Reading Stanley Kenani’s “Love on Trial”

By | May 26, 2012

This continues the Caine Prize blogathon. Below are some of my thoughts on Stanley Kenani’s “Love on

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First the things I like about the story. I think the setup at the beginning is very good. A drunk happened

upon a couple who were having sex in a toilet (I know, the fact that it is in a toilet is a bit troublesome, but stay with me). One of them is a young law student from the village “one of the three of us from this village to have made it to the university”; the other is presumably from a nearby village because Mr Kachingwe, the person who walked in on them, did not recognise him. I like the way Mr Kachingwe turns this experience into a way to secure free drinks for himself and fellow degenerate drunks at the village pub. Those who want to hear him tell the tale of his discovery, and of the “everything” he say, had to loosen his tongue and lubricate his memory with shots of strong alcoholic beverages. I wonder how beautiful a story about the experience between the skilful teller of tales (never drop the punch line, always leave them hanging) and the voyeurs would have been if that were fully explored.

This leads to the other thing that I like about the story: it speaks to media voyeurism. Mr Kachingwe is not just a storyteller at the pub, as he also becomes a source for the media circus that followed the breaking of the story. The story of a couple becomes a national discourse, amplified by the media. Nothing is private; everything is drawn out and put on display. The media harasses Charles, the man who is the subject of Mr Kachingwe’s story.

Even for the most talented writers, writing an engaging political story with a moral overtone is not easy. In the hands of someone who is obviously not George Orwell, it becomes even more of a daunting task. With “Love on Trial” we get a morality tale, complete with a fable at the end even, to tell us what we have learnt, just in case we weren’t paying enough attention.

I mind much less the topic of a story than I do the telling of the story. I get the importance of writing about homosexuality in Africa, and I appreciate the need for more discussions on the issue. I would love to imagine that there are better, subtler, more deliberate ways to approach the issue, especially in a work of fiction, than in an overly moralistic way.

Apart from this problem that hangs over the whole story, there are some weird turns of phrases and manners of speaking that made me cringe or shake my head, or both.

On some level, I applaud the jury for selecting a story on homosexuality. I only wish that the story they chose were written with some more art and subtlety.

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