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Africa’s First Digital Novel Finally Launched in Print

Alex Nderitu (left) flanked by spoken word poet Griffins, at the book launch of When the Whirlwind Passes, at Alliance Française, Nairobi.

Kenyan author Alex Nderitu’s When the Whirlwind Passes, which is regarded as Africa’s first digital (and crime) novel, was launched last Saturday at Alliance Française in Nairobi. The novel’s initial publishing as an e-Book in 2001 earned Alex Nderitu the title of e-Book pioneer’.

During the launch led by Esther Neema as the Master of Ceremonies, different writers and poets read from the novel and their own works. Neema is the founder and CEO of Dream Tribe, a Nairobi-based Non-Governmental Organization. Writer Beth Ruga opened the event with a reading of an excerpt from When the Whirlwind Passes.

Among the performing writers and poets was Jacob Oketch, Alex’s longtime friend and compatriot at the leadership of Pen Kenya. Jacob read from his book of poems, Aphorisms and Poems of Light. Munira Hussein, the writer of Unfit for Society and A Curve of Darkness, recalled first meeting Alex online, after which they got talking via Messenger. After the two became friends, Munira managed to read Alex’s poetry collection, The Moon is Made of Cheese, which literary blew her away. Writers Guild Kenya founder Gabriel Dinda also narrated the literary journey he has had with Alex.

Alex learned about the then-new world of e-Books from a UK literary magazine. “The first time I sold an e-Book (through eBookMall.com), I received a physical cheque worth a dollar and a half from San Francisco Valley, USA”.

“The book was retailing for 3 US Dollars and I was entitled to 50% royalty. Around the time I got into e-Books, Amazon existed but was yet to release Kindle, which would revolutionize e-reading,” Alex said.

He went on: “e-Books were very experimental in the early 2000s. When British writer Patricia Le Roy was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize with for novel Angels of Russia, the world seemed to have finally started paying attention to e-Books. Since then, e-Book technology has improved a lot. A good example is Print-on-Demand, which allows one to get a hard copy version of an e-Book. My Web Designer background sort of propelled me towards digital publishing.”

When the Whirlwind Passes was inspired by a high-society murder case I read about in The Daily Nation in 1998. Despite writing professionally for over twenty years, this is my first ever book launch,” Alex concluded.

The launch was not just a gathering of writers, but also a perfect blend of art. Before Griffins ‘The Beast’ graced the launch with his energetic performance, his learners recited a memorable poem. The learners, who are children from Maji Mazuri Teens Club, performed a piece on mental health and freedom. G-cho Pevu the Poet and his guitarist also wowed the crowd with exquisite poetry.

In When the Whirlwind Passes, Maggie’s encounter with Michael Othaya, the young heir to a luxurious fashion empire, sparks the events that involve sex, conspiracy, manipulation, and murder.

Over two decades since When the Whirlwind Passes was first published online, the novel remains one of Africa’s most downloaded e-Books. In December 2021, the novel was released as an audiobook by US-based publisher LA CASE Books. Under the deal, two Alex Nderitu books –  When the Whirlwind Passes and Kiss Commander Promise – were made available in sixty-six countries in audiobook format via the Google Play Store.

Despite his success in the literary world, Alex keeps on producing. He has since published three other books: The Moon is Made of Cheese (2008), Kiss Commander Promise (2021), and The Talking of Trees (2021). His short stories have seen the light in different countries around the world. Alex’s literary works have been translated into global languages like Japanese, Swahili, French, Dholuo, Arabic, and Swedish.

In 2014, Alex’s narrative poem, Someone in Africa Loves You, represented Kenyan literature on Commonwealth Postcards distributed during the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. In 2017, Business Daily listed Alex among Kenya’s Top 40 under 40 Men.

Towards the end of the launch, a cake in the shape of the book was cut. The Paperback version of When the Whirlwind Passes is currently available in Nairobi at Nuria Bookstore for Kshs 1,000.

Africa’s First Digital Novel Finally Launched in Print

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3 responses to “Africa’s First Digital Novel Finally Launched in Print”

  1. Beth says:

    Excellent reporting there.

  2. Peter Ngila Njeri says:

    Thank you, Beth.

  3. Congratulations Alexander. It’s about time! Wishing you whirlwind success

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