The Star Tribune called James Levine’s first novel, “The Blue Notebook,” “a small masterpiece.” It told the story of a sex slave in Mumbai who finds solace by writing in a secret notebook. Levine lives in Rochester and is a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic. His new novel is about a young Nairobi boy who works as a drug runner. Here’s how Chapter Seven opens:
It was the morning of the Boss Jonni run.
Guess what? It was filthy hot.
First thing, me and Slo-George made our visit to Krazi Hari. The lunatic was louder than normal. He shouted, “All tha counterfeit prescriptin drugs killin’ us!” and pounded the air with a blue book covered with green mold. Me and Slo-George missed him with our rocks. We left the garbage mound to the beat of Krazi Hari’s insane laughter and headed to St. Lazarus for breakfast.
On Thursday mornings, the Salvation service was held at St. Lazarus Church. If you say you are saved, you get a free breakfast. St. Lazarus Church was about an hour’s walk away. By the time we got there, I would be ready to be saved.
As me and Slo-George walked, I wondered how Krazi Hari had learned to read. There was a school, kind of, in Kibera, just a mabati roof on stilts staffed by nuns and do-gooders. None of the staff stuck around to teach the whole alphabet or past the seven times table, and so none of the children could spell “rat” or knew that 11 times 12 is 132. At the end of every day the children sang together, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” I never went to this school (the School of Benevolent Innocence was enough) but I often sat on the hill behind the school with Slo-George, sipped beer, smoked, and listened to the children learn and sing. The learning never did the children any good, but they seemed to like it.