I’ve been thinking about what I wanted to do with my blog this year, having been very slack for the last month. I have been missing the structure I had last year and the regular themed posts that I did, but I also needed a change to some of those. So here’s what I’m thinking this year… Monday Harvest (of course), In the Kitchen (on either Wednesday or Thursday, I might link up with Veggie Gobbler’s foodie posts), Sunday Read/Watch/Do etc to reflect on something I’ve been reading, viewing or doing, Slow Living monthly updates (which I’m currently a little late for, but I’ll get to that later) and the occasional parenting or ranting post (hopefully not too many of the latter). And with that here is my first Sunday Read….
A Guide to Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson
This lovely little book was one I picked up randomly from the shelves at the library drawn by the interesting cover and even more so the intriguing title. For some reason I love books with long titles (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, A History of Tractors in Ukranian, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen to name a few) so this one had me immediately curious and with no more than a glimpse at the blurb on the back I borrowed it. It was a good decision.
At it’s core this is a story of unrequited love and a classic battle of male egos (though one of the males in question actually has very little ego) over the heart of the same woman set against the backdrop of Nairobi, Kenya at a time of cultural change. However, none of the characters are your typical love-story characters. The protagonist, Mr Malik, is a shy widower who has been a regular member of the weekly bird walks sponsored by the East African Ornithological Society with guide, Rose Mbikwa. Mr Malik has been secretly in love with Rose for three years, but just as he gathers the inner strength needed to ask her to the Nairobi Hunt Club Ball, his childhood arch nemesis, Harry Khan turns up with his eye also on Rose and the ball. What ensues is an ornithological challenge with the winner earning the right to ask Rose to the ball. As the challenge unfolds the lush landscapes and political intrigue of Kenya opens up and the characters reveal greater depths and complexity than first appear.
A Guide to Birds of East Africa is really quite a sweet novel and its ending is especially so, but thrown into the mix is a homosexual son who died of AIDS, a disease that has ravaged Africa, the kidnapping of young men to become soldiers over the border and deep political corruption. Each revelation slipped into the story line without warning as though these things are common occurrences, which in Africa they likely are.
Almost without exception the reviews I read on this book used the word charming and it is perfectly suited. It is also quirky, humorous, sentimental and light. There were many comparisons with Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies Dectective Agency (another favourite of mine when I want something light) and quite rightly so. And while this certainly isn’t a work of great literature or importance it was simply a quiet, easy, delightful read needed when the rest of your life is a little on the hectic side or as respite from some heavier reading.
My only criticism relates to the narrator, who speaks to the reader in the first person and injects many of his/her own stories and opinions into the tale. That doesn’t bother me, the narrator is also charming, witty and delightful, what troubles me is that his or her identity is never revealed. Very annoying. Nevertheless, if you need a quick read that will easily take you away from the everyday and land you in the bird-watching hotspots of Kenya, this is the book for you.
And just to give you a taste of it, here’s one of my favourite quotes:
“There is a distressing but not uncommon condition of presidents and other world leaders known as Worrying about Africa. It is usually picked up overseas as at summit meeting on world poverty or disease, and symptoms include painful twinges of guilt over the discrepancy between First and Third World wealth, uncomfortable feelings somewhere below the stomach that perhaps unfettered capitalism is not the benevolent force for good we are constantly assured it is, and frequent attacks of calling for Something to Be Done. The best remedy is invariably a stiff dose of domestic crisis.”