I heard a lot about this book, or rather, saw a lot of IG raves about it before I picked it up. I tend to come skeptically to books with rave reviews; they either don’t live up to the hype, or I read them with expectations that are too high. How did this one do?
Book: The Havoc of Choice Author: Wanjiru Koinange Publisher: Bunk Books Publication year: 2019
Well…the book had me from chapter one. Within the first couple of pages suspense had built up and I was hooked.
This book is set around the 2007 Kenyan elections. I said before in my review of Dust, that it was the first book I had read that was set in this time. Clearly it is just that I haven’t been reading Kenyan books.
Wanjiru Koinange uses obvious names to represent the two main political parties during the elections – Party of Never-ending Unity (PNU) and the Official Democratic Movement (ODM), which surprised me. Despite the unveiled references, I felt like The Havoc of Choice handled the main issues with kid gloves. The book focuses mainly on Kavata’s family’s life around that horrific time, and the effect of politics on a family.
The real 2007 election events horrified me, indeed, it marked the end of my political innocence and my belief in the basic goodness of the new, post-Moi era Kenya. Considering all that happened in that time, I expected something more substantial, a clearer position on the events. Nobody seemed to have feelings beyond their own little world. The issue of the stolen election was way too vague and rushed (in my injured view).
This book took me way back to when I was in high school. The scenes were all too familiar. I thought back to when when people would be sent to Nyayo House for running their mouths off carelessly. I lived through those times – when political braves were fighting for a multiparty state. I remember sitting on the stairs in high school, huddled together with other girls, listening to a tiny transistor radio that had materialised from somewhere. Saba saba (7th of the 7th month) was approaching and political freedom fighters had plans.
One thing that truly comes out of this book is the effect of big men fighting; when elephants fight it is the grass that gets injured.
Politicians sit around and discuss the campaign strategies that God has (typically) revealed to them, they reiterate how many people are counting on Kavata’s husband to win the election. Who are these people, one wonders, who are more important than family?
When are you going to understand that you are fighting for someone else’s benefit?
Where does family come in? Family ceases to exist in the political world, apart from as a tool, advantage or prop.
Kavata looked around her again, taking in this version of her country that she knew was there but had managed to erase from her reality.
I liked that there was no laboured backstory, Wanjiru Koinange dripped it in masterfully. I was willing to forgive the slightly saggy middle, because it was generally a delightful read, and also because it reminded me about the version of my country that I mostly forget about.
I am a dark chocolate lover, red wine lover, but most of all, book lover who lives in Nairobi and is currently looking for love in Kenyan books.
Many, many years ago, as a student, my impression was that all Kenyan books were set in the colonial period, were to do with the fight for independence or handled the political situation in the country shortly after independence. I didn't think there were books that wrote current Kenyan lives that I could identify with. I am now seeking them out.