In the acknowledgements section, author Ciku Kimani, who also works as a columnist with
Daily Nation, reveals that it took her close to a decade to finish penning her first novel, Nairobi Cocktail. I interestingly compared the duration to how I love my wine—sweet, smooth and matured for close to ten years. I knew there and then that this was going to be a captivating read. And indeed, as I turned the last page two weeks later (I’m a slow reader), I not only earmarked it as my favourite book but it had also changed my life in more ways than a bottle of wine ever could.
Set in Nairobi as its eponymous name suggests, Nairobi Cocktail focalises on individuals from well-heeled societies who live glamorous lives and aim for nothing but the best. Through the book, one is able to interact with the filthy rich in their own element, and observe how they interrelate, party and even agonise.
This is not to say, however, that Ciku Kimani snobs the other side of the coin. Readers from lower fiscal rungs will still relate to the novel a great deal. For instance, it will take a heart made of stone not to shed a tear as the writer takes us through the life of Mark Mbogo, who grew up slinging poop for sport in the heart of Kibera slums. What happens to Mark at the end? As much as I’d love to reveal that to you, I don’t want to be a spoiler. Read the book on your own to find out.
Its main characters are four girls, Kui, Achieng’, Kanini and Naserian, who are the best of friends and stick closer than family. As they grow older, their friendship becomes punctuated with their constant struggle for happiness. Amid becoming adults, climbing the career ladder, dating and finding love, their bond seems unshakable. But that’s until Naserian does the unfathomable and sets them all topsy-turvy. How will they salvage what they once had? Is forgiving really medicine to the soul?
The main characters, influenced by their zodiac signs, are so unique and distinct that they almost literally jump into life as you get to know them. The most lovable is the gentle and elegant Kui, who rises from working an 8-5 job to becoming one of the country’s top radio queens. Spinsters looking for Mr. Right will learn at Kui’s feet as she dates the entire gamut from a guy suffering OCD to a narcissist and finally ends up with Kip, her dream guy who happens not to be perfect either.
The writer has a way of blending with emotions such that I found myself deeply infatuated with one of her characters, the petite Achieng’. Born with a silver spoon in her mouth, Achieng Otieno decides to bunk university and instead trains as a mechanic in Kayole despite scoring straight As. You will love her sharp wits and recoil when her mouth stings worse than a bee.
In its expansive plot that you’ll enjoy weaving through, the book lacks one central theme. Instead, Nairobi Cocktail addresses a buffet of issues ranging from prostitution, politics, corruption and homosexuality, among others. The messages that ring loudest, however, are friendship, forgiveness and love.
Of particular mention is the intriguing look at sex trade, as the author makes you view sex workers as no lesser humans who deserve to be rehabilitated and not incarcerated. Through Naserian, a character, the book poses the question “Why don’t we send sex workers to rehabilitation centres instead of throwing them in jail together with child molesters, murderers and thieves?”
Perhaps a little hair in the soup is the wanton grammatical and typographical errors that are sure to put off impatient readers. Indeed, Ciku Kimani rued the decision of not spending more money on editing. “Instead of doing everything myself, including editing, I shall look for a professional editor (for my next book),” she wrote in Saturday Nation a few weeks ago.
Typos notwithstanding, Nairobi Cocktail is a book every Tom, Dick and Harry will enjoy. The pregnant mother, the teenager high on hormones, the slovenly lad at Kibera slums, the Cabinet Secretary in his Mercedes, the news anchor at Nation Centre… All will find the book entertaining and scintillating.
In less than a week that it should take you to thumb through its 200 pages, you will experience a cocktail of emotions like never before, a rollercoaster if you like. Anger, pity, joy, laughter—all evoked by this one novel. And as the cocktail trickles down your gullet, it will leave you a sweet taste in your mouth, like it did in mine.