Coming to Birth by Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye, book review.
Summary and Review
Coming to Birth is a novel written by Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye, and was first published in 1986. Marjorie moved and settled in Kenya during her early adulthood years. She was quickly integrated into the Luo culture, which is part of the larger African culture. She learnt the way of life, traditions, and customs of the Luo community in the course of her marriage to D. G. W. Macgoye – her husband. The novel gives the clear indication of detailed experiences in the Luo culture and traditions.
The storyline in the novel follows Kenya’s growth as a young independent nation. The political narrative runs alongside a tale of two young people in love – Martin and Paulina. They are the main characters in the novel, as their lives are seen to change as the events and happenings of the storyline shift and turn. Martin belongs to the working-class category in society, while Paulina is at first portrayed as a naïve young lady with little experience concerning the ‘ways of the city’. The love between Paulina and Martina captures the readers’ attention. Neither Martin nor Paulina openly express their affection to each other, but rather through spontaneous acts of kindness, as seen from Martin to Paulina, revealing the presence of love. At the beginning of the novel, their love is ‘innocent and young’. It later faces the challenge of childlessness in marriage. The Marriage does not stand. Paulina is not able to sustain pregnancy full term, and experiences miscarriage several times. Martin is frustrated by his numerous yet unsuccessful attempts at getting a child by Paulina. They eventually separate, and Martin engages in extra-marital affairs. The story of Kenya’s ‘Coming to Birth’ is marked by the ‘coming of Uhuru’ and heightened expectations. However, dissatisfaction grows steadily, as political assassinations of senior political officers in the reigning government continues to take place. Riots and chaos characterize Kenya’s political space.
In the course of separation between Martin and Paulina, each attempts to have a child with other partners. Paulina gets a child by Simon, and names the child Okeyo. Perhaps the child’s naming is a way or reminding her of the commitment she made to Martin. Unfortunately, the child dies during political protests in Kisumu. Martin fails in his attempts of getting a child with other ladies. The hopelessness and despair seen in the relationship between Martin and Paulina is similar to that of prevailing politics in the country. The citizens seemingly protest for getting less than that which they bargained for, and neo-colonialism is most likely to take center stage in Kenya, as a young independent nation.
Later, Paulina and Martin are seen to come back together. Paulina is no longer the naïve lady seen at the beginning of the novel, and Martin is no longer the confident and ‘in-control’ individual depicted at the beginning of the story. The events in their marriage have shaped them into altogether different individuals. Paulina is empowered and able to voice her stand. Martin seems passive to the political and social events around him, a near state of disillusionment. The hope of achieving the true meaning of freedom in independent Kenya is finally ‘coming to Birth’. Citizens have the hope for a new turn in leadership.
Events in the novel turn for the better when Paulina informs Martin of her pregnancy. She is pregnant by Martin, and is happy about it. However, she recounts her past miscarriages, and decides to hold her Joy, yet. She politely cautions Martin of being overjoyed at the thought of having a child, but under the same breath expresses her optimism of a promising future. Kenya is also ‘Coming to Birth’ with the experience of stability in the political domain. The marriage between Martin and Paulina seems to stabilize, at last. Symbolically, the author offers hope for a politically stable and peaceful Kenya as seen between Martin and Paulina.
Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye works skillfully at depicting reality in a subtle manner. The political situation in Kenya is more of reality and contains verifiable facts. The author captures these facts and events, through the performance of a literary stance. The employment of imagery, symbols and ideas that are relative to the African experience lays the foundation for the success of her work. It is thus a masterpiece, written simply, clearly, and skillfully, to communicate the author’s thoughts and experiences concerning culture, politics and tradition.
Male dominance/Chauvinism: Men are perceived as holding positions of influence in society. Martin, Mr. M., and Simon are some of the male characters with special privileges in society. Paulina’s interaction with each male character involved subjection to social ideologies that place the lady at a lower position of privilege than the man.
Feminism: Paulina, Chelagat and Mrs. M are some of the women who stand out in the novel. Their efforts result in the enhancement of women’s position in society are remarkable. They are seen to evolve positively throughout the novel, sometimes almost at the expense of the men’s wellbeing.
Political Betrayal: The prevailing politics in the country lead to disillusioned citizens. The initial hope placed on the government has diminished, and resentment towards the government continues to increase.
Perseverance: Throughout the novel Paulina exhibits perseverance. In the end, she gets what she wants – a child. Perseverance is also depicted in her development into a city woman. She gracefully overcomes the numerous challenges that combat her, and proceeds to have the life she wanted.
Marital unfaithfulness: Several characters, such as Martin, Paulina, Mr. M and Simon engage in extra-marital affairs. They put the integrity of their marriage unions at risk, through engagement in marital unfaithfulness.
Disillusionment: This sets in when life takes a different turn, from that which was expected. Martin sets the clear example of disillusionment, when politics in the country seem to deteriorate. He seems unhappy, and has little interest in other activities in life.
Martin Were, Paulina Akelo, Mr. M., Mrs. M., Chelagat, Joyce, Fauzia, Susana, Racheal, and Mrs. Okelo.