Stanley Kenani’s “Love on Trial” is best described as its protagonist, Charles Chikwanje, himself: “a walking encyclopaedia”. The story is a veiled piece of reportage, drily relating the discovering of Charles’ homosexuality in a public lavatory, the ensuing scandal, court case and subsequent conviction. Charles’ arguments for sexual equality are redundant, if eloquent. The message is one-dimensional: The fictional world of Malawi is homophobic, Charles is a hero and a martyr, the reader should reprimand Malawi and sympathize with Charles. Too much telling, too little showing.
There are two passages in particular that I did enjoy though and I’ll limit my thoughts to these.
- Lapani Kachingwe discovers Charles in the lavatory. Kenani writes that Kachingwe would recount the events to anyone who buys him a drink, although “in principe his story is for free.” The irony is, however, that, the more Kachingwe drinks - in other words, the more he is paid - the less he is able to remember the events of the story he is narrating, so that in the end nobody really hears the “juiciest parts” of the story. With the publishing industry’s increasingly hegemonic, business-like, money-comes-first attitude towards storytelling, what is to be said in favour of free fiction? Could “Love on Trial” be a perverse example of print one must pay to read, offering only the boring bare bones, while the potentially passionate story of an illicit love affair in an intolerant environment is retained for friendly, uneconomic ears only?
- At the end of the story, after Charles has been imprisoned and the world has turned its back on Malawi, a character tells an allegory about a mouse that asks a cock to help him undo a mousetrap. The cock replies: “That’s not my business. It’s a mousetrap, not a cocktrap.” Apart from the fact that the cock is later cooked, punishing one bad deed with another, I’m intrigued by the possible pun in “cocktrap.” In a story about sexuality, and especially about male homoeroticism, the idea that “Love on Trial” as a whole is not a “cocktrap,” brings home the fact that, although the reader is trapped in pages of one-sided rhetoric, Kenani’s words do hold broader significance for mice and men…
Other reviews of Kenani’s “Love on Trial”:
City of Lions