on January 24th 2017
Pages: 432 •Goodreads
In the shadows of Sangui City, there lives a girl who doesn't exist. After fleeing the Congo as refugees, Tina and her mother arrived in Kenya looking for the chance to build a new life and home. Her mother quickly found work as a maid for a prominent family, headed by Roland Greyhill, one of the city's most respected business leaders. But Tina soon learns that the Greyhill fortune was made from a life of corruption and crime. So when her mother is found shot to death in Mr. Greyhill's personal study, she knows exactly who's behind it.
With revenge always on her mind, Tina spends the next four years surviving on the streets alone, working as a master thief for the Goondas, Sangui City's local gang. It's a job for the Goondas that finally brings Tina back to the Greyhill estate, giving her the chance for vengeance she's been waiting for. But as soon as she steps inside the lavish home, she's overtaken by the pain of old wounds and the pull of past friendships, setting into motion a dangerous cascade of events that could, at any moment, cost Tina her life. But finally uncovering the incredible truth about who killed her mother--and why--keeps her holding on in this fast-paced nail-biting thriller.
2017 seems to be a year rife with diverse titles, and one of my reading challenge goals has been to read more widely and diversely this year. City of Saints and Thieves seemed like a great way to expand my reading horizons as it’s a book featuring diverse characters, set outside of the United States (in Kenya) and deals with many political and humanitarian rights issues. What I also didn’t glean until I started the book and paid attention to the synopsis more closely is that it’s a thriller, with the protagonist on the hunt for revenge for her mother’s murder the main driving force of the story.
While the author is not from Kenya herself, it’s clear that a lot of thought and research went into this book. While the initial set up of the book didn’t really engage me (the gang environment, the job-gone-wrong, etc.) I found myself pulled by the socio-political aspects that developed from subtle mentions to full blown plot points throughout the course of the book. There’s the exploration of the great wealth disparity in Kenya through Tiny Girl’s upbringing vs. her dangerous birth in the Congo and her status as a refugee. There’s explanation of the dangers faced by the constant state of warfare in countries like the Congo, and the effects are shown instead of told, through the character’s struggles, actions, and fears. The narrative manages to convey the sense or fear and uncertainty without ever veering into “info-dump” territory, but rather lets the story itself do the work through the settings and character interactions. I personally found the setting of the the church hospital in Tiny Girl’s hometown of the Congo to carry the most impact, as it shows the strength of human resilience even among the most damaged and vulnerable. So many types of strength, especially females’ strength in the face of unfathomable horrors, are showcased and developed in this novel.
Overall: City of Saints and Thieves was a book outside of the normal thrillers I read, but I am so, so glad that I read it. Rather than relying on fantasy or dystopian elements, it crafted a compelling story out of the very real horrors that are being perpetuated in the world today, while still crafting a story about resilience, strength, and hope. As an added bonus, the content feels well researched as the author has worked directly with NGOs and the UN on refugee relief in Africa, and mentions in her author’s note that many, many real stories and experiences of those she worked with inspired and made their way into her novel. While the pacing of Anderson’s debut dragged a bit for me throughout the first half of the book, it’s evident that she’s a strong, capable writer and I can’t wait to see what she produces next.