Synopses & Reviews
1. Why do you think that the author has chosen the name Dust
for this novel? Where do we find dust mentioned or depicted in the novel? What symbolic purpose might this name have? Likewise, how do other natural elements described in the book—weather and landscape—help to reveal or inform us about the inner selves of each of the characters?
2. Who killed Odidi Oganda and why did they kill him? How does each member of Odidi's family respond to his death? What burial traditions and customs does the Kenyan family observe and what views of death do they share? What does the novel seem to reveal about death and the process of grieving?
3. Why has Isaiah Bolton come to Kenya to meet with Odidi? Is his trip successful? Does he ultimately find what he was looking for? How does his presence in Wuoth Ogik affect the members of the Oganda family? What is Isaiah’s relationship with Ajany like, and how does it evolve over the course of the novel? What do the two have in common?
4. The Trader is a “gatherer and carrier of stories.” (84) Why do people share their stories with the Trader? What do they gain from this? What does the Trader gain?
5. Many of the characters in the novel share common experiences. Several of the characters, for instance, have lost children and many have left home. What are some of the other common experiences depicted in the book? Are the characters bound by these common experiences?
6. Speaking of the deceased Odidi Oganda, Justina says: “That sister calls him Odidi; me, I say Odi-Ebe; you say Moses. Many people. One person.” (247) What does Justina’s observation reveal about identity and the nature of relationships? In fact, many of the characters in the story have multiple names. Which characters choose to employ false names and why do they use these aliases?
7. Consider the structure of the book and the author’s use of flashbacks. What major themes does this literary device help to reinforce? For example, how does the structure of the book help to support or enhance the themes of history or memory?
8. Evaluate the author’s use of repetition as literary device. How does repetition create a sense of the poetic or lyrical and why is this stylistic choice significant? Where do we find examples of poetry or song in the novel? What are some of the subjects they depict, and what significance do they have for those who listen to them or perform them?
9. Dust is a book filled with haunting silences and secrets. Discuss some of the major secrets kept by the characters. What does it mean to say “to name something is to bring it to life”? (251) Likewise, why do the characters take oaths of silence or refuse to speak certain names aloud? Why does the narrator say that silence is one of the languages of Kenya? Find some examples in the text to support this. Who reveals their secrets by the book’s end and what is the outcome of the revelation?
10. Explore the themes of leaving home and homecoming in the novel. When Ajany reflects on her decision to leave home, she wonders: “Was it possible that two separate feelings of place could exist between [her and Odidi]?" (119) Why does Ajany leave home while Odidi remains? What does the author mean when she writes “Places are ghosts, too”? (121) What other examples of homecoming or leaving home are found in the novel? What are the characters' reasons?
11. Discuss the impact of political and economic circumstances on the characters’ process of decision making. What are some of the decisions that the characters are faced with and how do they handle them? Are the characters able to stand up for what they believe in and do what they think is right, or must they compromise in order to survive?
12. Which characters in the novel are artists and what are some of the subjects of their art? Do we discover what these characters hope to gain from practicing their art? Why did Ajany’s parents burn her artwork when she was a young girl?
13. Does your impression of any of the characters change over the course of reading the book? How does your impression of Hugh Bolton, Nyipir, or Akai evolve? Why? Likewise, do any of the characters change their minds about their fellow characters as the story goes on, and if so, how does that affect their relationships with one another?
14. Consider the treatment of superstition, myth, and religion in the novel. How are the characters’ views of life and the world around them shaped by these ideas? What are some of the myths and superstitions referenced in the book? How is Christianity depicted? What do the characters find faith in?
15. What role does truth play in the novel? Are the stories recounted by the characters or told to each other always true? Are the characters reliable storytellers? If not, what causes them to lie or to otherwise refrain from telling or admitting the truth?
16. In Chapter 40, why does Isaiah build a cairn?
17. Discuss Owuor’s use of native language in the book. Why might she have chosen to leave some passages in a native language rather than to have the entire novel printed in a single language?
About the Author
From a breathtaking new voice, a novel about a splintered family in Kenya—a story of power and deceit, unrequited love, survival and sacrifice.
Odidi Oganda, running for his life, is gunned down in the streets of Nairobi. His grief-stricken sister, Ajany, just returned from Brazil, and their father bring his body back to their crumbling home in the Kenyan drylands, seeking some comfort and peace. But the murder has stirred memories long left untouched and unleashed a series of unexpected events: Odidi and Ajany’s mercurial mother flees in a fit of rage; a young Englishman arrives at the Ogandas’ house, seeking his missing father; a hardened policeman who has borne witness to unspeakable acts reopens a cold case; and an all-seeing Trader with a murky identity plots an overdue revenge. In scenes stretching from the violent upheaval of contemporary Kenya back through a shocking political assassination in 1969 and the Mau Mau uprisings against British colonial rule in the 1950s, we come to learn the secrets held by this parched landscape, buried deep within the shared past of the family and of a conflicted nation.
Here is a spellbinding novel about a brother and sister who have lost their way; about how myths come to pass, history is written, and war stains us forever.
Reading Group Guide
The introduction, author biography, discussion questions, and suggested reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Dust, the riveting new novel by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor.