By Michelle Chepchumba
Dead fathers. Critical mothers. Abusive marriages. Body insecurities. Young love. And always, expectations. Notes Under the Door is an anthology of seven African literary short stories that explores what it can mean to be a girl, a young woman, in a world that demands too much of women, and gives back too little. Set in urban Kenya, each story follows a girl or a woman grappling with the experience of being who they are – young, female, African, layered, complex, whole.
Notes Under the Door & Other Stories is a collection of seven short stories. Each story is a glimpse into a deeply profound moment. A moment delving into the secret, complicated mind of Kenyan women at different stages of life. The experiences described in these moments are tangible and feel very real.
Chepchumba’s characters speak on diverse, sensitive issues such as, unexpected pregnancy, and how hard it can be to acclimate to the dramatic change of life a baby brings. She delves on relationships, and how hard they can be to maintain. A short story on domestic violence from the perspective of a young girl shows the impact it has on children. How domestic violence changes a child’s view of a parent.
Notes Under the Door gives this book its name. It is a story tackling grief, obligations, and abortion. Each one of these adding on to the damaging effects on a mother at the time of abortion, and years later, when life continues on.
In Spilling into the World, a character asks, ‘…why can’t you decide you’re beautiful?’. What a powerful question. Spilling into the World looks at body image in a world where mainstream stereotypes impact women’s views of their own beauty, and their self-confidence.
A heartbreaking story told from the perspective of a young girl whose father does not look at her, nor treat her as ‘his princess’, concludes the collection.
Overall, Notes Under the Door & Other Stories reads like tales told from a best friend’s perspective. Stories to make you feel, ‘Ah, I’m not alone in this. There are others like me.’ These stories depict women living experiences in our rapidly changing modern world. They are a conversation to continue, and normalize. I most enjoyed the realness of these short stories.