Note: As stated under the Source (above), I received this book for free from G.P. Putnam’s Sons in exchange for my honest review (and trust me, honest is always what you’ll get).
Summary: At the age of 12, after her mother’s death, Rachel’s father sent her away from their home in Kenya, to live with her grandparents and attend school in England. Six years later, she returns to Kenya and discovers that you can never really go back home.
Review: My feelings about this book are all over the place. The writing itself is beautiful. McVeigh does a masterful job of setting us up in the gorgeous and wild country of Kenya. Africa is a place I’ve always been equal parts intrigued by and terrified of, and that feeling was with me throughout the entire novel. Although I can’t speak to her accuracy in depicting the Kikuyu, I can speak to the connection I felt, the empathy and respect, for their lives as they once were, and the situation they found themselves in through no fault of their own.
As is always the case with good historical fiction, I find myself wanting to know more about that time period and what really happened. It has always been my feeling that Africa, on the whole, has been misunderstood (and unfairly disparaged) by those who have never lived there, and despite that, I’ve done little to learn more about it. Perhaps now that will change.
The story itself was intriguing, though I admit, I struggled with the characters sometimes. Rachel seemed so naïve at times, so blind to what she did not wish to see, or perhaps denied what she knew to be true so that she could pursue what she wanted. Her father’s live-in girlfriend is simply awful, and while to some the evil stepmother trope might seem a bit overplayed, I understand why it had to be that way. She was despicable, but she served so many purposes – shining light on the imperialistic mindset of the British in Africa and on the weakness of Rachel’s father. The characters were not all likeable, but it isn’t exactly a happy go lucky story. So there you go.
Up to the end, I was prepared to give the story the highest rating, I was just loving it so, so much. But the ending…I don’t know if it is how it as written or what was written that bothers me. It wasn’t what I expected and it felt rushed. The pace of the rest of the novel was slow and introspective, building up to the climax gradually, and then after what appeared to be the great cataclysmic event…it wasn’t over yet. I don’t know if it should have been cut off earlier, if the ending should have simply been different entirely, or if the ending that was written should have been a little less abrupt, but it did leave me wanting. So, despite the brilliant writing, etc., the ending rubbed a little of the shine off.
However, I still recommend it. Despite its tiny imperfections, it’s a gorgeous book, and the subject matter is well worth your time.