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The Red Moon

A Novel

The Red Moon by Kuwana Haulsey
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“The moon was red on the night my mother died. Fat, fairly bursting, as I remember, it rode so low in the sky that it grazed the backs of the leopards who hissed and spat and cursed it for interrupting the hunt. It caressed the thorny tips of the acacia trees, bending them, seeming to crush them with light.”

In The Red Moon, newcomer Kuwana Haulsey has crafted a strikingly beautiful coming-of-age story set amid the turbulent history of modern Kenya.

The novel centers on Nasarian, the daughter of a successful Samburu herdsman and his Somali fourth wife. On the verge of adulthood, Nasarian finds herself trapped between the demands of her traditional tribal life and her desire to live abroad as a writer. When her parents die suddenly, Nasarian's plan to escape her sheltered world is undermined by her scornful brother Lolorok. Disgusted by Nasarian's refusal to be circumcised and thus initiated into the traditional role of wife and mother, Lolorok allows his sister to be inherited by a distant cousin.

Nasarian is convinced that no matter how hard she fights, she will never be allowed to call her life her own. She is dogged by the memory of her father, who was caught in the midst of a brutal war, branded with the name Mau Mau, imprisoned as a terrorist. She is haunted by the spirit of her mother, captured in a bloody raid and destined, like Nasarian, to be an outcast.

Nasarian runs away, sparking a sweeping journey of discovery that evokes fifty years and three generations of her family history. Weaving ancient myth and folklore into the tapestry of Nasarian's personal quest, The Red Moon chronicles the yearning of a brave young woman while simultaneously depicting a nation's equally fierce search for a truthful and lasting spiritual independence.

Stunning in its revelations, The Red Moon portrays incisively a way of life rarely glimpsed by those who have not experienced its richness and survived its terror. With an intensity rare in modern fiction, The Red Moon takes readers into the heart of an incredibly courageous young woman.
Random House Publishing Group; January 2002
ISBN 9780375506574
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Title: The Red Moon
Author: Kuwana Haulsey


Fat, fairly bursting, as I remember, it rode so low in the sky that it grazed the backs of the leopards who hissed and spat and cursed it for interrupting the hunt. It caressed the thorny tips of the acacia trees, bending them, seeming to crush them with light.

Close to six years have passed since that night, and when I think on it, the moon is always the brightest image. I remember quite clearly my breath catching in a painful bubble in my chest as I stumbled out of the compound just after dark and looked toward the sky. For the rest, I must dig back far and dig hard, past the heavy sounds of weeping and swells of humiliated rage. The memories and images hide, season after season, deep inside the soul of my marrow.

But the moon is what I was speaking of. I had never before noticed it so red. It seemed to me to be crying blood. Perhaps this is how and when my fixation with my mother's blood began-on the night she died. To me, then, the red moon is death.

That night, I sat outside the manyatta as my father's other wives prayed in my mother's hut. I remember the manyatta as it was before my mother's passing as a world of singing women hidden away from all the rest of the world behind a fence. The thick, circular fence had been constructed from thorny branches from the acacia trees that dot the hills and groves of the highlands and that reached much higher than my short head. We kept our animals close in bomas opposite the low-roofed, bark-colored huts. Sometimes, late in the night, we even brought some of our sheep babies and our goats next to us in the huts, at arm's reach. That way, no lions could creep up on them as we slept, slipping through the fence and disappearing into the brush with their jaws full before any of us had even opened one eye. Outside that fence lay a vacuum of dead space, sulking and creeping like the leopards, immense and terrifying.

That night, I watched as the clouds began rolling in slowly from the south. Soon I could not tell where the earth ended and the horizon began. It all merged together, confusing me, lying to me. But for once, I convinced myself not to be afraid of the leopard's darkness. I sat down, closed my aching eyes, and invited the dark inside.

The hours passed, and when I opened my eyes, I found that the wind had pushed the clouds behind me out over the valley's edge. Once again, I saw the stars. They glittered violently against a rich indigo sky, bathing the plains and bushes, the distant forest and smoky mountains in a pearly, cascading shower of secrets and light. When I breathed, the night sky breathed with me, soothing me, molding the white warmth of starlight like a clay cast against my skin. I settled into the night shadows with thorns pressing an grily at my back and waited.

My mother's co-wives and I had known since the passing of my Father that my mother, Nima, was also marked to die. Still, I prayed and watched and hoped that she would spare herself for my sake.

We all knew it wouldn't be long, and I wondered whether the prayers of the three other women's hearts were actually for Nima or if they were frightened of what her death would mean for them. She was the last wife and, therefore, according to tradition, deserving of little or nothing. And yet she, the outcast, had been the wife of my Father's heart and an unprecedented prize. They, the respected ones, had gotten the remnants. There was no sense of propriety or traditional justice in my Father's heart regarding this matter. There was only a love that, at times, even I couldn't understand. I knew only that my parents' devotion made me conspicuous, a target for the other women's children, my older sisters and brother, who were outraged in a way that their mothers could never express. And so no matter how I tried or coaxed or begged, their hearts refused to open to me. After a long while, even their mothers relented (Nangai and Nkaina, at least) and began loving Nima as well as they loved and treasured their own hearts. But my sisters and brother nursed a hate so old that they couldn't even remember it firsthand.

To the hut of my Father's first wife, Kedua, they would run, and she would stoke the withering flame in their minds. She would invoke the image of her dead sons, of all the dead children, until they were so real that even 1, as I hid listening in the smoky shadows of her entranceway, could feel them breathing and gurgling in my ear. Kedua always mangled the story to make their deaths all the fault of my mother. Even after I was old enough and I learned the truth, the sound of those tiny ghosts rising from the past and flying up out of Kedua's mouth terrified me so that I always ran and hid under my mother's sleeping hutch. I covered myself in Father's brown-and-black bull skins (thinking that no ghost would consider looking for a little girl tucked away under the skin of a bull) and prayed to my dead brothers and sisters not to kill me. For in Kedua's stories, that was always the right and justified end.

By the time Nangai and Nkaina began bringing my younger brother and sisters into the world, I was already in school. So while these young ones never hated me, we were never particularly close, as I was often gone for months at a time. As hard as I try, I cannot remember a time when I did not feel alone. When I was not different. It was Nima who protected me, Nima who gave me worth. Nima who stopped my fear. And I hid behind her skirt or wrapped myself up tight in her lesso like an infant, so I could always feel her warmth. Her voice singing softly in the pale half-light just before dawn was the balm that soothed my spirit, even when we were far apart. But now Nima lay dying.

"Ngai inchunye ana nkerai naji Nima ichero marou lino lornelok lerneylo likatingaui." God give this daughter called Nima the healing power that only you can give to people.

Over and over they chanted the same inane request, until it began to sound like the bleating of a dying goat inside my head and I wanted to cry out loud but I couldn't. Perhaps that is not even what they said, only what I remember. Anything is possible. I make no claims to accuracy. I can only report my heart, which is flawed. But I do know that I passed nearly the entire night sitting outside that thick thorn fence, which had been built by the hands of my father's sons so long ago and which separated me from the huts and the animals and the people that were my world.

From the Hardcover edition.
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A striving reader - E Kantipur
Sun, 04 Jan 2015 18:32:36 -0800
E KantipurA striving readerE KantipurI also finished The Red Moon by Kuwana Haulsey. What are you reading right now and how is ...
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