Sexorcised Bookversary: 101 with Nyanchwani

Reading Time: 17 minutes

Sexorcised is now a popular text in Kenyan literary circles.  In fact, it seems to have sold more in Kenya than any other Kenyan text published in the last year. 

Its launch in late September 2020 spurred such an internet sensation that it became the most photographed book in the country. Three public readings in Kisii, Kisumu, and Nairobi birthed the ‘brave’ novel into Kenya’s present literary renaissance.

Perhaps the popularity of the text could be a pointer. The text traverses the post-2002 Kenyan experience- a time when, according to pollsters, Kenyans were the happiest and most optimistic people on earth to the present- when if the pollsters were to be conducted, Kenyans could be the saddest and disillusioned lot. 

The text shows the post-2002 Kenyan society as one characterized by rapid socio-economic, political, and cultural transitions. These transitions have significant ramifications on the political, cultural, and socio-economic landscape of the country. Nyanchwani addresses these issues through the lens of the family, and especially on the nature of the relationships between men and women. The text seems to suggest that the Kibaki era opened up many “frontiers of freedom” for both men and women- women have as many chances to succeed just like the men.

The greatest impact that these ‘freedoms’ had was that of blurring the line between the domestic space and the public space- women could easily blend in and out of these two spaces. For instance, women realized that they could as we indulge the hedonistic lifestyle of their husbands/ partners. They could compete in this line oblivious of the harm they are causing themselves and others, after all, isn’t that what men have been doing since time immemorial?

Bruce represents the anxiety experienced by men when they realize that the freedoms often associated with manliness- the pursuit of, money, sex, and alcohol seem to have suddenly been made to be within the reach of women.

Many questions have been asked about the book, and today, we sat down with Nyanchwani to answer some questions about the book and his writing journey.

MOSIGISI: What is your favourite scene?

NYANCHWANI: Tough question. I am torn between Bruce preparing a meal for Zawadi, because it means his healing journey has started and when Bruce goes up to Manga hills with his cousin Regina and her friend, Leah and they end up smoking weed. The latter scene is packed with so much action that is deceptively simple, but I am saying a lot.

MOSIGISI: There is genius in the witticism in some of the sentences in this book. What one sentence do you particularly love or even come to mind whenever you remember or are thinking about Sexorcised as a novel? 

NYANCHWANI: That is another tough call.  But if I would pick one, I would go for one, early in the book, that goes like,

“She had put her feet on the table and had this familiar touch with the waiters—a sign that she was settling into the mid-30s general mediocrity of neighbourhood drinking.”

MOSIGISI: Why does this particular sentence stand out to you?  

NYANCHWANI: As I settled into my mid-30s, I realised that there is so little that you can do around Nairobi, or in most of our urban spaces. That means that for those who drink, all you can do is meet in your local and drink. Rinse, repeat. I started to question myself, ‘is this all there is to adulthood?’ Because there is a mediocrity about it that is so unsettling.

MOSIGISI:  What is surprising, insightful, memorable, humorous, or powerful about it?

NYANCHWANI: It is an Albert Camus’s existential awakening when you realise that we are all set up for boredom and humdrum, but we have to make meaning of our lives, whichever way, even if it means drinking every day. You know, at least in the bars, we can be vulnerable, exaggerate tales, entertain, and humour ourselves. Alcohol offers us escape or at the very least makes the bad days bearable or even somehow forgettable. Unfortunately, that is the space that most adults find themselves in- just like Maureen and Bruce in the novel.

MOSIGISI: What feelings or thoughts do you have when you read or hear this sentence? How does it relate to the rest of the text?

NYANCHWANI: The sentence came from my observations when doing my journalistic excursions. As a lifestyle journalist, the bar was a good source of material for me. So, the sentence reminds me of the bar as an indispensable space for men initially and increasingly for women. You notice that the bar and alcohol play a critical role in the book, especially at the end. A bar is a place where individuals exorcise their tiredness or weariness and the general drudgery of life- There is a rhythmic/ repetitive pattern to this life. The Covid-19 broke this cycle a bit, and one of the effects we have seen is the rise of domestic violence due to the constant friction between spouses. You notice how relieved people were when the president fully reopened the economy.

MOSIGISI: Tell me more about your sentence writing process- how do you pick out the words, do you often go back to the sentences, panel beat them, – a kind of breathing life into them, or you are working under some sort of inspiration that works the magic in your sentences? 

NYANCHWANI: I take different approaches, but I gravitate towards a  stream of consciousness. I usually have an idea and I think about the best way to deliver it, the point of view, and then I try to get into the minds of the character. I want to show their motives, vulnerabilities, their humanity, internal conflicts, and everything taking place in their mind in the rawest form possible. It helps when I am inspired because I will think about the material over and over and by the time I sit down to write, it will just flow naturally. Usually, I work my sentences in the head, and once I write them down, I rarely go back to rework the material, save for fixing obvious grammatical or typographical errors.

MOSIGISI: Tell me something about the title of your book?

NYANCHWANI: The title is derived from two words, Sex and Exorcise.

MOSIGISI: You seem to suggest, even from the title that sex has a therapeutic effect. What role in your opinion does sex play in human relationships; is casual sex different from sex in marriage?

NYANCHWANI: Sex of course has its therapeutic aspects. Sex plays a critical aspect in our lives life undeniably. It is the source of life. It is entertainment, a source of validation and pleasure. As to the distinction between marital and non-marital/casual sex, I will hold back my opinion…

MOSIGISI: Even so, let’s talk about the taboo subject that many people wouldn’t want to talk about: sex. You have explored aspects of sex and the city in the text, and you seem to suggest that the casualness with which people meet sexual partners in the city demonstrates the loss of the human touch in marriages and even human inter-relationships…

NYANCHWANI: That has always puzzled me. I think I belong to the first generation that normalized one-nightstands and even gave it the name chips funga. Mark you, I am not saying that we discovered one-night stands, but we normalized them. So, when you look around, there is so much casual sex going on to the extent that one starts to feel that sex no longer has that divine, special place in our lives. There is so much loneliness in the city, sadly, even among the married- we are still yearning for that love- but rarely do we want to cultivate it. I don’t say this as a moralist but as a pragmatist. What we have learnt from this hedonism is that in the end, we all run empty. While fulfillment is relative to each person, objectively, we know which way brings the most out of life. 

MOSIGISI: There is a saying that, in their first books, writers tend to write about things that trouble them. Does that speak of you?

NYANCHWANI: That could be true, maybe unconsciously. But in terms of chronology, it is not my first book, it just happened to be the first one that I published. And it came purely as an accident, even though it came out at a difficult time in my life. So, maybe it addressed things that trouble me. Maybe not.

MOSIGISI: In that case, would you view writing- especially your writing of this book as a kind of exorcism?

NYANCHWANI: It is to most writers. We all have so many things to say, and it is such a relief when we are able to get them out of the way. For me, while it was a leisurely activity, finishing the book helped me through a particularly dark period of my life.

MOSIGISI:  Would one consider this dark period as the inspiration for this story? What is the story behind this story? Like is this based on a real story or something or is everything fictional? 

NYANCHWANI: The story is purely fictional. In fact, the dark period of my life happened after I had finished the novel, just doing minor edits. And events of that period had little on the novel, except delay its release, partly too, due to the Covid-19 lockdowns.  As I have said over and over again, I stumbled upon the story as an accident. I was giving a masterclass on creative writing at the Creatives Garage (Hurlingham). There was this day I was teaching the young writers about the power of good introductions. One way to introduce a story is to shock the reader out of their comfort zone. I came up with the first sentence of Sexorcised. It was such a salacious statement that I couldn’t share it with them then. From that sentence, I thought, why not write a short story about a one-night stand in Nairobi? It can be about a middle-class divorced man picking a girl from a bar, they have a one-night stand. But I had to answer the question, who is this man, and who is the lady? Why is he being divorced?

Then, around this time, I bumped into a former classmate who is a D.O or what you call an Assistant County Commissioner who told me of a child custody case he was arbitrating. It involved a medical doctor and a professor at a local university being taken advantage of by some woman. And then I read a local blog about a man who discovers one of his children is not his. I thought that would be sufficient grounds for divorce and thus, I now had a story: A man has sex on the first night after his divorce is finalised, and then we get to know why he has been divorced and how his life pans out.

MOSIGISI: How did the book change and why?  What were your initial ideas about the book, the characters, plot, and even the ending of the text?  How did this change and what influenced these changes? 

NYANCHWANI: The original idea was, Bruce gets divorced, goes home to cool off a bit, and maybe come back to the city to try and pick up his life. So, I had parts one, three, and five of the book at the beginning. However, I needed to give a background to what led to the divorce, because the novel starts on a high, with no room to explain why Bruce was divorcing his wife.  And I needed a transition between the time he settles home and the time he comes back to the city. I pretty much stuck with this plan. The only last-minute change to the book came at the epilogue. In the original idea, Lucy was not going to die. Her lover maybe would have died, to Bruce’s satisfaction. But often, there is no poetic justice in life. 

But when moving around Nairobi, I came across this house allegedly built by a man who died in the KQ plane crash in Douala in 2007. The house was supposed to be for his mistress, and he died before transferring the house to her and his family was not aware. And then someone told me of another rich married woman who had invested with her lover (not her husband) who died suddenly, and the families were entangled in the fight for what she owned. So, the two stories gave me the idea to twist it at the end. Lucy does not die because of her cheating or some contrived comeuppance. Her lover gets away with it but loses some bit of his stolen wealth that he used Lucy to hide.

MOSIGISI: Whom did you write the book for?

NYANCHWANI: Ideally, for every adult who loves fiction. I would have loved as many men as possible to read the book, though it was much more popular with women.

However, I still wish that more and more men will read the novel.  

MOSIGISI: One criticism against the book, especially by women readers, is that most of the female characters in the novel end up either in ruined relationships or to men who the main character, Bruce, sees as ugly, unsuccessful, or for others like Maureen and Lucy eventually die. What would you tell these readers that accuse you of stereotyping women?  

NYANCHWANI: I think that would be an assumption to say that women are stereotyped in the book, and it is a wrong way of reading books. A writer creates characters who serve a specific purpose to the narrative. In this regard, Bruce, the main character, is a man who has been divorced and is bitter, and has certain views about women that may not be perfect. There is a mix of both good and bad women. The male characters if viewed objectively, are just as flawed. Kituku steals from government coffers and is a wife snatcher. The cops featured there to talk about extra-judicial killings casually. We have Bruce’s cousin who is a wife-beater, a rapist, and deadbeat drunkards who have shirked all their responsibilities and their wives shoulder the burden of the family.

There are women who have been portrayed in a better light. Whether it is Bruce’s niece, the house help who unlocks the novel, Bruce’s mother, or sisters, they are portrayed as normal, everyday Kenyan women. I was just as pained when Maureen died because the last few years have been tough for women, with increased cases of femicide. We just lost a world-class athlete, Agnes Tirop, allegedly killed by her husband. She was just 25, with a lot to live for. Maureen plays a critical role in the story, in accepting Bruce, and offering him, not just the first sexual experience after a divorce, but she was a caring, sweet woman. One ought to see the women and men in the book, through the subjective eyes of Bruce, whose present world is chaotic.

MOSIGISI:  And are you, Bruce, ha ha?

NYANCHWANI: Ha ha ha. I am not. But a good number of women have told me when they read the book, they picture me as Bruce. Bruce is the exact opposite of who I am as a man. As I said, the novel is a hundred percent fiction.

MOSIGISI: Book reviews and critics: what is your opinion of the role of critics. Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

NYANCHWANI: I don’t mind critics as long as they remain objective. Some critics are plain malicious or jealous and whatever they spew, is not a reflection of their true feelings. I take good criticism and ignore the bad criticism as your book cannot satisfy the literary cravings of each individual. You have to be humble enough to know that people have different tastes.

I think as a writer or any creative, one should focus on their fans and positivity more. For those who hate them or those with an ax to grind, you have to decide if you want to spend your precious time and energy answering or dealing with them, or focusing on your next book for fans? Remember critics also, don’t buy books.

MOSIGISI: Have you read reviews that made you think differently about your novel? Have you read a review and feel like damn, I didn’t see it that way, but then it is such an eye-opener? 

NYANCHWANI: Oh Yes! I was actually shocked how women interpreted the character, Lucy.  A good number of women saw Bruce’s cheating in marriage as the original sin that broke the marriage, and not Lucy having an affair and even getting a child out of wedlock. I tried my best to make Lucy as indifferent as possible and I was looking at the end of the marriage, not so much from the cheating, but from the realization that you can grow out of love. So, it was eye-opening, to see how women view cheating versus how men view cheating. In writing, I occupied Bruce’s mind and only saw everything from Bruce’s point of view. Glad that women also saw something different. Men sympathized with Bruce and saw Lucy as a villain. And I was glad for those who saw Bruce as an anti-hero. It is always rewarding being made aware of things you were conscious about when writing.

MOSIGISI: What approach did you take in writing the epilogue? You had to bring some closure to the story… Do you feel this was a natural progression of the characters? I mean, characters have lives of their own, and may sometimes refuse to be panel-beaten into what the writer wants? 

NYANCHWANI: When Bruce blacks out in the end, there is a lot that goes unanswered. But I felt the book was done. So, I had to find a way to answer any niggling questions, and I thought, why not an epilogue, and as I explained before, I got the last-minute twist to the story just before submitting it for publication.

I did feel the progression was natural, but sometimes in fiction, the narrative has to be controlled, with an outcome the writer wants. Sometimes, the progression is natural, while at other times the writer has to make certain adjustments, twists, and turns, you know… Poetic license… Anything to make the narrative compelling. Fiction offers us that opportunity. Even contrivance is necessary if it can push the narrative forward, as long it is not cheesy, or off-putting.

Characters didn’t give me problems or refuse to be whipped into shape. I took a very utilitarian approach where each character served their purpose after which they were dispensed with. You know, in drama, once an actor/ actress has performed their part, they need to leave the stage. That’s how it is in fiction too and even in life. It helps that the novel is a page-turner, nothing to linger on about, and each character swiftly serves their purpose…

MOSIGISI: When did you learn that you had the power of language? 

NYANCHWANI: Well, language has always fascinated me. Right from primary school, languages were my favourite subjects. My elder cousins used to read a lot. I must have picked the habits from them. One of them used to write interesting phrases from books and he may have influenced me to start reading books, not just for the stories, but also for the language. My dream was to be a doctor. However, as I grew up and I came to the realization that I may not make it to Medical School. I shifted my attention to writing and did everything to improve my spoken and written English. Still a work in progress. My maternal side is a family of storytellers, gifted with humour and an exceptional gift of hyperbole. And bathos. I think they are griots, only that we didn’t have that role institutionalized in our society or mainstreamed it like in West Africa. So, growing up and interacting with books, I wished that my uncles and aunts had the gift of writing or access to the media to share their talent. But their generational limitation meant that as their children, we have to take the mantle from them and go out and tell stories. So, it has been with me from the word go.

MOSIGISI: You were trained as a journalist.  You completed a Master’s in Journalism at Columbia University, and a BA [Literature & Communication] before turning to publishing and writing. How has that shaped the way that you think and work as a writer?

NYANCHWANI: From the outset, I wanted to be a novelist. But when I finished high school in the 2000s, writing was not a particularly lucrative option. I decided to start as a journalist, make a name for myself, and then revert back to writing books. I am glad that fourteen years later since my first newspaper piece was published, I am now a published author. Being a journalist has helped me know the art of gathering stories. Reporting always shapes your nose for news and what is useful. My experience in the newsroom will forever play a critical role in how I gather material not just for novels, but even for my non-fiction. That is where the training comes in handy. Because I also met some of the greatest teachers from Literature and Journalism and I employ their skills daily.

MOSIGISI: How does journalism affect your craft of fiction or writing style?

NYANCHWANI: I can say it affects it up to a certain point. In that, I prefer the inverted pyramid of news writing for my introductions. I always want to start on a climax. Same way, we run with big headlines. Once I have your full attention, then I can take my time to narrate the story. Also, I prefer my fiction to have that fierce urgency of hard news writing. Because I know, I am competing for the attention of the reader. No way, I want to let him or her go. S/he has to stick with me to the end. Also, I favour the new journalism style of the likes of Truman Capote, Hunter S Thompson, Joan Didion. Where reality and fiction can blend, and the lines are blurred. That means you get the best of both worlds.  

MOSIGISI: Some of the issues you handle in the novel like the murder of Maureen, the spying of Lucy and Kituku, the DNA testing could probably fit the description of human-interest stories if they were to be done in a newspaper. How do you separate your journalist self and your writing self or do the two fuse into one?

NYANCHWANI: As I have said, practicing as a journalist really shapes how I gather and write my stories. Only that in fiction, I have a license to be creative, employ different devices, to make the stories more interesting. Ideally, whether journalism, human interest stories, or fiction, we all want to tell the stories beautifully. When you read the story of a woman who has been killed by her husband due to infidelity, you never get to know who the woman was, the context of the murder, and such. It reads like any freak or horror story in the newspaper. But in a fictional setup, we have to imagine the humanity of this said woman. By humanizing her, people can now feel her pain. That is why Maureen’s death felt very painful. We want the stories to have a certain effect on the readers. Make them laugh, think, and question their beliefs. Or confront their fears. So, a good story is a good story, whether fiction or non-fiction. And of course, outside fantasy, fiction borrows a lot from real life. For instance, if some parts of the book, read like it was a newspaper story. That was deliberate.

MOSIGISI: I have seen many reviews and comments on social media, many of your readers seem to have a feeling that the ending of this novel is not quite the end of the story. Others have even suggested that you need to write another book developing on Bruce and Emma. Is that another book coming? And more substantively, do you want each book to stand on its own, or do you intend to build a body of work with connections across the books?

NYANCHWANI: Sequels can be risky. Rarely do they work well. Sexorcised was an inspired moment. I don’t know if I will ever be inspired to write a sequel. But as they say, never say never. Although it is not something that I will commit to, it is a good idea to entertain. We shall see how this goes in the years to come.

MOSIGISI: How has your experience been as an independent publisher? 

It has been a learning curve. Mainstream publishers in Kenya have shunned fiction and we have taken it upon ourselves to publish, publicize and market ourselves. The immediate challenge is the lack of resources, to pay editors, designers, and others involved in book production. This means that sometimes we release substandard books. We are just grateful that the Kenyan public is very understanding. We hope the renaissance currently going on can reinvigorate the sector, and writers can earn from their work and in turn employ qualified personnel to handle their book. We also need to find a way to access the African and the International market.

Some fans asked the following questions:

FAN NO 1: And yes, after all that has happened in the story, do you have a sense of love developing in Bruce and Emma?

NYANCHWANI: There are two ways we can look at it: what could have been or what can be. And both points will be valid. We know for sure; Emma was a woman that Bruce loved for real.

FAN NO 2: Do you believe in love? What’s your personal opinion…

NYANCHWANI: Yes. I do. I think two people can be in love, respect, and bring the best out of each other. As long as both of them are intentional.

FAN NO 3: How did you feel once you finished writing the book? When you have the printed copies in your hands?

NYANCHWANI: I had mixed feelings. A part of me was not sure if Kenyans were ready for the pornographic parts of the book. Also, my background and religious sensibilities were not sure if it would be released.  When I finished the book, a particularly horrible thing happened that nearly made me throw away the book, but fans encouraged me to release it.

Holding the copies in my hands was exciting, but remember we realised that the first edition came with some laughable but regrettable errors. I am grateful Kenyans were understanding. The real excitement came when I started getting feedback and everyone was saying, “what a great read!” and then we hit the road to launch it in Kisii, and I have never been happier.

FAN NO 4: What is your advice to upcoming authors?

NYANCHWANI: Speak your truth. Write from the heart. Read a lot. Observe a lot. And be legit. There are so many stories to be told, through multiple platforms. So, think through, not just textual, but even in terms of audio-visual channels. And most importantly, the task of building an audience for your work remains squarely with you. Work on both your craft and ways to market it. I have seen many young and talented writers who are shy of social media, maybe introverted. They would have survived the old world where the writer just wrote and relied on the publisher for publicity and marketing.

FAN 5: If you were to suggest any Memos for Bruce either at the beginning of the text or at the end, which ones could they be? 

SGN: Memo No. 33-34-35 in the current book, 50 Memos to Men that touch on how to know a woman is leaving you, why you should let her go and how you can heal. And memo no. 5 too, touches on complacency. Because one of the reasons men lose their wives is because of complacency, both conscious and unconscious. 

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Copies of the novel are available for delivery across the country and on Amazon. The copy goes for Ksh 1,000 exclusive of delivery. Via courier to most parts of the country, it is Sh 200, save for Modern Coast and Easy Coach that charge between Ksh 250-300. Within Nairobi and environs, it can be delivered by a rider, or can be picked in town as follows:

Call the author on 0746222484

2. Or Nuria Bookstore-0729 829 697

Nuria bookstore is along Moi Avenue, directly behind Nation Centre, or opposite MKU University. Call the number.

 3. The Book Lounge 0713 054 505-At Magic Business Center (Where Tuskys Supermarket used to be), on Ronald Ngala St. 3rd Floor S46.

4. Kibanga Books-0704 893 746

Amazon Link

https://www.amazon.com/Sexorcised-Silas-Nyanchwani-ebook/dp/B095C96GQB

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