At a Book Bazaar in Soma Book Café in Dar es Salaam, author of Love Bombs Richard Mabala and writer of Karafu Nahida Esmail officially launched their books. Both were finalists in the BURT award for fiction. It was an afternoon of conversations on the challenges and merits of young adult literature in Tanzania.
Love Bombs is about teenager Marietta, whose naive yet soulful antics give this novel's serious topics a down-to-earth feel. Mabala paints the landscape of modern middle- and working-class families of Tanzania. Striding the fine line between advocacy and fiction, his characters are neither saints nor heroes, but relatable human beings.
Mabala has worked with children and youth for over 15 years. He is a renowned young adult author with previous titles like Mabala the Farmer, Hawa the Bus Driver and Run Free.
"Whenever I've asked children what they'd like most from the adults in their lives, it's not a big present, money or things. Rather they speak of being heard, supported, loved. They inspired me to write this book," Mabala said at the launch.
Love Bomb is a slow read at first but after a few chapters the pace picks up.
Karafu is a historical drama set in the mid-1800's. On a boat from Salem heading for Zanzibar, we meet Samuel, a 14-year-old boy of African American travelling with Mr Wilson, his European master, to discover the source of the River Nile.
We're also introduced to Zainab, a teenager of Arab descent from Muscat, who was born and raised in Zanzibar. Unlike Samuel, who is a servant, Zainab has several slaves at her beck and call, with even one for her pet cat Simba.
Though Karafu targets young adults, it can be enjoyed by older people as well.
Zainab is the daughter of a wealthy businessman Mr Barwani, who has big ships and deals in the clove business among other things.
Samuel meets unexpected trouble when he lands in Africa for the first time, but it isn't one with wild animals as he expected, rather the wild deeds of men set in a period where the slave trade is in full swing.
Esmail does a great job of sharing the reality of the period with relevant landmarks and customs.
Though the book explores slavery there's still plenty of humanity as the story is told by the curious 14-year-old.
She unveils an East African past that is foul, educating her readers on the region's history. However, the book has some errors like the spelling of "Unguja" as "Unjuga." The story is an inspiring plot of how one can overcome adversity in an impossible situation.