The Next Chapter

Iman Verjee: How I wrote Who Will Catch Us As We Fall

When Iman Verjee returned to Kenya after several years away, she found she had developed a new perspective on her home country — one which informed her latest novel.
Returning to her childhood home, Iman Verjee explores a tension between Kenyans of Indian origin and the rest of the country in her new book. (Iman Verjee)

When Iman Verjee returned to Kenya after several years abroad, living in Canada and England, she found she had developed a new perspective on her home country, and the tensions that exist between racial groups. Her new novel, Who Will Catch Us As We Fall, explores that tension and how she came to grasp it. In her own words, she shared how she wrote it.

On showing the Kenya of today

I'm a Kenyan of Indian origin. I was born and raised in Nairobi and I spent my entire childhood and the majority of my young adult years in Kenya. So I've always felt a closeness to the place a sense of responsibility towards it. And that was why I really began to write Who Will Catch Us As We Fall. I think that in the age that we're in, we're all very connected and I want people on this side of the world — I mean London, Canada and others — to see modern-day Kenya, to understand it better. 

On deflecting the gossip

When I moved back to Nairobi and started working with Kenyans who weren't of Indian origin, it was so interesting to see how people reacted to me and how I reacted to them. I didn't expect it. At first it was very, very uncomfortable. We really didn't know how to interact with each other. I came in — I guess you would say in a position of power, where I was overseeing the jobs of maybe six or seven other local Kenyans, and they weren't very happy about it. 

They started talking about me in Swahili — they didn't realize that I could speak and understand Swahili. They were saying things like, "Oh these Indians, they come in every day and they think that they own everything and they're cleverer than everybody." 

It was just a very interesting experience for me, and one which made me feel really terrible and really sad. But the funny thing was that after listening to them speak about me for two weeks, I started responding to them and laughing with them about it. We started discussing these issues and it really just helped break this barrier between us. 

On living in a "middle world"

One of the main characters in the novel is Leena and she is almost a direct reflection of me. She was really the medium through which I explored all the preconceptions and stereotypes that I had previously held about Kenya and the struggles that I went through forming a new relationship with Nairobi. 

I think she represents the majority of Indians in Kenya. We're sort of stuck in this middle world and she just shows how difficult it is to straddle different cultures. 

Iman Verjee's comments have been edited and condensed.