by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor Simerg, Barakah and Simergphotos
Simerg’s series entitled “Books by Ismaili Authors” continues with USA writer Shelina Shariff-Zia’s book “Nairobi Days”. We follow the same Q/A format as our recent presentations of books written by Ali Lakhani, Nizar Sultan, Nargis Fazal, Nazlin Rahemtulla, Azmina Suleman, Alnasir Rajan, Shafeen Ali, Mansoor Ladha, Zeni Shariff and Shamas Nanji. We invite Ismaili authors around the world to participate in this series, regardless of when their books were published. See details of the series HERE and submit your responses to Simerg’s editor, Malik, at Simerg@aol.com.
Simerg: What is behind the naming of the title of the book?
Shelina Shariff-Zia: The novel is set in Nairobi and my title is an allusion to “Malgudi Days,” by R. K. Narayan.
Simerg: Why would you want me or my family members to read the book, and what will we all learn from it?
Shelina: I want to share our historical heritage of growing up in East Africa and what life was like for the jamaat there. You would learn the history and politics since 1962 through the eighties, as a backdrop to the story of the heroine Shaza growing up.
Simerg: What inspired you to write the book?
Shelina: I have been a journalist and am now an English College Professor so writing comes easily to me. In April 2012, my mother passed away from cancer. In her last few years she spent hours talking about her life in Uganda and as a new bride and then teacher in Kenya. She told me many stories about the family as a distraction from her illness and to keep those memories alive. Two days after I came back from the funeral I sat at my computer and started typing. I wrote about my grandmother, then my mother, my aunts and the family dogs. As I wrote each chapter I emailed it to my brother who asked for more. After writing about 160 pages of a memoir I started to write a fictionalized version and a love story. In ten months I had 500 pages written of a story that wrote itself.
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Simerg: How can I purchase the book and what are its available formats?
Shelina: Nairobi Days is available as a paperback, an ebook and Kindle on Amazon, Ingrams, Barnes and Noble, Indiebound, Apple Books and Kobo among other options.
[Please click Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Indiebound, Barnes and Nobles and Kobo (via Chapters-Indigo) to purchase Paperback or Ebook copies of the 2nd edition of Nairobi Days. Also, many local neighbourhood bookstores may be able to order the book for you. The first edition of the book is no longer available — Ed.]
Simerg: How did you find a publisher for the book?
Shelina: I wrote a lot of letters and made many phone calls!
Simerg: Did you hire an editor, an illustrator or did you do all the work by yourself?
Shelina: I hired an editor and as he also had a day job the editing took many months as he edited a chapter a week. The publishing company illustrated the cover and typeset the book with input from me. I hired an Ismaili photographer to take the author pictures.
Simerg: How long did it take you to write Nairobi Days — from start to finish and to begin marketing it?
Shelina: Writing the book took ten months. Getting it edited, proofread and published took another four years. The marketing is an ongoing process. My publisher set up a Facebook page, Good Reads page and Amazon Page. The first edition came out in November 2017. I got a new publisher Bublish and came out with a second edition in the Fall of 2020.
I have had readings at Shakespeare’s bookstore in Manhattan, Kew and Willow books in Queens, Bronx Community College, the Jewish Community Center in Forest Hills among other venues. The Ismaili Center in Vancouver was very supportive and organized an event attended by about 200 people in April 2019. . But so far other Jamatkhanas or Ismaili Centers have not been encouraging, They do not seem to have any readings for authors but tell me they would if people wrote religious books!
Synopsis and Links to Reviews of “Nairobi Days”
This diaspora novel is a celebration of Indian and African culture as seen through the eyes of a young woman, who brings her heritage with her wherever she goes. As a member of an Indian minority in a small African country, Shaza’s life is complicated from the beginning. She looks for trouble and is always getting into scrapes and fights. She allies herself with her soft-hearted grandmother in a lively house full of relatives dropping by for long meals and siestas. Her family sends her to a strict English boarding school, but she tries to run away. Later, she meets Idi Amin, the bloodthirsty Ugandan dictator, he invites her to the palace which few people come back from alive…
As a teenager, Shaza goes to a convent school run by Irish nuns. Despite the strict rules, the girls are beginning to discover the opposite sex and flirting with what’s forbidden. Shaza is part of a Muslim family that emigrated from India at the turn of the century, but the old ways still rule. No one in Kenya dates, they just sneak around. At seventeen, Shaza meets a handsome Hindu boy at a party; Sameer is smitten but they come from two different religions. Sameer and Shaza sneak around going to parties and movies, seeing each other secretly.
Shaza is torn between her sense of duty and her longing for Sameer. Will the relationship survive her family’s disapproval and a long separation? They live in difficult times in a turbulent African country; Shaza’s cousin is almost killed by thugs and Kenya has a coup d’état where the Indian minority is targeted. The saga follows Shaza’s life from the 1960’s to the 1980’s showing the political upheavals in Kenya and her move to the United States.
Nairobi Days is a coming of age story, a love story, a political novel and above all a celebration of life.
[The novel has received excellent reviews and ratings by verified purchasers at Amazon and Goodreads. Please click on the two links — Ed.]
Date posted: July 21, 2021.
Shelina Shariff-Zia grew up in Nairobi, a tomboy who was always getting into trouble. She was the fifth generation of an Indian family who migrated to Kenya from Gujarat. She moved to Texas to attend Rice University where she studied literature. After an M.A. at Columbia, she was a journalist. She now teaches college students in the Bronx.
Calling all Ismaili Authors
We encourage Ismaili writers to introduce their books in a similar format as has been done in the post above. Please also see the series launch article and submit your responses to Malik at Simerg@aol.com. All submissions will be acknowledged. If a writer has published multiple books, each book will be highlighted in a separate article, and not combined with other books into one post. All writers should include a brief profile with a portrait photo.
The Ismaili Authors’ Series so far (in chronological sequence, oldest article first):
- “Justice Bertha Wilson Pushes the Boundaries of Humanity” by Shamas Nanji (series start, February 10, 2021)
- “Little One, You Are The Universe” by Zeni Shariff (February 25, 2021)
- “Memoirs of a Muhindi” by Mansoor Ladha (March 6, 2021)
- “To Be One With God: Seven Journeys to the Meaning of Life” by Shafeen Ali (March 25, 2021)
- “Invisible Birthmarks” by Alnasir Rajan (April 13, 2021)
- “IN THE NAME OF JUSTICE – Portrait of a ‘Cowboy’ Judge” by Azmina Suleman (April 28, 2021)
- “RSVP Rice and Stew Very Plenty” by Nazlin Rahemtulla (May 28, 2021)
- “Coughdrops” by Nargis Fazal (June 12, 2021)
- “The Roots and the Trees” by Nizar Sultan (June 25, 2021)
- “Faith and Ethics: The Vision of the Ismaili Imamat” by M. Ali Lakhani (July 4, 2021)
- “Nairobi Days by Shelina_Shariff Zia (July 21, 2021)
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I found this book to be an Excellent and Well Written Book
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Shelina Shariff-Zia’s book “Nairobi Days”. This is the best novel I have read (and I have read many, many) about the ways and nuances of the Ismaili Community way of life in East Africa.
Through her writing style, story lines and characters, Shelina has captured, and described very intimately, the political, economic and racial challenges that the long established South Asian Ismaili minority had to navigate in the post-colonial period in Kenya and Uganda.
As I was reading the book, I felt my “Nairobi Days” coming alive in front of me. I could remember many of the landmarks and the related anxious school moments such as writing the CPE and O level exams and then waiting for the results.
Some parts in the book were really amusing and very funny. Overall, the book is a very good read. It’s entertaining, often suspenseful and has an eventual happy ending like in Bollywood movies.