This book is a celebration of the woman, particularly when faced with adversity. It documents the life of Akoko, the heroine and source of the River and follows the lives of her descendants to the fourth generation.
The book opens in pre-colonial Kenya amongst the Luo community. It tells of a great chief who has many sons but no daughters. One of his wives is pregnant and is imminent for delivery. She goes into labour and gives birth to a girl, who becomes the darling of her father. This is shown by his statement " A home without daughters is like a spring without a source”The girl is named Akoko. Akoko grows into a fine young woman and is the apple of her father's eyes. When the time comes for her to marry, no suitor is good enough for her and many young men of wealth and stature are turned away. In fact, Akoko despairs that her father and brothers will not deem anyone worthy of her. In the midst of all this a young man, Owour Kembo hears the praises of Akoko and decides to ask for her hand. He is the heir to a chiefdom and is looking for a suitable wife. His people come calling and are received in the usual way. Akoko's father and brothers ask for a monumental bride price and are surprised when Owour Kembo's people accept without negotiating. This earns the respect of Akoko's father and he accepts their suit. There is a snap shot of Akoko's character when she meets her future husband for the first time. She looks directly at him, she is not coy or demure, she is herself. From that moment on, Owour is forever smitten and is unable to marry any other wives as is the tradition amongst his people
Akoko is shown as strong, resilient, hardworking and wise. She is contrasted with her lazy brother in law who is described as "Ruled by his stomach and guided by his stomach… a weak man”. Her battles with her in-law are epic and are described in great detail. Akoko also embraces change as is shown in her efforts to seek justice by visiting the courts of the white man. It is shown again by her attitude to widow inheritance when she says "Such a man had no real rights over the woman; his job being that of
siring children to maintain the dead man’s name…the widow was left in a
state of limbo.” This is shown again when she accepts the calling of her grandson to priesthood, despite the fact that he should have inherited his fathers stool and position as chief. Her resilience is demonstrated by the way she deals with life when struck by blow after blow.
She passes on her virtues to her daughter and grand daughter whom she helps raise. On the eve of her grand daughter's marriage, she passes on with the hope that the river will meander and grow.The rest of the novel follows the lives of her grand daughter and her children and their children. We encounter the twins Becky and Vera and their sister in law Wandia. In these characters we examine atheism,sibling rivalry, ethnic relations and the place of education in our society.
The book does not go into detail on the character of Nyabera, Akoko's daughter but vividly describes Elizabeth, the grand daughter. It then focuses on the lives of Vera, Becky and Wandia. Emphasis on the achievements and characters of Vera and Wandia are evident. The spirit of Akoko is strongest in these two women.
This book celebrates the Woman, especially the African Woman. It seeks to show that even where patriarchy exists, it is possible to fight back and win. This book is a clarion call to all women, to break lose from repressive cultures and practices, to fight as women and to be willing to go the distance.
The book has won two awards; The Jomo Kenyatta Literature Prize, and the Commonwealth Writers Prize Best First Book in the African Region. It makes for an interesting and informative read.