First published in 2005, Wanjiru Waithaka’s The Unbroken Sprit is set in Nairobi, Kenya in the 1990s, a time when women had begun to venture in the corporate world, and women emancipation was a very much a topical issue. In this captivating book, Waithaka tackles two important challenges faced by women then and today- sexual harassment and rape.
The plot begins on a rather disturbing note: Phillip is involved in an accident. Someone rescues him and takes him to hospital. When he comes out of the coma, he has amnesia- he cannot remember anything about the accident; except the eyes of the lady that saved him.
Toni, Tessa and Regina are three young women with jobs that they love. They are also good friends. Toni owns a restaurant; Regina is an accountant and Tessa a research executive. These two scenarios are very different and I was a bit confused how the two merge. It so happens that the lady who saved Phillip is Toni and he becomes their good friend.
Tessa has worked for three months as a research executive and her boss Mr. Kibuchi is sexually harassing her. Mr. Kibuchi is a senior director of the company and a much respected member of staff. So Tessa approaches the managing director Mr. Kirubi and asks him to talk to Mr. Kibichi so he stops harassing her. This doesn’t go well with Mr. Kibuchi; he denies everything and warns Tessa:
“This is the corporate world Tessa, a man’s world, with men’s rules. For a while I thought you were an intelligent ambitious woman…………..You are naïve and foolish. If I had my way, you wouldn’t be working here again.”
Twice Tessa is denied a promotion by Mr. Kibuchi. When she finally confronts him, he fires her on the spot. She approaches the Chairman of the company and he gives her another chance but Mr. Kibuchi is transferred to the Uganda office with a larger pay! Is this really fair to Tessa?
Meanwhile, Tessa’s friend, Regina, a girl who loves to party, is having her own troubles. She gets raped after being drugged and she doesn’t remember anything till the next day. The suspect is Mark Kilonzo, the son to Judge Kilonzo of the Kenya Court of Appeal. Regina is determined to get justice. However, Mark claims he is innocent and is even willing to undergo medical tests to prove it. But his father and Inspector Kipkkuriu who is in charge of the case try by all means to block Regina’s case. Is the judge trying to protect his son or himself?
As Regina loses hope for justice, the judge tries to buy her off but fate has a way of handing out its own justice. In the end, the judge who it turns out is the rapist, drowns in his own swimming pool.
Tessa, Toni and Regina are courageous young women, who never give up despite the hopelessness they sometimes face. For it is “when we are in a corner, that we fight back the hardest”.
The Unbroken Spirit, published by East African Education Publishers, Kenya’s leading publishing house, was Wanjiru Waithaka’s first novel, and it was placed third in the adult fiction category at the 2007 Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature.