At the center of Dust are two families – the Ogandas and the Boltons. Aggrey Nyipir Oganda is the patriarch of the Oganda family. A former policeman, he has long retired to the village, where he lives with his wife, Akai. Before Kenya’s independence, Nyipir had worked under Hugh Bolton, a British colonial officer, whose mysterious death remains unexplained.
When his son, Odidi Oganda is gunned down on the streets of Nairobi, Nyipir travels to the city, where together with his daughter, Ajany, they claim Odidi’s bullet-riddled body. They return home to Wuoth Ogik. Nyipir’s wife is overwhelmed with anguish at her son’s death and she disappears, leaving Nyipir and Ajany pondering whether to await her return before burying Odidi.
Meanwhile, the unlikely circumstances of Odidi’s death lead Ajany on a hunt to find out how and why her brother, who had once been a successful architect, had turned into a common criminal.
At the same time, Isaiah Bolton, a young Englishman travels to Kenya, hoping to meet Odidi in a desperate search to get to the bottom of his father’s unexplained disappearance. Odidi had earlier contacted Isaiah and promised to help him find the answers he’s looking for. And so, the young Bolton arrives in Wuoth Ogik, unaware that Odidi is dead.
For Nyipir, Bolton’s sudden appearance reawakens memories that he’d rather forget – memories that he must now deal with, along with the tragic death of his only son and the disappearance of his wife.
As the story unfolds, switching back and forth, from the past to the present, Adhiambo skillfully unveils a web of relationships and inter-twined destinies that connect the Ogandas and the Boltons. Their story unfolds against the backdrop of Kenya’s troubled political history – from the days of colonial rule to the present. Like many of his countrymen, Nyipir Oganda has been brutalized into silence, choosing to keep quiet rather than speak up. His son’s tragic death comes to symbolize in many ways, the loss of a dream for the country as a whole … “a country shooting its people and tearing out its own heart.”
Dust is a wonderfully told story, gripping in its vivid portrayal of life. Adhiambo’s simple, and at times poetic writing style, provides for an engaging narrative. Her characters are enigmatic – and will draw you in as you seek to unravel their dark secrets.
Published in 2014, Dust is Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s first novel. The Kenyan writer is also a past winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing and a recipient of the well-regarded Iowa Writer’s Fellowship. She currently lives in Brisbane, Australia.