by Ciku Kimeria
Published December 13th 2013
“It really is a strange situation to find oneself in – that of attending your own funeral. If anyone told me that the day would come when I would get to listen to my own eulogy, see old lost friends shed a tear and notice the absence of those I had assumed would be at my funeral, I would have thought them mad.”
I am still trying to find contemporary Kenyan authors. I’ve been looking for a while now and I always end up being told of short stories and novellas. The only one I can consider a novel is Dust by Yvonne Owuor Adhiambo and maybe The Last Villains of Molo by Kinyanjui Kombani. I had heard about Of Goats and Poisoned Oranges from my sister and for the longest time I just could not pick up the book and read it. She gave that ‘meh’ answer when I asked her how it was. The story line sounds intriguing but the constant disappointment when looking for modern literature from Kenyans had put me down too.
Of Goats and Poisoned Oranges is a story following the lives of a middle aged couple, Njogu and Wambui, as told by each of them as well as different people in their lives. The story goes back and forth in time as readers try to find out what is really going on with them. Wambui was the daughter of a prominent figure back home in Nyeri when she met Njogu who was a driver. Their first conversation was mainly in Kikuyu while she was used to communicating in English since it gave her a certain feeling of being better than regular folk at the time. She fell in love and chose to marry beneath her. Njogu is able to make it in Nairobi through Wambui’s connections and is soon a respectable businessman in the city but Wambui does not let him forget the reason he is the man he is.
“It was not explicitly thought that my language was inferior to English, but there was a general feeling that mastery of the English language was the preserve of the truly privileged, and we had to show it off as best as we could.”
But through the years, the love they had for each other dies down. The still maintained a certain image outdoors but it was something else whenever they were in their home. They had lost the respect they initially had for each other with Wambui’s constant jabs at Njogu’s past as well as distancing him from his friends who id not fit in with their image. With Njogu’s issues with the fact that Wambui was doing better than him before their marriage in her government job and let’s not forget the infidelity.
Let me start with what I loved about the book. Ciku Kimeria weaves a relatable story in today’s society although there were parts that just went a bit too far. If you hav eread the book, you know what I am talking about. Her story is that of a couple that has been through it all when it comes to infidelity and the feeling of betrayal is so deep that Wambui is willing to carry out one of the most twisted form of revenge I’ve heard of. The couple is nothing new in ordinary Nairobi life, the ones who are always giving the huge donations in church and they are always seen together but you still hear the whispers about their relationship here and there.
The other commendable thing was the fresh feeling of a different narrative. It veered away from the typical Kenyan narrative which was absolutely amazing. This is what I have been saying, there are so many stories to be told about the Kenyan population. I am in no way saying the other novels about poverty, corruption and precolonial Kenya are not important, but we have a wide array of things to talk about. There was a familiarity while reading this, the essence of the Nairobi night life and the general feeling of the Nairobi church life. The talk of the people visiting from ‘ushago’ and the character of Nyambura especially today when the side pieces are no longer scared of saying they are kept women.
The Beta Reader in me could not ignore some of the problems with the book. First of all, while reading it, I was trying to figure out where the title comes in to play. It is not an ordinary title and so I was sure it would make sense in the end. When she mentioned the goats that were to be taken to Nyambura’s family, I thought this is it. Something to explain it was coming up but nothing ever did. So what was with that title? And the cover too, why the oranges? Did I miss something? If anyone can explain it to me, please do.
There was also the formatting of the book which was off. The chapter titles seem like they were left the way they were from when she wrote the first draft. For instance, King’ori (Njogu and Wambui’s son) then there was also Njoroge (Wambui and Njogu’s Mr-Fix-It). The thing is, the titles appear before you have met the character so there is no sense of discovery to them. She tells you who they are instead of painting a picture with her words to introduce them.
That was the other thing. There are so many sections where it felt the narration was flat because it was just sentences giving us information. I could not invest in the characters or feel any sympathy/empathy because there was nothing in the narration that made me feel a connection to them as individuals. The general story I could relate to but them as people, not so much.
Then the flow of the story. There were parts that came in at the wrong point and others that were completely unnecessary. Someone like King’ori I expected would play a huge role by the end of the book. His point of view was not needed in the end, he felt like a filler more than a necessary character. There was also Muriungi, why was his POV even there? The house help is the one who had so much potential but she was also just a filler, an afterthought.
That’s the issue that comes with a lot of self-published books and it’s never the writers fault. When you want to self-publish, you don’t want to spend money on professional editors. You will send the book around to close friends and family. They add an insight to everything but they are not as honest as an unbiased reader would be. The beauty of a professional editor is that they help fill in the gaps in those huge plot holes. And if you cannot afford that, there are so many beta readers available online! You can get some that don’t charge anything.
This book would have been a lot better if it was not this short because it felt a bit rushed. Also, if more editing was done and I am not talking of grammar and such. There were just a lot of issues with the general outcome from the formatting to the flow of the story and the relevance of some of the characters. It was so hard to put away my beta reading glasses with this one because it had so much potential to be better. But then again, I read a first edition. Maybe there is a new edition out there that fixed some of the problems I mentioned.
Would I recommend it? Yes! Because we need to see there is a lot more to the Kenyan narrative.