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A Guide to the Birds of East Africa
A Novel

by Nicholas Drayson

     

Despite the old saying, we usually open a book because of the cover. The case in point being a rough color painting of a flamingo that caught my eye, then a woodpecker, several split-tail swallows, and most intriguing, the silhouette of a man with binoculars pointed at a silhouette of a lady. The book jacket says "Charming" and "Beguiling". I expected a nice, cheery, relaxing reading experience, but afterward there was a lingering tickle in the back of my mind that went beyond casual reading.

Mr. Malik is an elderly, successful businessman and a widower. After a serious bout with stress his doctor suggested that Mr. Malik take up bird watching; but I don't think the doctor anticipated that the bird Mr. Malik would be watching was Rose Mbikwa, leader of the Tuesday bird walk.  After pining for three years Mr. Malik works up the courage to invite Rose to the annual Hunt Club Ball. But before he can mail the invitation, Harry Khan, the scourge of Mr. Malik's school days, appears like a djinn from the mists of Canada announcing that he is going to ask "Rose baby" to the dance! The rest of the book focuses on the competition devised by the denizens of the Asadi Club to determine which man would ask the lady to the ball, along with revealing Mr. Malik's secret sideline.

The main characters are 60-ish. Rose is a white woman, Mr. Malik and Harry Khan are Indians (brown men), other characters are black Africans, and there are a couple of pale Australian tourists thrown into the mix. So what is the big deal? Drum roll please...there isn't one! The characters are a multi-racial group of African senior citizens who are just people living and working together in a story. We are not fed the standard diatribes about racial congruity, aging or Third World poverty and disease. The subjects are addressed, but the reader is not lectured, nor is it hinted that the reader should react to the circumstances. Refreshingly, the focus is on an entertaining tale about hope, disappointment, surprise and the awe of experiencing nature, which makes the silent lessons all the more moving.

The Book

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
September 18, 2008
Hardcover
0547152582 / 978-0547152585
Contemporary Romance
More at Amazon.com
Excerpt
NOTE: For a different perspective, check out another Myshelf review of this book

The Reviewer

Beth E. McKenzie
Reviewed 2009
NOTE:
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