Place of Cool Waters
by Ndirangu Githaiga
Narrated by Lee Goettl
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Pub Date 12 Oct 2023 | Archive Date 04 Apr 2023
Bon Esprit Books, Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), Members' Audiobooks
When Jude Wilson decides to travel halfway across the world to visit the graves of his childhood Boy Scout heroes, he unwittingly signs up for a lot more than he imagined. Growing up in the placid little Pacific Northwest town of Clarksville could never adequately prepare him for what he encounters in the vibrant, mercurial streets of Nairobi, where context defines meaning and words alone are not always sufficient to communicate across a cultural gap. He meets Qadir Mohamed—the affable manager at the youth hostel where he is staying—and a valuable friendship develops between two people from disparate backgrounds with seemingly little in common.
In Kenya, the past is never far away, though it is sometimes remembered differently by insiders. As a result, the unexamined triumphal legends from Jude’s scouting days begin to unravel in the face of new discoveries. It is, however, a disastrous taxi ride and ensuing case of mistaken identity that emerge as the defining moments of this life-changing trip, leading him to stumble upon truths about himself that he was previously unaware of.
A Note From the Publisher
“A well-written and compelling novella, Ndirangu Githaiga's Place of Cool Waters relies on first-hand knowledge of Nairobi, Kenya and features interesting characters, descriptive settings, a unique plot, and significant roadblocks for the protagonist.”
“In the transcontinental journey . . . everything happens for a reason, and the unlikeliest occurrences are the most profound.”
—Foreword Clarion Reviews
“Githaiga . . . explores the duality of identity and belonging in this heartwarming story.”
“Place of Cool Waters is highly recommended for libraries seeking a novel written by a native Kenyan who makes his story the crossroads between two very different cultures.”
—Midwest Book Review
“Githaiga has a keen eye for the ways in which an insidious brand of racism can exist beneath the surface of easily visible bigotry.”
|DURATION||5 Hours, 7 Minutes|
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 57 members
I really enjoyed Place of Cool Waters, a novel set between the USA and Kenya, and navigates the topics of family, race and racism, and grief.
The book begins with the very separate lives of Jude - an adoptee living in Washington state - and Qadir - a Somali refugee who lives in Nairobi - and covers their lives until they meet in a Nairobi hostel. The trigger for Jude wanting to explore Kenya is the death of his close friend, who contracts Stage 4 cancer and comments to Jude that he always thought that he had time for things that now he will never be able to do.
I enjoyed the background to both their lives and how they eventually come together. Both men have to deal with racism in their respective countries, and it was interesting (and frustrating) to read about what they both had to deal with.
Once their stories intertwined, the book really got going and I found the faster pace very enjoyable and sped through the last half. I do wish that there had been more from Qadir’s viewpoint during the last few chapters as I missed his side of things, particularly during the parts set in the hostel.
The narrator was excellent and I found his voice very pleasant. The Swahili words used were well explained, and I enjoyed the inclusion of the local language!
A review copy of this book was kindly provided by NetGalley.
Place of Cool Waters is a good take on the idea of returning home, a recurring motif in African American literature, be it fiction or non-fiction.
Githaiga uses two perspectives: Jude, who has lived in the USA with his foster family since he could remember, and Qadir, who now works in Nairobi. They provide different standpoints, influenced by their distinct social and cultural backgrounds. Story-wise, this was a clever choice, allowing readers to learn more about the contexts surrounding these characters. It seems, however, that Jude gets more "screentime" than Qadir, which is unfortunate considering how interesting his perspective is.
Broadly, this book is a love story to Kenya and to the communities and individuals whose history was rewritten by the power imbalance that characterizes colonialism.
This is a beautifully written book, and in audio form it's wonderfully lyrical. The characters are exceptionally well rounded and I really felt immersed in their experiences. In particular the setting of Nairobi was so well described I could visualise it clearly. This author definitely excels in the creation of settings which really complements the quality of the writing.
The undercurrent of racism that these characters endure, encourages the reader to consider their own experiences of white privilege. I feel this is an important book, and will definitely be recommending it.
Place of Cool Waters is a beautiful story of grief, family, race, and identity.
Githaiga is a wonderful writer that gives vivid descriptions that help you dive into the beautiful story that is woven. Early on in the book I predicted the ending but it didn't take anything away from the journey to get us there. The main characters felt real and were compelling. And the descriptions of Washington and Nairobi were both so vivid that I could clearly imagine them. The book is fast paced, and the narrator was easy to listen to, so it felt as though it was all over too fast. I was ready for more adventures of Jude and Qadir.
I didn't give five stars because it was over too fast. Not because the story was done, but because it felt rushed, and there was a major event that, despite driving the story forward, seemed to be handled too easily. There was a lack of high stakes so the event didn't seem impactful, when it should have been. The story wraps up nicely, but maybe too nicely. I was left wanting more; wanting to know what came next.
Audiobook provided by Netgalley and Bon Esprit Books in exchange for my honest review.
“I see you’re one of those people who feel they have to be able to reciprocate any kindness they’re about to receive. But what if you have nothing to give yet still need help? What then?”
Thank you to Netgalley and Bon Esprit Books for early access to this ALC (audiobook listening copy). And a big thank you to the author, Ndirangu Githaiga, as well.
Below is my honest review. I have formatted it into a couple primary lists of things I liked and things I disliked, and close by summarizing those thoughts.
Rating: 3.75/5 stars
Things I liked:
- Prose was clever and had fun phraseology throughout
- Both Jude and Qadir’s individual stories were interesting, and the book did a good job of making you eager to keep reading so you could find out how their stories intertwined
- Most of the characters were mature and thoughtful, even outside of the main characters. I found there were many nuggets of wisdom provided throughout the story as the main characters received help from others
- In addition to to wisdom and maturity, there was plenty of good natured humor throughout
- Explores racism in both America and Kenya.
- I was on the author’s website after reading the book to look into some of his other works, and the following was written in his ‘about’ section: “He guides his readers to examine the shades of gray that exist between our unique challenges, triumphs, and perspectives.” This is entirely accurate and I think a great depiction of what the author achieves in this story!
Things I disliked:
- The storytelling style I don’t necessarily dislike, but it isn’t a favorite of mine. It’s very matter of fact and straightforward, and the character POVs don’t necessarily feel like they have their own distinct “voice”
- The narration also wasn’t one I preferred; I felt more like I was being read “at” versus feeling like I was fully immersed in the story
- The “disastrous taxi ride and ensuing case of mistaken identity” were mentioned in the book synopsis, but the book doesn’t get to where these events start to take shape until ~70% through the story. I think this worked for the way the story was written and paced, but because it was mentioned in the synopsis, I unfortunately spent much of my time reading wondering when these events would take place, pulling my focus from the excellent setup being built along the way by the author.
- I found it a little unrealistic that Jude did all the research he did leading up to the trip but didn’t somehow learn about the ongoing terrorism within the country he was planning to visit as well as general international travel safety tips. It felt as though he didn’t know of these things solely for the purpose of moving the plot forward with his travel faux pas. This would be less glaring to me if the book didn’t emphasize how much he researched his trip ahead of time.
Overall, this was an engaging story that drew me in quickly and made me care about the characters and their journeys. I really appreciated the author’s clever writing and the maturity his characters portrayed. It felt like I was learning something every few chapters as various characters dispensed pieces of knowledge and personal truths, causing me to stop to jot things down and mull over later. While the big “action” of the story doesn’t appear until much later on, the build up to these climactic events is thoroughly enjoyable. Looking back, I probably would have preferred to read this book instead of listening to the audiobook, just as a personal preference for a different narration style.
I've read all of the books Ndirangu has written so far and I can definitely say that they all have in common some concepts that in this book are expressed with clarity, namely that biases are everywhere and, even if they often shape our lives, there are always people who will stand up for others and so those biases can be fought and vanquished.
This book is basically a coming-of-age novel that intertwines the lives of several people and different continents. The characters are beautifully crafted, they seem real people, like those you would meet at work, at the gym or at a supermarket, you can easily feel sympathy for them even if your life experience is different.
Jude Wilson and his family were big on Boy Scouting in the lord who started the Boy Scouts was revered and respected in his family and the captain of one of The first Boy Scout troops with a personal hero of Jude‘s dad who shared his same name Tom Wilson. So as an adult Jude made it a personal goal to go to Kenya to see the graves of the man he’s looked up to all his life. Unfortunately on his vacation one thing happens after another but in the end all the misdirection and mishaps may just lead him back home. Let me just say I listen to this book all in one sitting I press play and if I had to go somewhere I carried my phone with me so I could continue to listen. It not only had an awesome narrator but I found the story innocent sweet funny the characters were lovable well except for the cab driver of course! My point is I love this part that has adventure intrigue but not gritty seedy intrigue. It is a sweet story that I thoroughly enjoyed. I received this book from NetGalley and a publisher but I am leaving this review voluntarily please forgive any mistakes as I am blind and dictate my review.
Wow, just wow!
This story went nowhere near what I was expecting, it was so much more! It is the narrative of two men, from vastly different beginnings. Jude is a black man, who was raised by adoptive white parents, in the US. and Qadir is a black man that was raised by his aunt and uncle in Nairobi, Kenya.
The author, Ndirangu Githaiga, has a wonderful way of writing the characters so realistically and believable that I found myself angry with certain situations, excited in others and fearful as well. I didn't catch that the narrative flipped between Jude and Qadir at first, but when I realized I thought it was the comparison between the men and their life experiences..
I enjoyed the story was thrown by the ending. So amazing!
I was given the opportunity to listen to this ebook by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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