Coming to Birth

Coming to Birth


Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye
The winner of the Sinclair Prize: a powerful novel of a young Kenyan woman's journey.

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Paperback Edition
Publication Date: 12-01-2000

Afterword by J. Roger Kurtz
Other Contributors: Jean Hay

In this quietly powerful and eminently readable novel, winner of the prestigious Sinclair Prize, Kenyan writer Marjorie 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 village in western Kenya to join her new husband, Martin, in the bustling 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.

But Paulina knows little about, about city life, or about marriage, and Martin’s clumsy attempts to control her soon lead to a relationship filled with silences, misunderstandings, and unfulfilled expectations. Soon Paulina’s inability to bear a child effectively banishes her from the confines of traditional women’s roles. As her country at last moves toward independence, Paulina manages to achieve a kind of independence as well: She accepts a job that will require her to live separately from her husband, and she has an affair that leads to the birth of her first child. But Paulina’s hard-won contentment will be shattered when Kenya’s turbulent history intrudes into her private life, bringing with it tragedy—and a new test of her quiet courage and determination.

Paulina’s patient struggles for survival and identity are revealed through Marjorie Macgoye’s keen and sensitive vision—a vision which extends to embrace the whole of a nation and a people likewise struggling to find their way. As the Weekly Standard of Kenya notes, "Coming to Birth is a radical novel in firmly asserting our common humanity."

"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, author of The Life and Loves of a She-Devil

"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, author of Wizard of the Crow