I’m not ashamed to say that I am not above judging a book by its cover. We all do that, don’t we? I must say I wouldn’t have picked this book up on the merits of its cover. The cover design (in conjunction with the title) does not do much for it in attracting readers.
Why is so little effort expended on cover designs of Kenyan books, with some being downright hideous? This is right from the artwork to the paper quality of the cover itself. I do think we can do a lot better with our covers, especially in view of the beautiful African art that abounds. And gifted artists. And clever designers. And fantastic photographers.
African Book Addict has showcased some of her African, Caribbean and African-American book covers here, check them out. Pretty African book covers are possible!
I digress…so why did I pick it up? Probably because I learned that Ciku Kimani-Mwaniki, who habitually finds the hilarity in the quotidian (as seen on her prolific FaceBook posts), wrote it. It was, of course, also helped along by my current quest.
I do not regret spending my time with this book at all. Overall, Nairobi Cocktail was a very enjoyable read. I chuckled throughout as I read it, Ciku did not leave her humour at home as she wrote it.
Nairobi Cocktail revolves around four women – Kui, Kanini, Achieng and Naserian – who are from very well-to-do families in Nairobi, and are now just stepping out into the world after school/ college. We delve into their friendships and their fall outs, their working worlds, their relationships, falls from grace, among other things.
In spite of their similar backgrounds, the young women’s temperaments could not be more different. The chapters that introduce each the four girls begin with star-sign descriptions; a bid to summarise the character of the particular young lady we are about to meet.
The main characters are treated equally in the beginning but Kui, my favourite, seems to emerge as the main, MAIN character. 🙂 I wonder if this is because we spend the most time with her?
Despite the fact that I didn’t get to intimately know her thoughts or motivations, and despite her near-perfection, I rooted for her throughout.
We get a complete view of the lives of Kui and Naserian, of their childhood right into their adult lives. Naserian is the most rounded out character, in my opinion, even though a few of the events in her life were a tad implausible (to me.)
We learn about mostly the younger life of Achieng, and very little indeed about Kanini. Indeed, I got to know more about the lives of some of the supporting characters than about Kanini. I don’t think the book would have suffered at all if she was altogether removed from the story.
The story has a large and varied supporting cast and I must credit Ciku Kimani-Mwaniki’s skill in keeping them distinct and memorable enough to keep track of.
In the numerous characters we get to see different kinds of parenting (practical and loving, absent or too busy, over-protective, the works.)
Romance was a key part of the stories of the main characters, which, I guess, isn’t surprising. People in their 20s are often on the lookout for partners, aren’t they? It was love at first sight for any man in the book who fell in love (with the exception of one), suggestive of the common saying that men are visual creatures.
Also captured within the lives are the insecurities of young women, young men who “need to prove they can afford to treat beautiful women”, faithful and unfaithful partners, the struggle to balance career growth demands against family needs and single parenthood. That all this is packed into the one story must be partly the reason why the book is Nairobi Cocktail, an apt title, after all.
The ending was a tad too long…just a tad, not terribly so. The story carried on for a while longer after the story had ended. Does that sound crazy? That is the feeling I got, nonetheless.
Ciku not only self-published, she edited the book herself. It always pays to have a second, independent eye go over one’s writing, no matter how good a writer one is. A few errors made it through the editing, but all in all, these were surprisingly few for a self-edited book.
This is a good first novel. I’m glad she has gone on to write more books.
Where to buy the book
You can get in touch with Ciku Kimani-Mwaniki through her FaceBook page to get a copy of the book.
About Ciku Kimani-Mwaniki
Ciku Kimani-Mwaniki, who was a columnist for the Daily Nation for seven years, lives in beautiful Limuru, Kenya, and describes herself as a villager. I seem to recall having seen her refer to herself a farmer on a sabbatical.
One Christmas while in England, cold and far from friends and relatives, Ciku Kimani-Mwaniki put pen to paper and began to write all the reasons why she missed Nairobi. She wrote and wrote and wrote, and the idea of writing a book sprouted.
It took almost 10 years to complete her first book, Nairobi Cocktail (2014), but publish she did. She also published Immigrant Cocktail, at the end of 2018 and is currently working on her third book.
I am a dark chocolate lover, red wine lover, but most of all, book lover who lives in Nairobi and is currently looking for love in Kenyan books.
Many, many years ago, as a student, my impression was that all Kenyan books were set in the colonial period, were to do with the fight for independence or handled the political situation in the country shortly after independence. I didn't think there were books that wrote current Kenyan lives that I could identify with. I am now seeking them out.