Thursday, May 26, 2016

Author Interview w/Excerpt - Beneath the African Sun by Maria Lynch

Beneath the African Sun
Author: Maria Lynch
Publisher: Friesen Press
Pages: 282
Genre: Historical Fiction

When Sabby Mendes leaves Portuguese Goa aboard the dhow Monsoon Wind bound for British East Africa in 1916, he has one dream—to find work as a tailor in the relatively new capital of Nairobi. Sabby is a young man, still a teenager, but he is determined to build a life for himself, and he knows that the opportunities in the British Protectorate are better than those facing him at home. 

A bright, affable young man with a genuine passion and talent for tailoring, he is not prepared for what he is about to find beyond the Arabian Sea. The Protectorate, which will become British Colony of Kenya, is a highly segregated society with the British firmly ensconced at its top; below them are the “Asians” like Sabby; and at the very bottom are the native African population who are regarded as little more than savages in need of civilization.

Beneath the African Sun offers, through the eyes of its protagonist, a street-level view of the changing social and political climate of Kenya between 1916 and 1970, including the ‘Mau Mau’ Uprising of the native Kikuyu, the eventual independence of Kenya in 1963, and the political fallout that followed. 

More than a history, it is a story about family, home, social justice, and what it means to truly belong somewhere. 

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Book Excerpt:

We walked out of the snack shack into the night.

Menino gazed into the sky as we started down the dusty mud pathway that led from the snack shack.

“Sabby, I remember overhearing some of the older folk at your place when we were there for Sunday lunch—who is leaving and who is coming back. Are we too young to leave home? What do you think, Anton?”

“I don’t know, Menino. I’m not sure. I don’t even know what I want to do with my life. How can I even think about going to Africa? What would I do there? Sabby is learning to become a tailor. I suppose he can find work as a tailor.”

We didn’t say much to each other in the darkness of the night. We went our separate paths home.

That night I had dreams of being on a ship bound for Africa. They were beautiful dreams of a very different life. But there were also dreams of things going wrong and getting mixed up with different kinds of people who were strangers to me. The morning brought me back to being in Goa.

When I wasn’t at the shop, the days and nights passed as they usually did. I continued improving my tailoring skills with Mr. Fernandes, and he liked my work and offered praise. By April, I was taking measurements for customers, chalking out the cloth according to the measurements and then cutting the cloth. This was very interesting, and though, at first, I made a few mistakes, with practice I became good at it.

The Monsoon season, in June, brought heavy rain almost all day and all night. It was very hot. But we lived through our routines. Back at the shop and with Mr. Fernandes watching over me, I was now able to make a suit. I was very happy and proud of myself. Mai and Pai were very glad that I was doing well in tailoring. When a customer came in asking for me to do a suit for him, Mr. Fernandes told me that this was a sign that I was becoming a good tailor.

One day in September, with only few more months of apprenticeship remaining, I spoke with Mr. Fernandes about going to Africa. It was after closing time. We were alone in the shop. We sat down, and he told me that he knew of people who had gone there. Some had liked it and stayed, but others found it difficult to adjust and returned to Goa.

“Here,” he said, “we are all the same people, but in Africa there are the Africans, as well as the European and Indian settlers. You will have to learn to live and work with these different kinds of people and customs.”

I listened to everything he knew about living outside Goa. He said it was more important to take the advice from my parents, for it would be a big adjustment for them. He cautiously told me that we sometimes hear talk from people who come back and this is turned into stories; but you cannot know if those stories are true or not. It was difficult to say how any one person would adjust to living in Africa. I thanked him for his advice and walked out of Margao and onto the pathway to home, thinking it was time to talk to Mai and Pai to help me make a decision.

Regularly I had been meeting up with Anton and Menino at the snack shack for our Saturday evening discussions and sometimes arguments. On some of these nights, we would go dancing at the local dance hall. We cheered on our local teenagers who would stand in front of the crowd to sing. And when Menino did his song and dance number, we would shout as loud as possible. It was always fun on these Saturday nights. The next day, we drowsily saw each other in the church pews of St. John the Baptist Church in Pedda and tried to properly participate in the Sunday Mass.

After Mass, Mai was into her routine of preparing a big Sunday lunch. Some friends, relatives or neighbours would drop by to eat, drink, talk and sing. Sometimes, I brought Menino and Anton to our Sunday lunches. We joined in the conversation, while at other times we only listened to the stories. The best part was when we would sing and dance. This was enjoyable. I knew that if or when I did leave Goa, I would miss those Sundays. I would be with different people, and who knew what kinds of activities I would do. I knew that I would miss Mai and Pai and, of course, my brother, Miguel. He was younger than I and still at school.

On Sunday afternoons my friends and I would go to our favourite Benaulim beach. On one of these beach afternoons, Menino talked about working on a ship again, while Anton talked about doing carpentry at a shop in Margao. Sometimes I met up with Anton on the pathway on our daily walk to Margao. That day, however, we were sitting on the sand, looking out onto the Arabian Sea.

“My uncle from Bombay will be visiting us soon,” said Menino, his eyes on the horizon. “I am going to find out about working on a ship. He may be able to tell me how I can do that. There’s no one here who would know this information. What do you think?”

I couldn’t imagine being at sea for long periods of time.

“Menino, you are serious about working on the ship. I think it will be very different. You’ll be on the ship most of the time, and then on your days off you’ll come home. You will be between the ship and home. I wonder what that will be like.”

“Yes Sabby, it’ll be different all right. I have to find out more. My parents tell me that they have heard of young fellows working on the ship as stewards. I think I would like to do that. I will have to be trained. You know as I say it out loud, it feels exciting and terrifying at the same time. I’ll be on the ship day and night.” Menino sounded worried and looked to the sea in hopes of an answer.

Anton too was looking off into the distance and not saying anything. I wondered if he still liked doing carpentry work.

“Anton, why so quiet?” I shoved him on the sand. “Do you think Menino will make it on the ship? And what does a steward do anyway?”

“I don’t know. If that is what he wants to do, he can always try it out. Who knows what is good and what is not until you try it out. I am still not sure that I like carpentry. I do not know if this is the kind of work that I would become good at, and I’m not sure if this is what I want to do every day of my life. It’s very confusing for me. But now I’m listening to Menino talking about leaving Goa and doing work elsewhere. I have to think more seriously about carpentry,” Anton said, making circles in the sand with his fingers.

“Anton, the more carpentry you do, the better you will become at it,” I said. “As for leaving Goa, I’m considering it. I often wonder what it is like to live on the other side of the world. The more I think about it, the more I want to explore other places. It’ll be different with other kinds of people. I’ve been talking to my parents about leaving Goa. They seem to think that I would be better off in another place rather than here. They talk about Pedro being in British East Africa. He’s from our village. My parents know the family. He misses Goa very much, but he likes it there and will stay there for a while. He likes the work he is doing for the railway company in Mombasa. I think he is a mechanic.”

I looked down and realized that I had been drawing dress designs in the sand.

We continued our discussion about leaving Goa. We exchanged bits of stories we heard from other people who talked about living in Africa and what it was like there. These people received letters from Beira, Nairobi and Mombasa. It seemed to be a big adjustment from life in Goa. This was gossip from the villagers. It seemed risky to go some place faraway to live and work.

At home, the dinnertime discussions were quite different. Mai and Pai wanted Miguel and I to go to Africa for a better life, but they knew that once we were there they might never see us again unless we came back on holidays. But that would only happen once we had jobs and were able to save enough money to make the journey back to visit them. It could be as long as two or three years before they saw us again. It was distressing Mai very much, but Pai seemed confident about us going to Africa. Then the big question was around the choice between British East Africa and Portuguese Mozambique—which like Goa, was under Portuguese rule. These discussions came from the rumours and gossip in the village. We heard there were more jobs in British East Africa than in Portuguese Mozambique. But I wanted to do tailoring and, therefore, would it make a difference where I went? Would there be the same amount of tailoring work in both countries?

Then there were other considerations that my parents talked about constantly. The British had been in India since the sixteenth century and were still ruling the rest of India—except our Goa since the Portuguese would not give it up—would I adjust more easily under Portuguese rule or would it be difficult either way because both these places were in Africa? There was too much to sort out in my mind before I made my decision to leave Goa. In the meantime, I knew I had to continue working on my tailoring skills.

Talking with author Maria Lynch!

What is your writing environment?

My writing environment has to be a quiet place in my den. And, sometimes during the summer I like being in a peaceful summer cottage overlooking a body of water, usually a lake.

Do you write everyday?

Usually I write every other day; one day I write and then the next day I let the characters or scenes mull in my mind to enable me to move forward in the writing.  It is a routine of writing one day, and then reflecting and reading books the next day.

What authors have caught your interest lately and why?

Katherine Neville. She writes books that have mystery and suspense wrapped in my interests such as the game of chess. I read her wonderful experiences through her stories that are complex in plot but easy to follow through the thread of intrigue that Neville creates in her stories.
Elizabeth Hay. In her novel Student of Weather, she uses the stream of consciousness style of writing. In the first chapter I am confused and then when I read on the stream of consciousness style of writing takes over and I begin to appreciate her unique use of language to portray the story. I want to learn more about this style of writing and am not sure that I would use it for my future writing.
Rohinton Mistry. In his novel A Fine Balance, he portrays a story of life in India. There are many sections that have remained in my mind because of his ability to create characters performing in the dramatic scenes that appear real. This novel has left me heart-broken with a sense of helplessness.

Top 3 things on your bucket list?

Travel to the Arctic to experience a full 24 hours of daylight on the first day of summer and then perhaps visit again to experience a full 24 hours of darkness on the first day of winter. I believe these experiences would create a multitude of ideas for writing stories.

Walk the Camino—Camino de Santiago in Spain. I like walking and hiking. When I do this walk it will be uplifting while refreshing and deepening my spirituality.

Re-visit England to explore the various coastlines of this country. Spend the time discovering and learning about the deep history of this country.

How did you get the idea for this particular novel?

This novel has been percolating in my mind for many years. I wanted to expose British colonialism that fostered social injustices and created for the migrants a loss of belonging to a troubled yet beloved country of Kenya.

What is your favorite scene in your new release?

The scene where Sabby sees his beloved wife lying on the bed with no life in her. She is dead. Sabby is in a state of shock and cannot fathom the loss; a few hours ago she was alive and now she is gone. This scene is my favorite as it captures the swirling emotions and some unspoken reactions at the time of discovery of her death.

What are you working on now and when can we expect it to be available?

I’m working on a sequel to Beneath the African Sun. The story will be set in Canada where one of the characters discovers a sense of belonging to a country she migrated to. Canada becomes her adopted country with its many twists and turns that surrounds the whole issue of a sense of belonging. I anticipate it will be available in the summer or early fall of 2018.

What do you like to do when you are not writing?

Walking the nature trails, reading fiction and non-fiction, going to the theatre for live plays and cooking different kinds of meals.

What is one interesting fact about you that readers don’t know?

In my spare time I love listening to jazz music and whenever I can, I visit restaurants that have jazz sessions and I also go to the Jazz festivals held in Toronto and the neighboring towns.


About the Author: 

Maria was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. After graduating from Dr. Ribeiro Goan School and with secretarial skills and her experience as a School Secretary she arrived in London, England in 1967 in the midst of “hippie world.” She studied at Pitman’s College for a Commercial Teacher’s Diploma which she successfully achieved in 1969. Due to the tenuous political situation in Kenya she had to find a new home. In the autumn of 1970 she emigrated to Canada in search of a home to put down her new roots. This she did with her husband, Tim who immigrated to Canada from South Wales, UK. 

To Maria and Tim, Canada became a land of opportunity and new beginnings. In pursuit of these opportunities, they lived in Hamilton, Montreal, and Toronto. Tim pursued post graduate studies at the University of Toronto while Maria achieved a B.A. in Economics from York University followed by a B.Ed. from the University of Toronto. During this time, she and Tim nurtured their two sons. When they reached school age, Maria taught Business Studies’ courses  at high schools in the City of Toronto for fourteen years. In 1999 she achieved an M.A. (Leadership and Training) from Royal Roads University, British Columbia.

Maria is an avid reader of fiction and non-fiction books. The latter enables her to delve into her favorite topics of social justice issues, community development and philosophy. In 2009 she began blogging, visit This deepened her interest in writing novels and is author of Beneath the African Sun; for details visit She also enjoys nature trail walking and traveling.

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