Kenya has a rich literary tradition that spans decades, and many books have become an integral part of the country’s cultural heritage.
In schools, certain books have been chosen as setbooks, which are compulsory reading for students as part of the literature curriculum.
These setbooks are carefully selected to expose students to various themes, writing styles, and cultural perspectives.
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In this article, WoK explores the top ten most popular setbooks in Kenya, that have been read by countless generations of students, and have become cultural touchstones in their own right.
Kifo Kisimani was written by Kithaka wa Mberia in 2009, and published by Marimba Publications Ltd.
The main character is Mwelusi, a leader in the activities of the liberation of the bush who was caught and tortured in his efforts to bring liberation to the country.
In the end, he is killed after being betrayed by his brother Gege.
The River Between
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The River Between was written by renowned Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, and originally published in 1965.
The setbook tells a story about a young leader, Waiyaki’s struggle to unite two villages of Kameno and Makuyu.
The separation of two neighbouring villages was caused by differences in faith set in the decades of roughly the early 20th century.
In the end, Waiyaki and his new love interest Nyambura find themselves in the hands of the Kiama who would then decide their fate.
A Man of the People
A Man of the People was written by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, and published in 1966.
The book tells a story of a young and educated man who had a conflict with his former teacher who enters a career in politics.
The young man represents the changing younger generation while the teacher represents the traditional West African customs.
In the end, the young man agrees to lead an opposition party, and then a military coup happens.
An Enemy of the People
An Enemy of the People is an 1882 Norwegian play titled En Folkefiende written Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.
The school edition which is popular in Kenya was translated into English.
Shreds of Tenderness
Shreds of Tenderness is originally a 2001 play written by Ugandan playwright, John Ruganda.
The play was centered around greed, individualism, and betrayal on a familial and national level over everything from crops to political power.
Ruganda used the play to criticize the poor governance in Africa by leaders who cannot as well accept defeat whenever election is held in their respective countries.
Utengano was written by Said Ahmed Mohamed, and published by Longhorn Publishers.
Originally published in 1980, the book addresses social issues like divorce, plight of women in the society, male chauvinism, politics and forgiveness.
Betrayal in the City
Betrayal in the City was written by Francis Imbuga, and published in 1976.
In the setbook, Imbuga sets his play in a fictionalized country called Kafira.
He purposefully avoids the use of identifying characteristics that would point to specific organizations or politicians.
Imbuga writes this way in order to avoid potential acts of retaliation from the government under which he was living at the time.
The River and the Source
Originally published in 1994, The River and the Source is a book by renowned Kenyan novelist, Margaret Ogola.
An epic story spanning cultures, it tells the lives of three generations of women.
It traces the story of Akoko in her rich traditional Luo setting, through to the children who live and die in the 20th century.
Tumo Lisiloshiba na Hadithi Nyingine is a book by Said Ahmed Mohamed.
It was originally published in 2016 by Longhorn Publishers.
Published in 1947, the setbook one of the masterpieces written by the refined author John Steinbeck.
It explores the deviant behaviour of man against some of the social conventions deemed acceptable, portraying greed in human beings and its consequences.
The story revolves around a Mexican-Indian fisherman who finds the biggest pearl while on his daily fishing errands, and he and wants to sell it in the capital city.
He wants to acquire a huge sum of money to pay his debts and become one of the wealthiest people in his town, La Paz.
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