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."