Book Review: A Guide To the Birds of East Africa
By Nicholas Drayson
For the past three years, the widower Mr. Malik has been secretly in love with Rose Mbikwa, a woman who leads the weekly bird walks sponsored by the East African Ornithological Society. Reserved and honorable, Malik wouldn’t be noticed by a bystander in a Nairobi street—except perhaps to comment on his carefully sculpted combover. But beneath that unprepossessing exterior lies a warm heart and a secret passion.
But just as Malik is getting up the nerve to invite Rose to the Nairobi Hunt Club Ball (the premier social occasion of the Kenyan calendar), who should pop up but his nemesis from his school days. The jokester Harry Khan, good-looking in a flashy way and quick of foot, has also become enraptured with the object of Malik’s affection.
So begins the competition cooked up by fellow members of the Asadi club: whoever can identify the most species of birds in one week’s time gets the privilege of asking Ms. Mbikwa to the ball.
Set against the lush Kenyan landscape rich with wildlife and political intrigue, this irresistible novel has been sold in eight countries and is winning fans worldwide. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)
Adult Point of View
Many people seem to compare Drayson’s novel, A Guide To the Birds of East Africa, to The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith which is not a reasonable comparison, though both take place in Africa. Smith’s books are a series of currently totaling 15 books which has given the reader time to fall in love with all the characters, or at least have a deep understanding of each person and we know their foibles and strengths. There will be cross-over in readership because both authors address the nature of human relations and find the good within life.
I enjoyed A Guide To the Birds of East Africa because of Mr Malik, and his overwhelmingly normalcy. We all know decent people and they are rarely glorified because they are humdrum compared to the flashy set of politicians, actors and the famous. This book shows the goodness of the average person.
The main flaw in the book was the omniscient voice that broke into the novel. The omniscient voice is revealed to be male, as though it is a person and he addresses the reader directly. The main problem with this male omniscient presence is that it would seem he is a person in the book, his identity is not revealed and he knows the thoughts of multiple characters and the motivations for character’s actions. I found this voice unsettling because it didn’t fit in the rest of the narrative succinctly. An omniscient voice in a novel should feel invisible unless the source is revealed.
One other minor complaint would be the chapter on farts. For some reason the majority of men find this funny, but the majority of women don’t. It’s addition to the book showed how the men of the club would place a wager on any absurd thing. I still would have preferred a different subject, perhaps spitting.
Though not a problem, I was very surprised when it was revealed that Mr. Malik was of Indian decent. I hadn’t originally caught on to the meaning behind his words when he described himself as a brown man, rather than white or black. I had to immediately shift all the images I had in my mind to fit the new understanding. I like it when books surprise us and help us see the world in a new way.
I would recommend this book, for it’s own charms.