Haunted by a past that has kept her from Nairobi for over three years, Leena returns home to discover her family unchanged: her father is still a staunch patriot dreaming of a better country; her mother is still an arch traditionalist, unwilling or unable to let go of the past; and her brother, always the rebellious one, spends his days provoking the establishment as a political activist. When Leena meets a local Kikuyu artist whose past is linked to her own, the two begin a secret affair—one that forces Leena to again question her place in a country she once called home.
Interlinked with Leena’s story is that of Jeffery: a corrupt policeman burdened with his own angers and regrets, and whose questionable actions have unexpected and catastrophic consequences for those closest to him. Spanning a period of 12 years, Who Will Catch Us As We Fall is a gripping and epic story of love, loss and identity in contemporary Kenya.
I knew Kenya is a land of 40+ tribes, but I didn’t know about the East Asian population there. It’s fascinating following Leena and her family as they grapple with being a brown “them” in a country of predominantly black “us”es.
Verjee explains many things from culture to politics, which I’m grateful for. The details may not come right away, but that helps her stay out of info dump territory. Still, the first third… almost half of the novel is set up. It’s well done – we’re introduced to characters and their relationships through interesting stories and memories alongside their current life. You see why they grew into the people they now are.
Which is good. But it does take a while for the story to get going, and I found it easy to put down and forget for days at a time. The characters ended up drawing me back in, with events that could almost stand alone as short stories if it weren’t for the deep history adding layers.
The entire picture presented – of Kenya, of day to day life – is nuanced. There’s differences between generations, between racial groups, between social classes, between those who want to improve society and those content to make do with the status quo. There are tough moral decisions where “right” choices exist, but sometimes the cost of making it isn’t worth it. Or comes back to bite you in the end.
Characterization is the strongest part of the book. You get why everyone acts the way they do and even minor characters are fully fleshed out. Here’s how we’re introduced to the leader of the student union:
Steven Kimani was a small man with light skin and pleasant features. The broadness of his shoulders was exactly matched by the distance kept between his two feet, so that he looked like a tricky boxer readying himself for a fight.
He organizes demonstrations and from those two sentences alone you can get a feel for how they end up.
I’m really glad I read Who Will Catch Us As We Fall. I love traveling places via reading and I now have a feel for some of the issues Kenyans face on both a large and small scale. A hearty recommend to anyone who would like to learn more about this part of the world, especially if you like deep, nuanced characters.
Thanks to Oneworld and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.