The Havoc of Choice by Wanjiru Koinange
Publisher: Bunk Books
Genre: Literary/Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 Stars
Source: Gifted by Publisher
Long held captive by her father’s shadow of corruption, Kavata has spent her life suffocated by political machinations. When her husband decides to run in the next election, these shadows threaten to consume her home. Unable to bear this darkness, Kavata plots to escape. As her family falls apart, so too does her country. In the wake of Kenya‘s post-election turmoil, Kavata and her family must find their way back to each other across a landscape of nation-wide confusion, desperation, and heart-rending loss.
Koinange explores the long reach and effects of colonization and corruption within the context of a singular household and the disparate experiences of class and clan they encapsulate.
2007, Kenya was teetering on a delicate, precarious balance. It was an election year and as with any election year, the tension in the country was rife. But this felt different. There were open hostilities, overt threats made if the elections didn’t go one way or another, there was reckless rhetoric from politicians and a growing sense that things were not business as usual. Three days after the elections, amidst accusations of delays in announcing the results, perceived inefficiencies of the electoral commission and widespread allegations of rigging, the country turned on itself and imploded.
What followed were weeks of political unrest and violence that left over 1000 people dead. Neighbours and friends from different ethnic communities turned on each other, the police turned on its citizenry and the country was brought to its knees. This was the worst violence witnessed in the country since the British declared war on the Mau Mau during the struggle for independence.
The Havoc of Choice by Koinange reflects on this period in Kenya’s history told through the story of Ngugi’s family. Ngugi and Kavata meet in Uni and quickly hit it off. Ngugi is a passionate student leader and Kavata, a fiercely independent young woman trying to move past the shadow of her corrupt father and chart her own path. When Ngugi, under the tutelage of his father-in-law decides to run for office in the upcoming elections, the fabric of this family begins to slowly come apart and they begin to unravel. Just as the county on a macro scale was unraveling.
Koinange does a brilliant job confronting this period of Kenya’s recent and painful past. She does not soft pedal on her portrayal of violence and just how far reaching it was. No one was spared and it didn’t matter which side of the political divide you were leaning on. Some scenes are so vividly described and harrowing, I found myself closing my eyes and turning away from the book. And when the heartbreak comes, it tears at you as if someone reached into your chest, ripped out your heart and played it for sport.
"Such privilege was reserved for those who could afford the price tag that accompanied choice."
This description, though at times it felt disturbing, is very essential to this telling because I feel it forces you to peel off the mask and remove your blindfold. Koinange challenges our stereotypes, our preconceived notions and prejudices and asks that you, as Ngugi did in one of the scenes when he was forced to walk home, put on a new pair of lens to view the country with.
"As he walked home, he realised that while he'd used this route home countless times, he'd never been on foot. There were things he noticed for the first time, like the reason people were always getting knocked down this road was because there were sections with absolutely no footpaths between the end of the tarmac and the riverbed. He needed a new lens through which to view his country."
I loved that the author used a lot of ‘Kenyanese’ in her language which is reflective of how we Kenyans speak. We are notorious code switchers - we alternate our English with Swahili and other dialects, and it just forms part of the conversation. There is a lot of Swahili infused in the writing and this is done unapologetically with no explanations or translations. But still, the writing feels very familiar and easy to follow.
This is a book that I absolutely loved and highly recommend. Koinange with this debut proves that she is an author to look out for and I am so excited to read more of her books.
Thank you to Bunk Books for this review copy.