BY THE BOOK: Salesio Gitonga Njeru

Salesio Gitonga hands in new book to Runyenjes meamber of parliament

alesio Gitonga Njeru, a novelist, studied Bachelor of Education (Arts)—English and Literature at Kenyatta University. He is a teacher of English and literature, who has taught at such schools as Moi High School, Mbiruri and Kangaru School.

Salesio whose debut novel Betrayal of a Nun was published last year (2019), currently teaches at St Andrews Kirigi Day School. His other writings have been published by Canada’s Global News, Ghana’s and Kenya Today.

Please tell me about your novel.

Betrayal of a Nunentails scintillating stories of duplicity hence the title, Betrayal of a Nun.  The Number is symbolic of the many ‘nuns’ we have in all facets of life.

We know nuns as embodiments of honesty, chastity and purity. Hence, we can’t imagine them breaching this unwritten moral probity.

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I therefore gave a symbolic title of the eponymous character, Butcher Maria the word ‘nun’ without necessarily having any church links.

She goes to university from a humble background. With extreme beauty, she falls in love with Jabez. Their affair is cut short when Professor Charles Muga, brought to the University on loan, elopes with Butcher Maria.

Jabez is forlorn. It takes ten years of debauchery on the part of Butcher Maria to return to Jabez’s country. But she is HIV positive. She dies mysteriously when Jabez’s wife, Daniela carries euthanasia on her (Butcher Maria) because coincidentally, both met in Lesvan hospital where Daniela works. It opens a prolonged battle with authorities since euthanasia is prohibited.

However, the government of the day is acting like a ‘nun’—developmental in theory but tyrannical in practice.

What was the inspiration behind writing this book?

The inspiration was Chinua Achebe and how I enjoyed munching into his style of humor and the proverbs in his oeuvres. It also came from the voracious reading I have done. I wanted to put to writing a seminal artistic work worth my mettle in matters good writing. Plus, I wanted to caution on the rogue aspects of the society. Looking at the goings-on, no one can be trusted, be it the government, or individuals.

 How did you come up with names of characters when writing?

Being an avid reader, I come up with characters’ names through the experience I have had over the years. The names commensurate their actions— a style known as Majazi in Kiswahili. Jabez is a biblical allusion. Gaitho is very hawk-eyed. Butcher Maria is an oxymoron of ‘butchering men’ (read prostitution) and an allusion to the pure biblical figure.

What is the most difficult thing in writing about characters from the opposite sex?

The most difficult thing is to penetrate the female gender; their orientation and thinking. But as they say, a fox must be able to imitate the hunter and the lion to avoid traps, I have read Buchi Emecheta, Chimamada Ngozi Adichie and Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor. Additionally, my personal interactions with the female gender has made me aware of how they behave.

Was your main character inspired by a real person?

I would say yes and no. My works are a reflection of the real world. When in high school, I fell in love with a girl. It was a sort of infatuation. I must say there was a lot of parallelism with the story Betrayal of a Nun albeit advanced.  No, because the story I wrote is far removed from a real one that might have happened to me in university.

What was the hardest scene to write in your book?

The hardest scene was the beginning—prologue and then the epilogue. I saw such a structure in Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s A Grain of Wheat. It requires tenacity and expertise.

How do you deal with bad and/or good reviews of your book?

Basically bad review if not malicious gives room for growth. I evaluate them and upon conviction that they are worthy, work on the mistakes. I dismiss them if I find them unjustified. A good review is a recipe to better tidings. Self fulfilment even. I have over a hundred reviews on my novel and all except one or two are very positive.

What did you learn while writing your novel?

All dreams are valid. Patience is a writer’s compass without which one should forget about writing. It took me close to a decade before seeing my novel in print. Through these years I struggled to get published. I visited several publishers. Some chickened out citing some of my topics such as euthanasia. For six years my manuscript gathered dust on a shelf at home. However, right now I am delighted because I have sold it even in the USA and Sweden.

Which other authors are you friends with? How do they help you become a better writer?

John Kiriamiti, Charles Chanchori and Kinyanjui Kombani. We share challenges of yore and of now. They all cheer me up and make me feel that I am on the right trajectory.

Do you believe in writer’s block?

Writers block is real. It comes and goes away with rebirth of other ideas.