African fiction

All posts in the African fiction category

Circling The Sun – Paula McLain

Published October 20, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature’s delicate balance. But even the wild child must grow up, and when everything Beryl knows and trusts dissolves, she is catapulted into a string of disastrous relationships.

Beryl forges her own path as a horse trainer, and her uncommon style attracts the eye of the Happy Valley set, a decadent, bohemian community of European expats who also live and love by their own set of rules. But it’s the ruggedly charismatic Denys Finch Hatton who ultimately helps Beryl navigate the uncharted territory of her own heart. The intensity of their love reveals Beryl’s truest self and her fate: to fly.

What did I think?:

You may be familiar with the name Paula McLain from her wonderful novel The Paris Wife about the first wife of Ernest Hemingway i.e. Hadley Richardson. I was delighted to hear that she was bringing out a new work of fiction about another strong female individual based once more on a real person that I shamefully knew very little about. Again, as when I finished The Paris Wife, the author writes such a compelling story that it instantly makes me want to go and research everything I can about the real woman behind this narrative.

The person McLain chooses to explore is Beryl (Clutterbuck) Markham, who spends much of her childhood on her father’s farm in Kenya, learning the art of training racehorses from her father and running wild with her childhood friend, a native Kenyan from the nearby Kipsigis tribe. Life is quite carefree for Beryl and she enjoys the simple pleasures in life until her mother decides to return to England, effectively abandoning her. However, Beryl was never the conventional “lady,” and grows up fiercely independent and proud, fulfilling her dreams of becoming the first successful female horse trainer in Africa, having a few “interesting” relationships with men before she meets the love of her life, suffering various heart-breaks and eventually breaking a record attempt for flying solo across the Atlantic in 1936, something which she is most famous for today.

There was so much to like about this book and to be honest, I wasn’t sure at first. I’m not a particularly “horsey” kind of girl and obviously, a big part of this book is Beryl’s relationships with horses so I wasn’t sure how much that would interest me. I do love being proved wrong though – the story of her trials and tribulations with people who doubted her and her fierce attitude towards achieving her status as a world-class horse trainer totally won me over. Beryl is, in essence, a flawed character and a lot of times, I didn’t particularly agree with some of the decisions she made, especially concerning her love life (which at points, had me actually quite exasperated!). However, she was real, she made mistakes, she loved, learned and lost like everyone else has to and this made the story so much more believable and poignant in my eyes. Beryl Markham was obviously a remarkable woman and I’ll definitely be reading her memoir, West With The Night to view her life once again from her own point of view.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

 

Fortunate – Andrew J.H. Sharp

Published April 6, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Beth Jenkins – semi-bereaved wife, rootless doctor – runs away from home at the age of twenty-eight and a half and becomes a heroine of a revolution.

Locked into a lonely future by a cruel twist of fate, Beth reaches breaking point, abandons her husband, and flees to faraway Zimbabwe. Her attempts to create a new life falter when she finds herself at the center of a deadly struggle for the ownership of a farm. From a guest of honor at the President’s table to a disastrous decision that betrays a good man, her new start threatens to end in catastrophe.

But the land and its painted rocks hold clues to a path to atonement and re-found love if she has the courage to search.

What did I think?:

First of all, many thanks to the lovely people at Troubador Publishing for this ARC which I requested from NetGalley. The synopsis of the story was intriguing to me as I have quite a lot of interest in the history of Zimbabwe so I was looking forward to a contemporary view and what looked like an interesting plot-line for a novel. Our protagonist is a woman called Beth Jenkins who is currently working as a locum GP but is becoming increasingly disillusioned by her work and longs to be able to give a little more time to each of her patients and perhaps explore fresh avenues career-wise. This is hampered by her personal life however as her husband has had a devastating brain haemorrhage which has left him requiring constant care while erasing most of his previous memories and leaving him quite dependent on her. Her demanding mother-in-law does not provide much support for Beth, emotionally or otherwise and she begins to feel trapped in a life that she had not anticipated.

On a routine visit to a cranky and resilient elderly patient in a care home Beth’s life takes a dramatic turn when he entrusts her with a deed for some land which he is the owner of in Zimbabwe. Mr de. Villier is dying of lung cancer and insists that he wishes the deed to be placed in the hands of his son only, which leads to Beth taking up the adventure and travelling to Africa. Zimbabwe at this time has just been liberated and Beth meets a host of different characters, some a bit frightening, others warm and incredibly helpful to her with her task which has become more mammoth than she expected. She finds out that delivering a piece of paper is a lot harder than it looks, especially when politics and African laws get in the way, facing dangers and new challenges which opens her eyes to the beauty of life and the possibilities of love.

This book left me with mixed up feelings I have to say. I hadn’t realised that it was based on a true story until I reached the end and I don’t know if I would have felt differently about the book if I had known this from the beginning. I did think that the book was a good read overall but something prevented it from being a brilliant read for me personally. The plot is intriguing and I was sympathetic to Beth’s plight of looking after her disabled husband, but when Beth’s friends came over to “save” her in Zimbabwe it became slightly sensationalist. Saying that though I thought the ending was quite beautiful, and I didn’t expect what happened, so there is a possibility that Beth may get the happily-ever-after that she longs for.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

Ghana Must Go – Taiye Selasi

Published May 27, 2013 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Kweku Sai is dead. A renowned surgeon and failed husband, he succumbs suddenly at dawn outside his home in suburban Accra. The news of Kweku’s death sends a ripple around the world, bringing together the family he abandoned years before. Ghana Must Go is their story. Electric, exhilarating, beautifully crafted, Ghana Must Go is a testament to the transformative power of unconditional love, from a debut novelist of extraordinary talent.

Moving with great elegance through time and place, Ghana Must Go charts the Sais’ circuitous journey to one another. In the wake of Kweku’s death, his children gather in Ghana at their enigmatic mother’s new home. The eldest son and his wife; the mysterious, beautiful twins; the baby sister, now a young woman: each carries secrets of his own. What is revealed in their coming together is the story of how they came apart: the hearts broken, the lies told, the crimes committed in the name of love. Splintered, alone, each navigates his pain, believing that what has been lost can never be recovered—until, in Ghana, a new way forward, a new family, begins to emerge.

What did I think?:

This novel is the April read for the Waterstones Eleven debut authors, please see my previous post HERE. This book centres around the sudden and unexpected death of one man – a remarkable surgeon and father of four. As each of his children hear about his death, we learn how much of a failure he was as a father, and how much each child has been affected by their fathers abandonment. There is Olu, the first-born son, under a great deal of pressure from his parents to perform. He ends up following in his fathers footsteps by also becoming a surgeon, but who undergoes considerable emotional problems in his private life. The two twins, who were probably my favourite characters were very intriguing. Unable to cope with the marriage breakdown, their mother sends them to live with their uncle where a traumatic experience for both twins unfolds. I enjoyed the way this was continually hinted at in the novel, and how different the reactions of both twins were to their shared experience and their parents divorce.  Finally, the baby of the family, Sadie appears to have more of an issue with her mother than her father, and also harbours a secret.

The language in this book is rich and beautifully descriptive, and I found it slightly difficult at the beginning like a couple of other reviews of the book I have read. However, once getting used to the style, it became almost a treat to read. I cannot believe that this is a debut novel, the author writes like she has been writing for years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this book ended up a contender for the Man Booker prize this year. Although I probably wouldn’t read this book again, I’m glad I’ve read it once, even just to appreciate the author’s stunning way with words.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art