Lying can get you in an awful mess, but it isn't easy being honest. Someone shows you a photograph of their new grandchild and says, "Isn't he just adorable?" Your frank opinion is that if a freshly skinned monkey is adorable, then so is this child but do you say so? If someone near and dear to me were to parade before me in a new dress and ask, "Does this make my bottom look big?" would I say "Yes"? No. Though Mr. Malik had never been put in the latter quandary (the late Mrs. Malik, like many women in Africa, did not have so strange and modern an attitude to female proportions), he had been shown more than a few baby photographs in his time to which even he accepted that an honest response would be ill-judged. But despite such occasional lapses Mr. Malik's general policy was honesty in all things.
The book's overall light tone conceals the rather sharp
barbs Drayson directs at Kenya's government and its social inequities through
the eyes of the opinionated narrator who relates Mr. Malik's tale. This device
allows Drayson to addresses modern issues such as AIDS in Africa, the poverty of
many of Kenya's citizens, the lack of accessible education, the corruption of
Kenya's government, and the lasting influence of British Colonialism (during which Kenya was known as British East Africa), without
these social ills overwhelming the plot. They are, in fact, so tightly
integrated that only after finishing the book does one become aware of how
the author's views permeate the entire novel.
Photos: Top: The Black Crowned Crane is one of Kenya's unofficial national birds. Middle: The Goliath Heron is the biggest species of heron, up to 5ft in height but weighing less than 11lbs. Bottom: The Lilac-breasted Roller (a member of the roller family, related to kingfishers) is widely found in sub-Saharan Africa and the southern Arabian Peninsula. These birds were selected to illustrate this review not because of their appearance, if any, in the book but simply for their general good looks and that they are native to Kenya.
About the Author
Nicholas Drayson has written extensively about wildlife and natural history. He is also the author of Confessing a Murder, which was hailed by Booklist for its "view of Darwin never before seen." An Englishman by birth, Drayson lived in Nairobi for two years. He now lives in Australia, where he received a Ph.D. from the University of New South Wales.
This review was originally published in October 2008, and has been updated for the September 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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