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Coming to Birth

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MARJORIE OLUDHE MACGOYE is one of the most prolific women writers, not only in Kenya, but also in Africa. She has distinguished herself as a writer of novels, poetry, and children's stories. She was born in Southampton, England, in 1928 and came to Kenya as a missionary bookseller in 1954. She married D.G.W.

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Coming to Birth

Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye

Afterword by J. Roger Kurtz. Other Contributors Jean Hay.

Marjorie Macgoye is among Africa’s most distinguished novelists, highly praised by critics and often regarded as the “mother of Kenyan literature.” In this quietly powerful and eminently readable novel, Macgoye deftly interweaves the story of one young woman’s tumultuous coming of age with the history of a nation emerging from colonialism. At the age of sixteen, Paulina leaves her small, traditional Luo village in western Kenya to join her new husband, Martin Were, in the bustling, multitribal city of Nairobi.

It is 1956, and Kenya is in the final days of the Emergency as the British seek to suppress violent anti-colonial revolts. Paulina knows little about politics and even less about city life. On her second day in Nairobi, she is naive enough to think she can easily find her way home across the vast city, as she always could in her village. Her traumatic journey, which in fact takes two days and two nights, earns her a beating from Martin.

Marriage, too, is new to Paulina, and while she is anxious to learn the ways of a proper wife, Martin’s clumsy attempts to control her soon lead to a relationship filled with silences, misunderstandings, and unfulfilled expectations.

"Coming to Birth is modern Kenya's response to Out of Africa. . . . [An] illuminating book that is a worthy winner of the Sinclair Prize."

Times (London)

"A cooly stunning novel out of Kenya, in which the politics of female emotion and the politics of an emergent nation interweave. . . . I have no doubt that it is deadly accurate; it is certainly compulsively readable."

—Fay Weldon

"A young woman confronts her destiny with little to help her but courage and persistence—like any heroine of Charlotte Bronte or George Eliot. . . . A striking statement of the cause feminists have at heart, made all the more striking for the unobtrusive distinction with which the story is told."

London Review of Books

"Coming to Birth is a radical novel in firmly asserting our common humanity."

Weekly Review (Nairobi)

"This story . . . stays in the bloodstream and alters the vision."

Sunday Times (London)

"For Macgoye, the narrative of the ordinary woman trying to hold things together in a rapidly changing world becomes a narrative of the becoming of the nation and the human struggle for dignity. . . . She makes her story become all our story."

—Ngugi wa Thiong'o

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