Book Review: Of Goats and Poisoned Oranges!!

Photos by Doris Mbabu

Photos by Doris Mbabu

"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."

(Prologue, The Year 2013, Of Goats And Poisoned Oranges)

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I've been meaning to share this book review with you all for ages! I read Of Goats And Poisoned Oranges from start to finish in one sitting. I almost had no choice - I was on a looonnngg flight and I couldn't be bothered with re-watching old movies. But quite frankly, even if I did have a choice,  I would still read Of Goats And Poisoned Oranges in one sitting!! It's one of those riveting reads that you literally can't put down!! And even if you do put it down, your mind will be in speculation till you next pick it up:  "What happens to Nyambura? How about Wambui and Njogu?" 

I'll tell you this: carve out some time and settle into this book. You'll be glad you did!

About Of Goats And Poisoned Oranges:

"It is generally accepted that there are only two possible outcomes to flipping a coin - heads or tails. In reality, there is also a small probability of the coin landing on its edge. In this book, we explore the tumultuous marriage of a middle aged Kenyan power couple, as it is told by different parties in their life. On this riveting journey across the foothills of Mt. Kenya and the chaotic streets of Nairobi, the reader will learn that the truth is not a universal concept, but one that is dependent on the person telling the story. "

(Copied off the jacket of Of Goats And Poisoned Oranges)

About the Author, Ciku Kimeria:

Ciku Kimeria is one of the smartest women I have ever met.

She and I worked together at a Global Development Agency in Kenya. Well, I was interning during my sophomore summer and she was a permanent employee - so please, wacha nisijipandishe bei! (So let me not raise my status!) She's one of those. Well educated, articulate and confident. Clad in high heels, a power suit. Her look, capped in long thick locs and flamboyant African earrings. She is confident. And beautifully so. Inspiringly so. And why not? She studied at MIT and is one of Africa's finest rising stars. She is self-assured. And humble. And vocal. (I was not surprised when I discovered that she had written a book. She's cut out for this and more!)

Ciku Kimeria's capacity is near infinite. She's a creative genius and an intellectual guru. 

 

This I found refreshing:

If you've been following me for a while, you know that I am ALL about the agenda of the African woman arising. For me, Of Goats And Poisoned Oranges embodies this very agenda, in two distinctive ways.

Firstly, it is authored by an African woman! Can we just let that sink in. Our literary history as Africans is crowded by many male greats - Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Chinua Achebe...you know the list, no need to venerate them any further, their work notwithstanding! Of Goats And Poisoned Oranges, joins the ranks of Chimamanda Adichie's AmericanahHalf of Yellow Sun

There's something powerful about African women writing about and for African women! 

This book, is above all, a celebration of women's empowerment in Africa, by its very publication and by the issues it explores. 

Which leads me to my second point. Of Goats And Poisoned Oranges is about a new Africa. The post-colonial narratives that heavily underpinned the works of Achebe and Thiong'o take on a different momentum in this book. The battle seems not to be a racial one, but rather a class one. The Kenya that was, 50 years ago, seems to have crystallized along ethnic and class lines. The battle now, is not waged in blood and broken bone, but in ideologies.

There are undercurrents of feminism and egalitarianism.

The main character Wambui is female. (I say this for my non-Kenyan readers who might not be able to distinguish gender simply based on names.)  Need I mention, the last book that I read by an African author that had a female as its protagonist was Coming To Birth by Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye. 

Where are the female protagonists in our books?  

I digress though. Let me simplify the plot of this story for you. Wambui marries Njogu, a poor man from a lower social class. Their marriage hits the rocks and Njogu takes on a second wife in secret. Wambui plans for the imprisonment of her co-wife by staging her own murder. She disappears, undergoes plastic surgery and lives abroad for several years. She then comes back to live with Njogu as his "new wife". (Of course there are more plot twists and thunderous moments than this blurb allowed for! You'll see when you read this book!)

As far as this plot is concerned,  Wambui can take hold of her destiny. Well, in as far as her money, callousness and sheer gut can take her! But she seems, at the same time to be held down by patriarchy and misogyny. She doesn't seem to be able to envision her life's worth as anything outside the duties of being Njogu's wife. 

I can't help but question:

1. How does Of Goats And Poisoned Oranges inform our understanding/reflect women's agency in Kenya, and in the rest of Africa? Do education and personal wealth (access to economic opportunities) open up doors for women's autonomy and freedom? How do patriarchy and misogyny continue to operate despite these efforts?

2. How does Of Goats And Poisoned Oranges inform our understanding of tribalism in Kenya, and ethnicity in the rest of Africa? The characters in this novel are almost entirely from the most powerful ethnic community in Kenya - the Kikuyu. What might the omission of other ethnicities mean for "literature as social responsibility"? I believe that books reflect but also shape worlds. 

3. What might be said of women writing for women? Of Goats And Poisoned Oranges speaks directly to the lives of many Kenyan (and African) women. It's incredibly powerful when women tell their own stories.

As the Ewe proverb says, "Gnatola ma no upon sia, eyenabe, adelan to kpo mi sena."

(Until the lion has his or her own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part of the story.)

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If you've read Of Goats And Poisoned Oranges, and would love to share your thoughts, leave me a note below! Or if you'd love to be part of this conversation or simply to share what other books you've been reading, feel free to share your thoughts and comments below! These questions are worthy of their very own blog! 

Love and Sunshine, 

Tabitha.