The novel Of Goats and Poisoned Oranges by Ciku Kimeria is about the marriage of skirt-chasing Njogu and his obsessive wife Wambui. Theirs is a mismatched union, yet they both have an interest in keeping it going.
However, they are forced to re-evaluate their union when Njogu falls in love with Nyambura, a young, not-so-bright girl. Circumstances force Njogu to make her his mistress and the core of the novel is about what happens when Wambui finds out about Nyambura.
Wambui, the daughter of a chief and thus from an upper-class family, falls in love with her cousin’s chauffeur Njogu and agrees to marry him. She proceeds to turn him into a Nairobi businessman but makes him shun his family.
The Nairobi of the novel is a familiar one for Africans, a city of men making deals at nyama choma joints, trading information and deadly secrets. Njogu thrives in this world. Njogu and Wambui have a child whom they name King’ori.
The success of a novel has a lot to do with how a writer tackles theme and style. Of Goats and Poisoned Oranges is executed using the epistolary style of the fragmented narrative — a style used to stunning effect in Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s novel Dust (Kwani 2013).
Diary-esque chapters are assigned to both major and minor characters. This enables Ms Kimeria to quickly establish her characters while moving her plot forward.
Most of the action takes place in 2013, with some chapters giving flashbacks to earlier occurrences of significance such as 1978, the year Wambui met Njogu. The year 2000 is another significant one because that’s when Njogu meets Nyambura.
Nyambura is a graduate from rural Kenya who meets Njogu at the bar where she is working. She is “upgraded” by the affair, which parallels the way Njogu was “upgraded” by Wambui.
Nyambura lives with her mother who suffers from dementia. Before her mother dies, she advises Nyambura to have a child, as a mistress is never quite secure without one.
The great value of Ms Kimeria’s book lies in the snapshots she gives an outsider of life in Kenya. Her writing style grants intimate access to the lives of people from different social classes.
Chapters dedicated to King’ori and his cousin are about the young Nairobians who spend their time drinking up a storm.
The lives of Nyambura the mistress, the cleaning lady and Njoroge the fix-it man are about their attempts to upgrade their lives.
Ms Kimeria’s potential is pegged to her ability to write about these different people.
However, the book has some errors that have nothing to do with the story or with the writer’s talent. The most disturbing is the layout of the book. While all the pages follow each other correctly, the page layout is such that the text is too close to the margins.
Another error is that the book does not give any information about the publisher although it does have an ISBN. The use of footnotes is another error.
At the end of Of Goats and Poisoned Oranges, only Njogu is left, but he has lost everything. Yet, there is a sense that the Njogus of the world will always get by. I do not know what sort of hope this is, but it is one of the many interesting things in Ms Kimeria’s debut novel.
She is definitely a writer to watch.