Purdue University Graduate School

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Reason: Creative work

The Tenth Daughter

posted on 2020-05-08, 18:53 authored by Kelsey LefeverKelsey Lefever
In September 2007, Americans Jenna Cook and her daughter, Pia, arrive in Wapendeza Village, Kenya. On the heels of her divorce, Jenna is returning to where she taught in the Peace Corps in fifteen years ago. Jenna and Pia are staying with Jenna’s old friend, Winston, at his property on the beach. Winston’s property, The Mangrove, serves as a job for several dozen workers from the surrounding village who cook, clean, and garden. Jenna teaches at Wapendeza’s primary school, where she befriends a young student, Moni.

Moni is twelve years old. Her sister, Vivian, is fifteen, and has been dating a local pikipiki driver who is much older. Moni’s mom, Mercy, has been dealing with illness for a while and her health continues to decline. When Jenna realizes that Moni’s family is struggling, she begins bringing them food and clothes.

In the meantime, Pia spends more time around Martin, a boy a few years her senior who works at The Mangrove. The two begin seeing each other romantically.

Kenya is approaching historic elections that will, in a matter of months, rip apart villages along tribal lines and displace hundreds of thousands of people. Fliers circulate in Wapendeza Village (partly the doing of Martin’s best friend, Ebechi, who works for the incumbent president’s campaign office in the village), and campaign vehicles drive through regularly. Moni’s family and most of those she spends time around, including Martin, are Kikuyu, the tribe of the incumbent president. Winston, however, and some others in the village, are supportive of the other candidate.

After staying with her boyfriend away from home for a particularly long time, Vivian is kicked out altogether. The girls’ mother’s condition worsens, and she ultimately passes away.

Disagreements between Winston and his staff over politics grow more and more tense. Martin steals a gun from a locked closet in Winston’s banda so Moni’s family can protect themselves from targeted violence against Kikuyus.

As the elections come, Jenna takes Pia to Tsavo National Park to camp. Martin drives them, and Jenna finds out that he and Pia are in love, a fact she does not take well. When they return, Kenyan elections have finished running, and the incumbent president has been declared the winner to much controversy. The village is erupting in spirited arguments, and Winston is more furious than ever. The gun that Moni’s family had has been stolen from their house.

A letter arrives for Jenna and Pia; Pia’s father believes it’s no longer safe for his daughter to stay in Kenya and is insistent that she come home immediately. Pia is furious, believing she’s being punished for her relationship with Martin. On the day before Pia is set to leave, she sneaks out of The Mangrove to spend time with Martin at his house. Ebechi finds them and says that her mother is looking for her, and that they must be getting back immediately. As the three walk back to The Mangrove, they encounter Arman, a village Luo at odds with Ebechi. When an argument erupts between the two, Arman shoots Ebechi with the stolen gun, and he dies at Pia’s feet.

In the aftermath, Pia does not make her flight home, much to the horror of her father. There are village riots centered on the injustice of Ebechi’s death, and the school building is lit on fire. Jenna and Winston are some of the first responders and must choose between using the fresh water stored in tanks that is supposed to get the village through the dry season to put out the fire, or let the school burn and save the water.

The women in this story—Jenna, Pia, Moni, Vivian, and Mercy—all deal with difficult relationships with men, overcoming reliance and abuse to grow more independent. Vivian and Pia, the same age, serve as parallels to one another. Pia and Moni both grow up over the course of the story, adopting adult responsibilities. Vivian grows closer to her family, and Jenna ultimately grows closer to her daughter. In the aftermath of historic corrupt elections that changed the course of Kenya’s government, the women become their own leaders.




Degree Type

  • Master of Fine Arts


  • English

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Sharon Solwitz

Additional Committee Member 2

Dr. Jill Newton

Additional Committee Member 3

Dr. Aparajita Sagar

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