David Hallock Sanders
A tale of adventure and discovery in newly independent Kenya as an American Quaker boy comes of age in a troubled nation coming of age itself.
After the death of his mother, 11-year-old Mark Morgan starts a new life with his father at the Kwetu Quaker Mission high in the rain forest of western Kenya. It is 1966, just after Kenya’s bloody struggle for independence. As Mark embraces his own independence in this new home, he develops a deep love for the Kenyan people while experiencing cultural and sexual awakenings beyond his years. Beneath the mission's calm surface, however, simmer animosities left over from the long fight against colonialism—and what Mark discovers here will change him forever.
GOLD MEDAL WINNER, Nautilus Book Awards, for "Imaginative storytelling that reflects the power and resilience of the human spirit, often involving ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances who respond to challenges with the highest aspects of human nature."
FINALIST, General Fiction, Eric Hoffer Awards
FINALIST, Montaigne Medal, Eric Hoffer Awards
FINALIST, Best New Fiction, American Fiction Awards
FINALIST, General Fiction, American Fiction Awards
FINALIST, Screencraft Cinematic Book Competition
SEMIFINALIST, Cinequest Screenwriting Competition (screenplay version)
David Hallock Sanders has seen his short fiction, essays, and plays published in a range of journals and anthologies. He was shortlisted as a finalist for the William Faulkner–William Wisdom Prize for a novel-in-progress, and he is a winner of the Third Coast national fiction competition and the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary Autobiography Project. Busara Road is his first novel.
Fiction, 280 pages
paperback / $18.95 / ISBN 978-0-9995501-2-0
Kindle ebook / $9.95
“In his authentic and haunting first novel, Busara Road, David Sanders captures the turbulent early days of newly-independent Kenya through the eyes of eleven-year-old Mark Morgan, the sensitive and inquisitive son of a widowed Quaker missionary. Set in the aftermath of the brutal conflict between colonial British forces and the Mau Mau rebels, the novel navigates the jungle of grief and hope that is a community emerging from years of violence, as well as the suffering of those set upon avenging past atrocities. Sanders creates characters who are memorable, distinctive, multi-dimensional and indelibly true. In the spirit of the best of Norman Rush and Barbara Kingsolver, Busara Road is a Bildungsroman of insight and compassion from an author who has mastered both the substance and the emotion of his subject matter. A riveting tour de force, the novel will appeal to anyone who has ever been eleven years old and at sea in the world. Busara Road leads readers both into the African past and into the depths of the human spirit—it is a road not to be missed.”
—Jacob M. Appel, author of Millard Salter’s Last Day
“Reading Busara Road is like having your hair cut by a one-armed man who may be a murderer—you’re afraid of what might happen next, but you’re certainly not going anywhere, and you’re excited to find yourself amid a mystery. That very haircut, and a flash of a white shirt against a green jungle, the calls and grunts of unseen animals in the dense foliage, a thick leaf wrapped around a wounded arm with a vine, birds and fish swimming and flying: reading this novel, I was caught in so many vivid images, so many sharp sensations as I was borne along through Kenya’s history and quotidian features, traveling with eleven-year-old Mark Morgan as he shapes his own story. Mark’s path ultimately illuminates what has been so tantalizing and unclear in the rich, hidden world around him; the perfect guide, he is guileless and yet awake, often left alone, always eager to pursue new experiences and sensations.”
—Peter Rock, author of My Abandonment
“Brimming with mystery, magic, emotional truth and wide-eyed adolescent wonder, Busara Road compels the reader on a vivid and engrossing adventure marked by discovery, duality and bursts of lyrical beauty.”
—Tracy DeBrincat, author of Hollywood Buckaroo and Troglodyte
“Sanders presents an engagingly written story with a dramatic historical underpinning. Mark is an appealing character who's thoughtful, open to new experiences, and courageous.... A sensitive and vivid coming-of-age account in a compelling setting.”
“Eleven-year-old Mark Morgan and his father move from Philadelphia to a Quaker mission in western Kenya shortly after the new nation’s brutal struggle for independence. With his father mostly away, Mark lives among the deeply wounded survivors, struggling to forge connections in a place where not heeding one’s elders can have grave consequences. A strong, vivid debut set in an unforgettable place and time.”
—Janet Benton, author of Lilli de Jong
“David H. Sanders, a gifted writer of fiction and a child of missionaries, transmutes his personal experience into a novel that stands alongside The Poisonwood Bible.”
—Joy E. Stocke, author of Anatolian Days and Nights and publisher of Tree of Life Books
“Busara Road is a beautifully written, slow-burning drama that touches on devastation and collective memory, culminating in the piercing discovery that knowing the truth comes at a personal cost.”
—Karen Rigby, Foreword Reviews
A BRIEF Q&A WITH THE AUTHOR
When the New Door Books staff talked with author David Hallock Sanders about his remarkable novel Busara Road, he told us many fascinating stories about the book's inception and background. Here is part of the conversation:
NDB: Busara Road follows the adventures of Mark Morgan, an 11-year-old American boy living at a Quaker mission in Kenya at the dawn of that nation’s independence. Why did you choose that setting for your first novel?
David: I was primarily intrigued by the idea of exploring the experience of a young person coming of age in a nation that is coming of age itself. And like many first novels, Busara Road draws some of its inspiration from my own life. As a child I lived in Kenya at a Quaker mission where my parents worked as teachers. Like Mark in the novel, I was there in the mid-sixties, shortly after Kenyan independence. It was a time when this new nation was filled with optimism, yet it was also reeling from decades of violence and upheaval. Like Mark, I was young enough to be embraced as a child and be given access to aspects of local life not available to adults. Yet at the same time I was old enough to be fully aware of my engagement with the world around me. Also, like Mark, I had extraordinary independence—wandering the rain forest on my own, ducking into thatch huts, swinging on jungle vines, injuring myself in ever more dramatic ways, and in general just being a kid let loose in a fabulous wonderland.
However, Mark’s story is definitely not my story. For one thing, I’m not an only child like Mark, but rather one of seven kids in a big Quaker family. Besides, Mark has a far more dangerous and drama-filled life in Kenya than I did!
NDB: What is the significance of the title, Busara Road?
David: In the novel, Busara Road is the name of the dirt road that cuts through the mission and the Kenyan landscape. Much of Mark’s life happens along, or just off, this road. Busara is also a Swahili word for wisdom, insight, and common sense. So in numerous ways that unfold throughout the novel, Busara Road becomes Mark’s own path to wisdom and insight.
NDB: Mark finds himself getting caught up in the deep animosities lingering from Kenya’s Mau Mau days and its long fight for independence. You reveal quite a bit about the dark undercurrents of violence and distrust below the surface. Was that your own experience of Kenya when you lived there?
David: Not really. At the time, I was barely aware of politics. I was just a kid living in a wondrous new place. I only knew of the Mau Mau rebellion through vague stories of violent attacks that had happened in the past. I had no real understanding of Kenya’s history of struggle, no awareness of the atrocities of the British Emergency and the cruel conditions of colonial control, and really no appreciation for Kenya’s long and bloody fight for self-determination. My own experience was simply one of being surrounded by people who embraced me with extraordinary love and care and trust and humor.
But since the novel is told through the eyes of 11-year-old Mark, I needed to expose him more directly to the dark repercussions of the post-Mau-Mau days so that the reader can be exposed to them as well. In that regard, too, Mark’s experience is far more dramatic than my own.
NDB: Mark develops deep relationships with several Kenyans at the mission, including his neighbor, Layla Mbote, and his best friend from school, Radio Mathenge. Perhaps his most profound relationship, though, is with Chege Ndegwa, the Kikuyu cook and housekeeper assigned to his home. Chege is a wonderful character. Was he central to the book from the start?
David: Not at all! Chege’s prominence was a total discovery. I hesitate to describe characters as having wills of their own, but in this case it’s almost true. Chege started out as a very minor character, just the guy whom the mission assigned to cook for Mark and his father. But he quickly asserted himself in my imagination as central both to the book’s story line and, more important, to Mark’s experience of Kenya. Chege has great kindness, strength, wisdom, and generosity, but also his own complications, which all combine to make him a very human human-being. Because Mark has lost his mother, and because his father is frequently away on business, Chege becomes Mark’s surrogate parent, and over time he brings Mark deeper and deeper into the fabric of Kenyan life. Chege’s emergence as a character was one of those marvelous gifts that arose from the act of writing itself.
NDB: Busara Road left me wanting to read more about Mark’s life and experience. Any chance of a sequel?
David: Given how long it took me to complete this book, I wouldn’t advise holding your breath. But yes, I do have ideas for how Mark’s life might evolve over the years. Kenya has become a much more complicated place than might have been predicted from those early, optimistic post-independence years. So I am curious about bringing Mark back, in his middle or older years, to a place that was so important to him as a child—and finding out what he discovers then.