Gerald Everett Jones’ latest book takes us across to the Sub-Saharan African Country of Kenya. The award-winning author effortlessly transforms his readers’ experience from being passive observers to find themselves thoroughly invested in this journey. Here’s what he shares about himself and his new book, “Harry Harambee’s Kenyan Sundowner.”
Hi Gerald, you tell us about your new book, “Harry Harambee’s Kenyan Sundowner”?
A lonely widower from Los Angeles buys a tour package to East Africa on the promise of hookups and parties. What he finds instead are new reasons to live.
Aldo Barbieri, a slick Italian tour operator, convinces Harry to join a group of adventuresome “voluntourists.” In a resort town on the Indian Ocean, Harry doesn’t find the promised excitement with local ladies. But in the supermarket he meets Esther Mwemba, a demure widow who works as a bookkeeper. The attraction is strong and mutual, but Harry gets worried when he finds out that Esther and Aldo have a history. They introduce him to Victor Skebelsky, rumored to be the meanest man in town. Skebelsky has a plan to convert his grand colonial home and residential compound into a rehab center – as a tax dodge. The scheme calls for Harry to head up the charity. He could live like a wealthy diplomat and it won’t cost him a shilling!
Harry has to come to terms with questions at the heart of his character: Is corruption a fact of life everywhere? Is all love transactional?
Who would enjoy reading it the most? Why?
Fans of literary fiction who aren’t locked into any particular genre. I believe the fascination of literary fiction is to get inside a flawed character who is forced to dig deep into his soul. He’s not necessarily someone worthy of admiration, but we may be impressed by his courage. We might see ourselves differently as a result. And as we follow him through the strory, we go through his painful discoveries without having to look too closely at ourselves in the process. But in the end, we know we all face the same questions and anxieties.
How do the characters from the book come alive? What makes them so appealing?
Harry sets out as a tourist, a passive observer. He watches the world from the backseat of an excursion vehicle. But then when he develops an emotional attachment and decides to stay in-country, he must begin to think like a resident, like a citizen. He must decide how much he is willing to become involved, how much he’s willing to commit. There’s bravery in his decision.
What are some of your cherished moments from your time in Kenya that may or may not have made their way in “Harry Harambee’s Kenyan Sundowner”?
Most of the time, my wife lived in Diani Beach, a small resort town on the white sands of the Indian Ocean. Some of my favorite times were Sunday afternoons at Forty Thieves Bar and Grill on the beach. It was a buffet for ten bucks. Almost everyone you knew in town dropped in at some time. There was a band playing, alternating American pop coverage with authentic South African rhythms. We all sat there, gossiping, eating, and drinking until the sun went down. And our two terriers amused themselves endlessly chasing crabs in the surf. (This scene isn’t in the book!)
If it is made into a movie, who do you think should play Harry Harambee’s character?
Christian Bale has proven he can play just about anybody, but think of him plumped up with thinning hair as he was to play Dick Cheney. But with more affability and heart. I describe Harry as a bit pudgy, something of a couch potato, but with a friendliness and charm. Then again, Jack Nicholson just the way he shows up these days?
Mystery-thrillers or literary fiction, what do you enjoy writing the most? Why?
I prefer to write literary fiction because there are no rules. Almost none at all. But I enjoy writing mystery-thrillers because after I get going, I let myself go and let the characters make the decisions. And the ending is always a surprise, to me and I hope to the readers.
What are you reading, watching, and loving? Any recommendations?
After I started writing the book, I realized its similarities of setting and expat intrigue with The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene (set it Sierra Leone) and The Constant Gardener by John Le Carré (set in Kenya). I reread both of those recently, and the movie of Gardener is well done. There’s also a movie of the Greene story. It’s available to stream on Amazon and I intend to watch it for the first time soon.
Rapid Fire time! Answer the following questions with the first thing that comes to your mind.
Orange juice or Coffee
Organic French Roast. At least two cups with soymilk first thing in the morning.
Writing in silence or with music
I’m a music lover – mostly classical and jazz, and especially opera. But if I listen while I’m writing my head gets jammed and it’s a distraction.
Kindle or Paperback
Kindle especially when traveling. Paperbacks when making notes, especially for research. I love a paper book, but if I get one I have to gift it because I just don’t have the space to hold them all. That’s another reason for Kindle – a thousand books in your library in the cloud.
Podcast or Video
When I’m recording a podcast in the studio, I love the sound of my voice in the headphones, and I relax. I enjoy doing video but I tend to be both animated and self-conscious at the same time.
One item from your “bucket” list you’d like to share
I’ve often thought of investing in an art gallery on Canyon Drive in Santa Fe. I’d work there part time, but never miss the parties on openings. I’m not sure my wife is ready to let me do this, though.
Favorite holiday destination
I lived in Paris on the Left Bank for a time as a student. Never bored going back. My French has gotten better. They now accuse me of being either Belgian or British. They know I’m not local! My wife Georja went to school in Rome, and that’s at least one place where I shut up and let her talk.
A favorite author you’d love to meet
I’d love to have a leisurely chat with Hypatia of Alexandria. And I’ll ask her what she thinks of the book I wrote about her. Most of her writings have been lost, so I’m sure the conversation would be revealing – particularly regarding who destroyed them and why.