In the past few months I have coincidentally found myself reading books whose settings have been around some sort of political upheavals or civil war in the continent. From The Memory of Love, a tale of loss and love in post-war Sierra Leone, to Boy Interrupted, a narration centered on the life of a boy sabotaged by civil war in Liberia and now, bringing it home is The Havoc of Choice, a fictional account of oscillating events of family life in the shadows of a troubled election and subsequent violence in Kenya. This book creatively captures the realities of the immediate impact of the Kenyan post-election violence (2007-2008) through the lenses of both the haves and the have-nots in the country.
This exceptional novel by Wanjiru Koinange follows the life of Kavata as she involuntarily maneuvers the cages of the murky political scene in Kenya because of the choices of the men in her life. As a young girl and daughter of Hon. Muli, a quintessential Kenyan politician (corrupt, proud, and untouchable), she longed for the day she would burst out of Muli’s stuffy bubble and begin an independent life away from the claws of his loud personality. This dream became a reality when she met the love of her life, Ngugi, and settled into life with him away from the influence of her father. However, Hon. Muli’s stench proved difficult to break away from and soon enough, and to Kavata’s distraught, her husband becomes her father’s political protégé. Fed up with a life confined in the decisions of the men in her life, Kavata is forced to make her own difficult decisions in order to lead the life she has always wanted for herself.
“Kenyans are a people plagued with chronic amnesia- you should learn from them.”
The consequences of Kavata’s radical choices permeated the lives of those around her in the most unexpected ways. The advent of the Post-elections violence only served to catalyze the predicaments that struck the family in the backdrop of a burning country, sparing no one including her children, Wanja and Amani. As the story tragically unfolds, it revealed certain painful truths.
Truths about the dangers of blind privilege.
‘’You are not like him, but you are not better than him either. Muli is aware of his power and he knows how to use it. He knows its danger, but you don’t. You don’t understand that every little thing you do affects sisi watu wadogo.”
Truths about the rotten systems in the country.
‘’ ‘They said that when the OCS brought you in they couldn’t charge, so he told that Kiprop guy to lock you up until he decided what to do with you… So Kiprop didn’t write your name in the register. He is waiting to hear what his boss says.’ ‘’
And truths about the true owners of a country.
“You and I are not the same, and to think that you are is stupid. Kenya ina wenyewe and you are one of them. I know you didn’t think about these things. And I know you are a good person. Lakini you must open your eyes.”
Without a doubt, Koinange sought to write an authentic account of the most harrowing of times in the history of Kenya. She narrates horrific scenes in their most raw versions, leaving almost nothing to the reader’s imagination. Further, she explicitly displays the crude emotions of the characters through the heartbreaking chapters that will have a reader cutting onions. I loved the unapologetic use of Kiswahili and other ‘Kenyan’ dialects. It was also refreshing to be on the other side, familiar places, names and languages.
Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it for anyone looking for a creative and authentic voice. Wanjiru Koinange is definitely an author to look out for!