Monday, 21 August 2017

Forbidden Fruit by Stanley Gazemba

Forbidden Fruit by Stanley Gazemba
First published as The Stone Hills Of Maragoli by Kwani in Kenya in 2002. Republished in America as Forbidden Fruit by Mantle in June 2017.
Winner of the 2003 Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature.

Featured in WorldReads: Kenya
296 pages towards Olivia's fun August Reading Challenge to read an average of 50 pages each day throughout the month. Total = 1767 pages.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Desperate to make ends meet, Ombima commits a "harmless" crime. When he tries to conceal his misdeed, the simple farm laborer becomes a reluctant participant in a sinister affair. If discovered, the consequences could be disastrous for Ombima's family, friends, and a spate of unwitting, gossipy villagers. A delicious tale of greed, lust, and betrayal, Stanley Gazemba's FORBIDDEN FRUIT is more than a dramatic tale of rural life in western Kenya. The moral slips and desperate cover-ups — sometimes sad, sometimes farcical — are the stories of time and place beyond the village of Maragoli.

I hoped to have enjoyed reading Forbidden Fruit more than I actually did and it took a while for me to actually put my finger on what I think lets the novel down. On a positive note, Gazemba provides us with a striking portrait of Kenyan village life. Following his supporting cast of landowners and villagers through their days allowed me to understand and empathise with them - as well as reinforcing my desire to only ever buy FairTrade tea. Witnessing, albeit fictiously, so many people living in absolute poverty despite their hard work on tea plantations really gave me a good insight into relative Western affluence. Despite their eye-opening aspect, these scenes of gossip and bickering aren't depressingly serious. Instead they are alive with energy and great fun to read.

Unfortunately I was less enamoured of the central storyline which follows plantation worker Ombima as he gets himself deeper and deeper into trouble as the result of one desperate act. I struggled to empathise with Ombima or to understand his actions because I felt his motivations weren't adequately explained. The narrative seemed disjointed to me, Ombima stumbling from one event to another without strong enough reasons for doing so. This was a shame as I happily got caught up in the surrounding circumstances and appreciated Gazemba's detailed evocation of the village and landscape around Maragoli. I would still recommend Forbidden Fruit for this portrayal of rural Kenya.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Stanley Gazemba / Contemporary fiction / Books from Kenya


  1. I am glad you were able to like it more than expected! It's a shame that you couldn't quite find that connection between motive and occurrences to make you better understand the protagonist though.

    1. Yes, this is a debut novel though and I would read Gazemba again.