For this month’s book review, Radhika Timbadia writes about Wanjiru Koinange’s debut novel The Havoc of Choice. Join us for a conversation with Koinange on May 30, 2020, and buy her book on our online store.
After completing my Master’s in Ecology, I was lucky to spend nearly two years working in Kenya. While I was there, I fell in love with the large open landscapes, and the warm, wonderful people. I spent my time at the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi, and Taita Hills near the Tsavo West National Park. I remember especially how familiar the people, and their struggles, felt. And how kind the women were, wherever I went.
The Havoc Of Choice is set against the backdrop of the Kenyan elections of 2007. Kavata, the daughter of a corrupt politician, has spent her life moving away from the influence of her overbearing father. When a complicated set of events lead her husband to run for election, under the guidance of her father and his political ‘friends’, she is devastated about what it will do to her family and their relationship.
Kavata is a very relatable and complex character. One can see her struggle with her manipulative father and her frustrated husband, and her love for her children. She makes some difficult decisions, is well-intentioned, and yet seems clueless about her impact as someone from the privileged class on people less privileged than her. The chaos that ensues after the election night is heartbreaking. Entire neighbourhoods are burnt and hundreds of people hurt, from Kavata’s family driver Thuo and his wife Cheptoo, to their housekeeper Schola, everyone has consequences to deal with. The tribal nature of politics, the corruption, the class struggle are all deftly brought into focus by Wanjiru Koinange, in a story that is engaging and personal, and yet encompasses the difficulties, reactions and hopes of people from very different backgrounds.
Sometimes seeing our societies reflected in a story from a completely different perspective can give us many insights about ourselves — my short time in Kenya helped me appreciate the differences and similarities I may not otherwise have recognised. Our countries do have much in common, from a colonial past to class, clan and caste-based fault lines, to a richness in diversity that we must learn to celebrate. Read this book for an engaging story set in a fascinating country, to broaden your horizons and be left with a yearning to know and see more.
Radhika Timbadia is the proprietrix of Champaca. She spends much of her time figuring out how to run an independent bookstore, while also reading and spending time with her dog, cat and plants.