Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh
|Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A heart-wrenching tale of a British girl's coming of age that coincides with Kenya's in the 1950s/60s. A touching, insightful telling of a brutal story.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 336||Date: July 2017|
|External links: Author's website|
18 year old Rachel Fullsmith returns home to Kenya after being away at school in England and finds a lot can change in 6 years. Of course she realises her mother's death would alter things but she's not prepared for her father's live-in 'companion' Sara nor Sara's son Harold sleeping in Rachel's old room. Michael the Kikuyu servant boy she grew up with is still there though and now a man with his own ideas. Meanwhile the unrest between the British rulers and the local Mau Mau fighters is increasing and about to blow.
Jennifer McVeigh is the British author who brought us the deservedly-praised South Africa historical fiction The Fever Tree back in 2012. It's been a while but Leopard is well worth the wait as we travel further north to a time and place that's turbulent and makes for a fascinating tale.
The Mau Mau uprising took place between 1952 and 1960 as a reaction against British rule. Jennifer provides context to the resulting blood bath within the story and also at the back of the book, quoting expert David Anderson.
Mau Mau were Kikuyu-based and more brutal to their own tribe's people who refused to conform than they were to white settlers. Thirty-two European settlers died and fewer than 200 military/police casualties compared to 1,800 African civilian deaths, hundreds more missing. The ensuing British-imposed state of emergency brought its own brutality with summary hangings of over 1,000 supposed Mau Mau as well as 12,000 to 20,000 rebels killed in fighting… and this is the situation that Rachel walks into.
Our story starts pre-Emergency. Therefore although we hear the warnings right from that clever page 1 pig metaphor, we begin with Rachel's own personal problems.
Sara, Rachel's father's lover, has a totally different viewpoint to the way that Rachel's philanthropic mother raised her. Rachel has been brought up with the servants therefore, although realising their place, she looks at them as human beings rather than lesser life forms. Sara has her own problems though, along with the need to prove herself beyond her own home.
Where Sara and Rachel find themselves at differing ends of the white community spectrum, Rachel's father is in the middle. He once admired and encouraged his wife's stance but now he finds himself trying to defend his lover's ideas. However, the day will come when he has no choice at all.
Jennifer captures mores, cultural gulfs and the building terror giving us a firm grasp of the dilemmas faced by even the most humane whites at the time. The story takes on a new menace with the introduction of Colonel Steven Lockhart. He's a master stroke when it comes to adding a deeper sense of peril and outrage.
Jennifer has a clever knack of adding the odd phrase or signpost to future events, forming enticing teases rather than spoilers. This all contributes to a story in which neither the Mau Mau nor the British enforcers come out smelling of righteousness, each page adding to a totally, compulsive read. It's interesting to read this from within our modern world. It may feel as if attitudes have moved on and yet, if we look around…
(Thank you, Viking, for providing us with a copy for review.)
Further Reading: If you haven't read it yet, do treat yourself to The Fever Tree. If this has whetted your appetite for more tales from Africa, try the equally impressive Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron.
You can read more book reviews or buy Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh at Amazon.com.
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