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Monday, July 10, 2017

Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh

Title: Leopard at the Door
Author: Jennifer McVeigh
Publisher: 13 July  2017 Penguin Books (UK) 
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre:  historical fiction, cultural Africa
My Rating: 5 crowns

Stepping off the boat in Mombasa, eighteen-year-old Rachel Fullsmith stands on Kenyan soil for the first time in six years. She has come home.

But when Rachel reaches the family farm at the end of the dusty Rift Valley Road, she finds so much has changed. Her beloved father has moved his new partner and her son into the family home. She hears menacing rumours of Mau Mau violence, and witnesses cruel reprisals by British soldiers. Even Michael, the handsome Kikuyu boy from her childhood, has started to look at her differently.

Isolated and conflicted, Rachel fears for her future. But when home is no longer a place of safety and belonging, where do you go, and who do you turn to?

My Thoughts

Having spent time living in Africa, I am always on the lookout for any books that capture the real essence of this amazing continent. Jennifer McVeighs first book, ‘The Fever Tree’ was very good, so I was open to trying her new novel. WOW! What an amazing read, she has really lifted the bar on this one. So much happens (and I don’t want to spoil a thing for those of you going to read it) that you will be left speechless. This is a truly riveting read through a complex time in Kenyan history. There will be love and loss, hero’s and villains to capture even the most determined reader. 

I was captivated from the moment I opened ‘Leopard at the Door’ with McVeigh’s lyrical prose detailing the harsh yet beautiful reality of this story and landscape. It clearly played out in my mind’s eye. The amount of research undertaken here is truly commendable - 1950s British Mau Mau Rebellion - and McVeigh leaves no stone unturned in her, at times graphic portrayal, of this period in history. In fact, you cannot help but commend her for the enlightening and thought provoking story that I felt was handled in a truly realistic and mature fashion. 

‘there are still men who look at the fight against injustice and call it savagery.’

Yes, the book includes violence but you cannot sugarcoat what went on here - it was indeed horrific and a truly ugly period in British Africa. But it was real and seen through the eyes of a vast array of characters and sides that leave the reader seriously contemplating many of the actions undertaken. Isn’t that what good historical fiction is all about? Complex characterisation that truly capture and reflect both time and place - some you will love and some you will hate. So in many ways, it is not an easy read, but expertly handled to give the reader a realistic snapshot of what it might have been like for those who witnessed so much. 

‘I have been hoping all this time that the farm would be the same, but no gentle fairy has built a forest of thorns around my home; or made sure that those I love would be waiting for me, unchanged, just as they were when I left them. I have come home to find the farm ransacked by a future I don’t yet understand.’

Seen through the eyes of Rachel, she discovers that nothing is ever simple, whether it be politics of a country seeking to free itself from colonial shackles, to confronting a home that will never return to the days of her childhood. It’s a tense situation for her, from dealing with her father and his new lover, to Kikuyu friends of times past and present - she will be tested and her loyalties called into question. I think McVeigh did a fabulous job at presenting both sides of this conflict, especially the stereotypical ‘evil’ stepmother. She was the necessary epitome of all the ‘old rule’ stood for and believed. She was truly horrible but there for a purpose. 

‘the things which were so important to me as a child, the memories which are seared into my mind, out of which I am assembled, might be meaningless to him. The platform on which my childhood was built has dissolved over time.’

‘Leopard at the Door’ is an extraordinary read for history buffs and I highly recommend this absorbing tale. It will shed light on a dark time and shock you. But for those in any way familiar with this continent, you will understand and appreciate a truthful and realistic portrayal during a momentous time in Kenyan history. 

‘I have forgotten this other side of Kenya: a raw physicality that has no shame in the inevitability of pain.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release

1 comment:

Nora StLaurent said...

This sounds like a good book. I'll have to check it out. I came here to THANK YOU for taking the time to encourage author Jocelyn Green and the staff on the Library blog.

I hope that you'd check out our Book Fun site some time. We give away lots of books each month and you can do a blog post on your page to let people know about the reviews you've written. www.bookfun.org

Again I appreciate your encouragement. It means a lot to us all.