Ndirangu Githaiga’s The People of Ostrich Mountain is a historical fiction primarily set in Kenya, and parts of the story occur in the UK and the USA as well. This saga of family, friendship, and culture spans across five decades and centres around three main characters—Wambũi, Eileen, and Ray.
Wambũi Karanja, a fourteen-year-old girl, lives in the small village of Kiandutu, in the foothills of Mt. Kenya with her father, mother, step-mother, siblings, and step-siblings. An intelligent student, she joins a prestigious boarding school run by Missionaries. Ms. Eileen Atwood, a British teacher, recognizes Wambũi’s potential and talent. Unfortunately, there aren’t many opportunities for a girl in Kenya in the 1950s. As the years pass, Wambũi grows up to become a smart and capable woman. Her husband isn’t interested in managing the family business, and much to his Wambũi successfully takes over the running of the shop along with her father-in-law. She turns around the business with her sharp intellect. Her daughter is a successful lawyer in the USA, while Ray, her son, a medical student, begins his residency training in Chicago.
Eileen is forced to return to England after spending over four decades in Kenya. She struggles to settle down in a country that no longer feels like home. Until one fine day, Wambũi visits her in the UK and presents her with an offer she can’t refuse.
The language is beautiful, and especially the description of Kenya, its people, and its culture is well done. The author highlights gender disparity, colonization, the ugly and beautiful side of the missionaries, racism, and the struggles of an immigrant in America. Familial ties, friendship, loyalties, and cultural aspects are woven beautifully into the narration.
Unfortunately, despite the beautiful and varied themes, this novel did not work quite well for me. It is unnecessarily lengthy and marred by abrupt transitions. The jump in timelines is huge and disjointed.
Though there are various subplots and backstories of many minor characters, they seem like just fillers and are not engaging enough. Till about 40% of the book, the story revolves around Wambũi, her village, atrocities of the police, the Mau Mau rebellion, etc. And suddenly, the story moves in a different direction and she is missing for a long time.
The story drags initially and suddenly picks up the pace when the focus shifts from Wambũi to Ray. But a large part of his life is not shared and we are unaware of the years between his early years and medical school.
The blurb is kind of misleading. I thought I would be leading more about the rebellion and the Kenyan struggle for freedom. Unfortunately, it doesn’t give much detail about the British-Kenyan conflict or the Mau Mau rebellion. And Ray and Eileen’s stories overshadow Wambũi’s.
I listened to the audiobook narrated by Lee Goettl. This is the first ever audiobook I’ve heard and I have no yardstick to measure it against.
Even though the male narrator modulates his voice according to the speaker—adult male, young girl, woman — but the outcome was unpleasant to the ears. Also, his accent remains the same irrespective of the nationality of the speakers. Kenyans, Americans, and British—they all sound the same.
I was looking forward to audiobooks, but this one proved to be a disappointing experience. Hopefully, the next one should be a better one!
The People of Ostrich Mountain is a literary work with vivid descriptions of Kenyan culture, war, and racism.
Thanks to Bon Esprit Books via NetGalley for the opportunity to read an ARC of this novel. All opinions expressed are my own.
Wordsopedia Rating 2.4/5
|Title: The People of Ostrich Mountain||Author: Ndirangu Githaiga|
|Publisher: Bon Esprit Books||Publication date: 31 Mar 2021|
|Genre: Fiction—Historical||Format: AudioBook|
|ISBN: 9781662509261||No. of Pages:|
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About the author
Ndirangu Githaiga is an author, world traveler, and physician whose critically acclaimed debut novel has been recognized among The Best Books of 2020.
Get in touch with the author on his website.