It is one thing to start a story with a lot of promise and yet another to bring it to a fulfilling clincher at the end. I feel as if Ciku Kimeria’s Of Goats and Poisoned Oranges has left me with a series of unresolved or else loose ends that could have done with some polishing. But who am I that is yet to reconstruct a coherent opening to novel to say so?
Kimeria presents a story whose opening is so riveting that I was at once reminded of Ng’ang’a Mbugua’s Terrorists of the Aberdare. In Mbugua’s case, the story opens when the protagonist has arrived in heaven and is trying to get acclimatised to the new surroundings. For her part, Kimeria borrows a similar but doubly different angle. The narrator reckons: "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."
Of Goats and Poisoned Oranges demonstrates the superficial lives of Kenya’s middle class and pokes fun at attempts to bridge the gap between the low class and members of the middle class. This is vividly brought out in the marriage between Wambui, the novel’s protagonist, and Njogu, the antagonist. It is a fairy tale of a relationship that was never meant to be and one that miserably and tragically comes to an end when Njogu murders Wambui after she physically effaces her existence by feigning her death.
One could argue that this is a modern narrative reliving the times of urban populations and their socio-economic struggles. Njogu marries into money and begins to make an identity for himself. Unfortunately, this is overshadowed by his poor upbringing and the fact that he has married into a rich family. Consequently, he is not Njogu the man he would wish to be but the Njogu married to Wambui. It is a crisis of identity that drives him into seclusion when his marriage first alienates his family and friends and then forces him into a stage-managed lifestyle that he loathes. One could even propose that he feels emasculated as a man.
The unfolding of the story reveals the different life perspectives modern couples have as a result of their upbringing and the kinds of tussles this can create. Told from a multiplicity of voices, Of Goats and Poisoned Oranges allows each character to reveal their inner desires and fears by telling it all – the bare knuckle way. The conflict between Wambui and Njogu is given impetus by the appearance of Nyambura, Njogu’s mistress, in the picture.
A few flashes of suspense will keep the reader going as s/he strives to find out how the trickery of the couple upon each other will turn out. The lies that married couples keep are unravelled and the reader is made to reassess his/her postulations about marriage. Indeed, the text revels in the stereotype that a nagging wife is the sole bearer of the responsibility for her cheating husband. It also preys on the thinking that a couple can be discordant if the lady is rich and the man is poor. But you have to read the novel and decide for yourself.
However, I must give the story credit for the fact that it gives women a kind of agency. Although it is not well captured/brought out, one feels that the women somehow have a sense of control over their bodies, that is, their sexuality. The fact that the women also have money, apart from the few who have to rely on the men to provide for them, attests to the fact that women are consistently getting economically empowered in contemporary urban societies.
One of the best ways in which the women demonstrate independency is when they choose to have children without letting Njogu know that he is unable to sire. Hence, King’ori and Njogu jr. are not sons of Njogu, at least not in a biological sense. In this way, Kimeria enables the women to decide how they will be defined in their own terms. But I fault the text for being artificial in the way it tackles perceptions about poverty. I felt like the writer tried too hard to capture the sensibilities of a poor man and his ambitions. The descriptions about Kibera come across as too shallow and devoid of any meaningful depiction of slum dwellings.
One will have to grab a copy of the text to be their own jury. For me, it is just another read not necessarily for critical studies but one that can help to while away the time. It is not necessarily humorous but some may find it so on the contrary. I trust that you will enjoy it.