism conflicts with realism for all too many and the steady stream of Goans heading for the exit through the 1950s and early 1960s help illustrate that the
The book also introduces Lando to the difficulties and realities of love with the enigmatic Saboti being the object of his affections. The love story is also an opportunity to examine the difficulties and issues of mixed race births and inter-racial relationships in what can make for uncomfortable but important reading. Of course, even the Goan community’s own, often close-minded, attitudes towards mixed relationships enters the fray and the way that even though they are predominantly Catholic in culture, many of their attitudes towards race and caste at times appear not to veer that far from Hindu Indian attitudes or at least might be characterised as deeply conservative in origin. Again, it would be all to easy for an author to brush over difficult and embarrassing issues and tell a hagiographic story of progress and virtue. Hats off to Braz Menezes for not shying away from difficult issues and addressing them in a highly believable and informative manner.
Once again, the author manages to continue to weave the compelling story of the Goan community through the very last years of imperial British rule and takes Lando’s story through to the new dawn of an independent Kenya.