Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson

Review of A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson

Fiction, paperback, 202 pgs.

Houghton Mifflin Company, September 2008

Set in Nairobi, Kenya, this delightful story captures us with its warm humour, beautiful scenery and sightings of many of its one thousand species of birds. Rose Mbikwa leads a bird watching group on a walk every week for the East Africa Ornithological Society. She's a Scottish widow and Mr. Malik, also widowed, is secretly in love with her and has gone on these walks to enjoy her company for three years now. Just as he's working up the courage to ask her to the Nairobi Hunt Club Ball, the really big social event of the year, his old school nemesis, playboy Harry Kahn, breezes into town announcing that he intends to ask her. Their conversation is witnessed by everyone at the gentlemens' Asadi Club and a way to determine who has the right to ask her is decided. Whoever identifies the most bird species in a week's time can ask her to the Ball.

Mr. Malik, sixty, is described in birders terms as "small, dumpy brown-skinned, nondescrepit; distinguishing feature: hairstyle owes more to artifice than nature" (he has a comb-over). Harry Kahn, playboy, is identified by "brown skin, white hair, white teeth and a tendency to dress in white; distinguishing characteristics: highly ornamented, noted for flamboyant mating display." Harry proceeds by hiring people and vehicles (not strictly according to the rules) as if on a great hunt to chalk up the most birds. Mr. Malik goes about things more quietly and has a few adventures and mishaps along the way but we are rooting for him.The birding details are fascinating as are the detailed pencilled drawings by the author that acompany each chapter heading. But the story also shows some of the corruption in the government and the dangers of being mugged in the everday life of the city. It's a good story, told by a somewhat cheeky narrator, laugh out loud funny in places and well worth reading. I enjoyed it very much. Four stars out of five.

Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Company for the review copy.

"Nicholas Drayson was born in England and has lived in Australia since 1982, where he studied zoology and a Ph.D. in 19th century Australian natural history writing. He has worked as a journalist in the UK, Kenya and Australia, writing for publications such as the Daily Telegraph and Australian Geographic. From 1998 to 2001 he wrote for the National Museum of Australia. His first novel, Confessing a Murder, was published in 2002, his latest is A Guide to the Birds of East Africa. He was recently the winner of the inaugural WILDCARE Tasmania Nature Writing Prize."


  1. Sounds delightful. Thanks for the review.

  2. I am exploring books based on Africa. This is worth checking out.....

  3. This sounds wonderful! I'll look for it. Thanks for highlighting it.

  4. Glad to see you liked it! I've had this on TBRs for a little while and think I might bump it up to this weekend...I could use a light read after all the quality time I've been spending with Wally Lamb.

  5. OK, here's where a title can hurt a book because I've seen this title before and I totally thought it was an actual guide to the birds of eastern Africa. Doh!

  6. I, too, thought it was an actual bird guide. Thanks for setting me straight and thanks for an interesting post. I'll have to look for this book in the future.

  7. I am totally absorbed in West With the Night, Beryl Markham's classic memoir of growing up in British East Africa before WWII. So I welcome your review so I can follow up with a contemporary, fictional book on the same subject.


  8. sounds like a great book. I like books that have a strong sense of place, especially a place i don't know well. makes it even more enriching. :-)

  9. What a fun little book! The cover is very eye catching.

  10. Hi Sandra,
    I just finished this lovely book yesterday and am posting my review later this week. I googled and found your review and added the link to mine. I really enjoyed reading what you thought about this one.

  11. Another positive review! I think this one will be fun - glad I brought it home from the library this week!



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