This week I read the novel, A Guide to the Birds of East Africa. The title is completely misleading since it is not a bird guide at all. The story takes place in Nairobi, Kenya. The men in the story are not native Kenyans, but descendents of immigrants from West India. The female protagonist is from Scotland so the books provides a fascinating mixture of characters while weaving bits of Kenyan and Indian culture into the story.
Mr. Malik is a widower who spends his time writing anonymous political articles for the newspaper, watching birds, and visiting AIDS patients. He is smitten with the woman, Rose Mbikwa, who leads the Tuesday bird watcher’s group. Although the book is about his efforts to win her affections, it is not, strictly speaking, a romance because Rose plays a rather small part in the narrative. In fact, most of the dialogue and action takes place among the members of the male Asadi Club.
I enjoyed the good writing and the simple bird sketches that preceded each chapter. I also appreciated the sensitivity and sense of honor exemplified by the main character, Mr. Malik. Yet I was often jolted out of my literary reverie by references to flatulence, Bill Clinton, and several other modern day topics. For some reason I didn’t mind the references to political corruption in Kenya since they seemed to support the story, rather than detract from it. Overall, it was a pleasant, easy read.
A sample of the prose:
He had loved his wife. Not at first, not when introduced to the shy girl that their families had chosen to be his wife. She was rather on the tall side, he thought, and only a little bit pretty. But soon he came to know this deep and quiet girl, and as she grew into a woman he was impressed by her strengths, which were many, and endeared by her weaknesses, which were few. And beauty seemed to grow within her. It sometimes shone so bright he could hardly look at her. (p. 11)
Short, balding, tender-hearted Mr. Malik is a lovely man who I’m sure you’ll enjoy meeting on the pages of this book.