The Present Moment
This contemporary African classic tells the story of seven unforgettable Kenyan women as it traces more than sixty years of turbulent national history. Like their country, this group of old women is divided by ethnicity, language, class, and religion. But around the charcoal fire at the Refuge, the old-age home they share in Nairobi, they uncover the hidden personal histories that connect them as women: stories of their struggles for self-determination; of conflict, violence, and loss, but also of survival.
As a visitor to the Refuge says, “To be eighty years old in Africa is to be tough, particularly for a woman.” And these seven women, with no families to care from them, must be tougher still. Wairimu, the oldest resident of the Refuge, remembers the young man she met on a forest path one morning, who opened her eyes to a new world of choices that drove her from her village and an arranged marriage to seek the opportunities of Nairobi. And Rahel, from a family of proud military men and fisherwomen, dreams that her son, an army deserter during the Emergency, will return; she clings to life on the chance that she may see him again. Nekesa attempts to talk a young woman on their street out of prostitution, and in so doing, has to reveal her younger self.
Each woman has found her way to the Refuge because of a devastating life experience—the loss of family and security to revolution, emigration, or poverty. But as they reflect upon their tragedies, they also become aware of the community they have formed—a community of collective history, strength, humor, and affection. And they learn that they are more connected than they know, as the murder of a student in the neighborhood reveals how their lives have intersected across generations, how securely the past is tied to the present—and to the future of their young nation.
Moving from past to present, from village to city, from war to peace, The Present Moment brings together many strands of Kenyan life and character in this fierce, poignant, and compelling story.
"Peasant, trader, seamstress, coffee picker, housemaid, and more, these are the womanhood of Kenya. . . . Here is a shared wisdom, a common poetic voice. Macgoye paints a group portrait colored by deep respect, compassion, and admiration."
"With the vividly specific economy of the best poetry . . . [Macgoye] confers a stature and significance on humble lives; or, rather, shows that behind the most unpromising human facades lurk lives of extraordinary courage, enterprise, and resilience."
"The Present Moment bears witness to the predicament of . . . a community of human beings whose existential room for maneuver is only just more spacious than that of slaves. Macgoye treats this subject matter with remarkable restraint. . . . Rather than rail against the injustices of colonial rule, she allows them to become self-evident . . . in the stories [each woman] tells. . . . Ambitious [and] effective."