A Durable Fire by Barbara and Stephanie Keating
|A Durable Fire by Barbara and Stephanie Keating|
|Category: Women's Fiction|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A well-written saga, with mystery, romance, religious and racial differences all mixed into the pot with the African landscape and wildlife. It's perhaps a little long but is worth the read.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 576||Date: November 2006|
|Publisher: Harvill Secker|
Set in the nineteen-sixties and during the first years of Kenyan independence, A Durable Fire is the story of what happens when three young women return to the Kenyan highlands where they shared an idyllic childhood. The Mau Mau uprisings are in the past but ill feeling and resentment between the settlers and the native population lingers on.
As the story opens Hannah is heavily pregnant with her first child. She's married to Lars, but the child is not his: the pregnancy is the result of an affair before her marriage. Hannah and Lars are struggling to run Langani Farm following the brutal murder of her brother, Piet, and several other savage attacks on the livestock and property.
Piet wasn't only Hannah's brother. He'd asked Sarah to marry him just before his death and it was she who found his body. Numbed with grief she throws herself into her work - studying elephant behaviour - and it's through this that she comes into contact with the charismatic Sikh journalist Rabindrah Singh. Sarah has to come to terms with losing Piet and with starting a new life.
The third girl is Camilla, an international fashion model who is pulled back to Kenya by her love for Anthony Chapman, hunter, safari guide and seemingly attracted to just about every woman with whom he comes into contact. He's hurt Camilla before and looks likely to continue doing it.
It's a good story with a lot of sub-plots. There's the mystery of why Langani Farm is being targeted, but their neighbours seem to be immune and the investigation into this reveals a lot about the history of the period before independence and about the attitudes of people involved in a war. Decent people will act in ways that they would never dream of normally. Relationships between people of different races and different religions form a large part of the book and whilst the authors obviously understand the problems I did feel that a little more could have been made of them. There's romance aplenty too.
The characters are all well-developed, but I found more subtlety in the female characters than the male, who seemed to be rather stereotypical. There's the patrician ex-diplomat with the double-barrelled surname, the journalist of Indian descent, the irresistible white hunter, the bluff Norwegian farmer and the surgeon who's obsessive about his work. Of the girls, Sarah is the most likeable, whilst Hannah and Camilla compel and repel in equal measure.
Probably more compelling than the characters is the African landscape and wildlife, which made the book for me. There's an obvious appreciation of the struggles between those who appreciated that the wildlife could be one of Kenya's greatest assets and those who felt that it took land which could be used to feed people. There's a reflection too of the corruption, at all levels, which allowed poachers to slaughter animals. Some scenes in the book are gruesome - with regard to both animals and people - but they're necessary and are handled sensitively.
The authors are sisters. They grew up in Kenya, but one now lives in France and the other in Ireland. I'm always wary of joint efforts at writing fiction but it seems to have worked well in this case and the book is very readable.
A Durable Fire is the sequel to Blood Sisters. It's not necessary to have read the earlier book to enjoy this one. I wasn't aware of the earlier book and never found myself wondering what might have gone on in the past. In fact, given that this book is 576 pages long and the earlier one 608, it might be that reading both is a little too much of a good thing. There were times in the later book when I found myself skimming pages and I think a few editorial cuts would have improved the story.
My thanks to the publishers, Harvill Secker for sending us this book.
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