Of Goats and Poisoned Oranges is the debut novel of Kenyan writer Ciku Kimeria. The book tells the tale of married couple Njogu, his wife Wambui and Nyambura the mistress/side dish/mpango wa kando/small house/add your term of mistress in your African country.
Njogu was a driver when he met the daughter of rich man and they fell in love and eventually married. The two live in Nairobi and slowly grow to be one of the most respected families in the city’s social scene.
Everything isn’t perfect in their lives, it never is either in novels or real life, and they have to deal with several things over the years. Initially they cannot have kids for while but after many years they bring forth their first and only son King’ori. Then there was the philandering was of Njogu with the man having many different mistresses which he learns to be discrete about.
Eventually, he meets Nyambura, a new barmaid at his local bar, and he falls hard keeping her as a mistress for a decade. Eventually his wife Wambui finds out and she comes up with an elaborate plan to fake her death and implicate her rival in love Nyambura as the murderer.
It works. Wambui is announced as dead she even attends her funeral in disguise before moving to the Middle East in Dubai to lay low until the heat is off. Eventually Nyambura is arrested for murder, tried, convicted and goes to jail for her evil deeds as far as the courts are concerned.
After a while our scheming Wambui moves back home and settles back in her Karen home with her Njogu.
First the flaws. Let’s start with novel’s title. What the heck does Of Goats and Poisoned Oranges have to do with anything to do with the plot of story. It might make sense to the author but what about the rest of us not in the joke?
This novel, or novella depending on how you look at it, also suffers the self-publishing curse. The book has a brilliant plot but it needed an editor do content edits so that the final product shines. I noticed that there were sections of the plot that big huge holes. Characters in the story that look like they might affect the plot in a big way like King’ori suddenly disappear. The same can be said of the maid who worked in the Njogu household; what is her point other than to show that the man was a dog of the highest order. We already know this with his other conquests so we are hoping that she will help us know more.
That said, there are many things I love about this book though. I am a sucker for realistic portrayals of my city. Young King’ori the NGO worker does this brilliantly with drinks in town, picking up prostitutes on the legendary Koinange Street (no relation to the famous Jeff Koinange hehe), suffering company politics when his firm fires him unfairly. Its not just the urban landscape that is portrayed by our author; she describes the experience of moving from a village to a city and sending children back to meet folks in said village. This is very common experience for many Kenyans. We all hear these kinds of stories told in bars and chamas (stokvels/Nigerian saccos) but we have too few people writing about them so Kimeria’s contribution is appreciated.
Would I recommend that you buy this book? It is an important contribution to the Kenyan literary canon in spite of its flaws. She is funny as heck.