Vitabu Reads | We're Not Our Fathers by Joseph Lamin Kamara

On the cover of Joseph Lamin Kamara’s 2016 noir fiction, We’re Not Our Fathers, the lovers in the woods beam up promises of a sweet adventure. “Lahai and Kornyaa have adopted a responsibility of giving each other a love their fathers have refused to give their mothers,” reads the hopeful back blurb of the book.

Lahai Jabbie, a bright and sensitive young man, has retreated from heartbreak but hasn’t given up on his lost love.  Kornyaa Foray was the girl next door, who only ever wanted to do well, read books, go to college and keep on loving Lahai in Bloom, a shady grove with a guava tree and a log slung over a narrow stream bordered by tulips, sunflowers, and daffodils.

There, the reader is transported first to Lahai’s world in rural Koribondo and then to Kornyaa on the gritty streets of tough old Freetown as she struggles to survive with no money, few prospects, and lots of predatory suitors before finally she and Lahai end up together on a bus bound for Pujehun.

The lovers’ reunion after a four-year separation lasts only for a minute before reality comes crashing in.  Is the tragedy inevitable? Are they doomed to suffer the jagged emotions of the harrowing scene in their newly married bed?

Kamara’s book covers familiar territory in contemporary Sierra Leone: war-time abduction, rape, displacement, domestic violence, single-parent homes, and illness--all metaphors illuminating the lives of everyday people everywhere.

The novel began life as a short story ”A Roofless House in the Rainy Season,” which appears as a poignant, wrenching, and painfully funny 14-page letter from Kornyaa halfway through the book.

Kamara’s novel makes you aware of traumatic decisions that people often make, as he delineates the consequences of poverty, betrayal,  and normalization of predatory relationships.

The poems sprinkled liberally throughout can be uncomfortable reading in a book that pits an economically divided Sierra Leone against each other in a devastating commentary on the lives of the hero and heroine.

Lahai and Kornyaa, twenty-something people (like the author), were just trying to make sense of the hand that fate dealt them in a generation that missed out on growing old fulfilled.

We’re Not Our Fathers
by Joseph Lamin Kamara
Sierra Leone Writers Series pp. 135
Front cover illustration by Amadu Tarawalie

Updated Friday, February 24, 2017

Joseph Lamin Kamara

Background story to We’re Not Our Fathers

I think the book can be best described as creative nonfiction. Most of the things about Ngor Fatty, Lahai's mother, are things that happened to my mother. And using her real name like that is to fulfill, in part, her wish that I write a story about her life before her death.

It's true that our father abandoned her and us and he refused to reunite with her, something she grieved for and one that negatively impacted my and my siblings' growing-up.  So I just wanted to go through my mother's mind and feel her pain, what she kept dealing with inside of her. But putting words in her mouth, especially in the first section of the book, is a fictional act. Nevertheless, Lahai's mother in the last section was my own real mother. Everything that happens to Lahai's mother truly happened to my own.

Also, it's true that in 2008 I went to Bo and took the Private WASSCE there, where I fell in love with a very beautiful girl whose own father and mother had gone apart, leaving the mother to struggle with feeding and educating her children. It is also true that the teenager I fell in love with in Bo was impregnated by the guy I had met her with, much to the discomfort of her mother. Apart from those instances, I think the rest of the book is a creation.

The third section of the book is an edited form of a short story I wrote in a story competition organized by the Sierra Leonean English professor, Pede Hollist. That story "A Roofless House in the Rainy Season” won me first prize in the competition, a copy of Professor Hollist's debut novel, So the Path Does Not Die.

Joseph Lamin Kamara’s writing career

When I started writing, in 2010, what is today my debut novel, I just wanted to write a small pamphlet that I would give my Bo lover, hoping that would trigger a reunion between us. But as I went far into the intended pamphlet, I started feeling that I needed to turn it into a book.

One of the difficulties in writing, for me, was writing a book out of a love affair that really did not have many exciting aspects. Turning that immature piece into something, I think, much like a book was a really tough job for me. Additionally, at some points I left the writing for almost a whole year, but I kept coming back to it with the hope of writing a great debut.

Another challenge was that my initial notion of book writing was that it was just a bookish affair so I started writing with a highly elevated, condensed language; I had pretty much admired Shakespeare's use of language, but almost everyone who read my first draft condemned it as not real. I had to go back to the entire book.

Also, change of characters' names, ensuring factual accuracy and things like those was a huge task. It was also difficult to combine university study and debut novel writing. But you can also imagine the financial hardship in the life of a poor young man striving to give meaning to his life.

Getting published

Getting published was really easier. In fact, I think, I'm one of those lucky people who have been told to write and get published for free. Thanks to Professor Osman Sankoh and his Sierra Leonean Writers Series! My book was published for free and it's a fundamental reason to continue writing. But I also think that a better edition of the book is needed, and republishing, by even another publishing house, is necessary. It's something I will work on. I will soon approach Sierra Leonean Writers Series for another edition of the book.

Tips for young writers

Young writers need to first think. The mind has to be at work, because writing a fiction that people around the world would identify with is the result of a great creative imagination. But they must also have a burning desire to know everything that happens around them; to take note of the daily highs and lows of people around them. But above all, a young writer must realize that writing is meant to reform the writer's society and his or her people. This will help a writer to be objective. I also think that a young writer must always let established writers and other older people read their works.

What’s next

I have started writing another book I have titled 499 DAYS INVESTIGATING SIERRA LEONE. Between 2014 and 2015 I worked as a reporter and subeditor at a reputable media house in Sierra Leone and I discovered a lot of issues of national relevance. I feel very passionate about exposing those things that have held back the progress of my beloved Salone.


  1. A great accomplishment there Joseph. I hope to read your book soon. Congrats!


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