Published in 1979, the book was set in East Africa in the post colonial Kenya. The themes in this book include love, wealth versus poverty among others. The main characters are Caroline, Chuma the narrator, Kihuthu, Caroline’s father.
The book begins with a quote from the narrator Chuma, who we learn is a houseboy in the Kihuthu household.
“Hail jail! The house for all. The only house where a government minister and a pickpocket dine together, work, discuss matters on equal terms. The only place where equality is exercised regardless the social class.”
When Kihuthu’s daughter Caroline falls in love with Chuma and becomes pregnant with his child, she disgraces her family, who feel especially humiliated by Chuma’s lowly status as a mere houseboy.
For Chuma, the development is a reminder that life is unfair and for that he does not like himself. He says regretfully,
“A factory reject. That’s what I was. Made up of third class material. The leftovers of creation. I suspect God created me shortly before lunch…..he left me incomplete.”
Chuma believes that with money, he can have anything in the world and maybe if he had been born rich, Caroline’s father Kihuthu would have had no problem with his relationship with the daughter. To Chuma his encounter with a rich man is the cause of all his misery in the world. Carol escapes from school to his home village before the doctor reveals the information to her rich parents. Life is hard for her, but Caroline is one who adjusts quickly. In order to make her happy, Chuma steals and he is dragged to jail.
Caroline returns home when Chuma goes to serve his theft sentence in prison. It is there that he meets Kisinga, who introduces him to another kind of lifestyle, burglary when they leave prison. Chuma has not forgotten Caroline. He does this because he wants to bridge the gap between him and Caroline.
Chuma goes to Mombasa together with Kisinga to find Caroline who they find after a number of days. The two are like brothers. They make it back to Nairobi, after stealing from a tourist couple at the beach. To Kisinga an evil doer caught doing something against the law is a hero. He smokes bhang which gives him the kind of confidence he has. He believes in reincarnation. You are born a thief and next time a rich man.
Kisinga is arrested along with another man in the crew for an attempted robbery of a bank. Chuma makes it back to Mombasa where he meets Caroline about deciding their fate. When she runs away from him, she falls headlong on a spiral staircase. He is arrested again on two cases armed robbery and attempted murder.
Can Chuma eventually cross the bridge from poverty to wealth, and ultimately win over Caroline? In a narrative that is both comic and melancholic, Mwangi Gicheru takes along in this exploration of life, love happiness, and wealth.