Lunch and Learn Series: Shelina Shariff-Zia ’86 GSAS
Join Shelina Shariff-Zia ’86 GSAS, author of Nairobi Days, for a discussion about duty, longing, and political upheaval.
This diaspora novel is a celebration of Indian and African culture as seen through the eyes of a young woman, who brings her heritage with her wherever she goes. As a member of an Indian minority in a small African country, Shaza’s life is complicated from the beginning. She looks for trouble and is always getting into scrapes and fights. She allies herself with her soft-hearted grandmother in a lively house full of relatives dropping by for long meals and siestas. Her family sends her to a strict English boarding school, but she tries to run away. Later, she meets Idi Amin, the bloodthirsty Ugandan dictator, he invites her to the palace which few people come back from alive… As a teenager, Shaza goes to a convent school run by Irish nuns. Despite the strict rules, the girls are beginning to discover the opposite sex and flirting with what’s forbidden. Shaza is part of a Muslim family that emigrated from India at the turn of the century, but the old ways still rule. No one in Kenya dates, they just sneak around. At seventeen, Shaza meets a handsome Hindu boy at a party; Sameer is smitten but they come from two different religions. Sameer and Shaza sneak around going to parties and movies, seeing each other secretly. Shaza is torn between her sense of duty and her longing for Sameer. Will the relationship survive her family’s disapproval and a long separation? They live in difficult times in a turbulent African country; Shaza’s cousin is almost killed by thugs and Kenya has a coup d’état where the Indian minority is targeted. The saga follows Shaza’s life from the 1960’s to the 1980’s showing the political upheavals in Kenya and her move to the United States. Nairobi Days is a coming of age story, a love story, a political novel and above all a celebration of life.
Shelina Shariff-Zia grew up in Nairobi, a tomboy who climbed trees and was always getting into trouble. She is the fifth generation of an Indian family who moved to Kenya from Gujarat. She attended Loreto Convent Msongari, a convent school run by Irish nuns. The author grew up speaking English, Gujarati and Swahili. At nineteen, she moved to Texas to study Literature at Rice University. After a Masters in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, she went back to Kenya to work at the Aga Khan Education System. Later she became a Wall Street reporter covering chemicals and finance. After living in Nairobi, Kampala, Karachi, Toronto, Cincinnati and Miami among other cities she has settled in New York with her family. She teaches English at Bronx Community College.
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