January weather has been cold and a bit frightful, so snuggling up with my dogs (and my husband) and a good book has my activity of choice. With a fire roaring the fireplace (okay, it was gas) and the dogs curled up next to me, I happily attacked the looming stack of books next to my bed, one of which was Leopard at the Door, a novel so thought-provoking and timely I can’t wait to recommend it to my book group.
Written by Jennifer McVeigh (who you might recognize as the author of The Fever Tree), Leopard at the Door takes place in a British colony in Kenya in the mid-twentieth century. Across the magnificent and sweeping landscape of East Africa festered political and social tensions as the Africans came into conflict with the British colonists infiltrating their country.
Leopard at the Door
The protagonist is Rachel Fullsmith, a young girl whose British family settled in Kenya. When her mother died in a car accident, twelve year-old Rachel was sent back to England to be raised by her grandparents, who imposed a strict and unaffectionate lifestyle. She yearned to go back to Kenya, and following her high school graduation, she returned.
What she found was a different Kenya from the one she had known six years before, both personally and politically. A new woman, Sarah, had come into her father’s life and taken over the household, with an imperious style that was shocking to Rachel. Her mother had always treated the Africans who worked for the family with kindness and respect. Under Sarah’s dominion, there was disdain and suspicion. Rachel’s father seemed powerless to go against Sarah’s wishes to get rid of servants who had been with the family for years. Rachel did not understand what had come over her father, and how he seemed to have given his soul to this woman so unlike her late mother.
Still struggling with that loss and confused about her place in this new constellation, Rachel felt her world crashing around her, unprepared for the tough decisions about family, loyalty and justice.
McVeigh does a superb job of creating the scene. You can feel the intense heat of the African sun, the screech of the monkeys, the rustling of the underbrush as a herd of zebras emerged. There was a palpable sense of danger, not just from the possible attack of a lion, but from political uncertainty and the threat of violence and betrayal.
The last twenty pages kept my eyes glued and provided an unexpected twist.
In her many travels to this area of the world, McVeigh researched the history of the Mau Mau Rebellion, a brutal uprising that took place from 1952-1960 and resulted in the deaths of thousands of Africans. I confess not knowing about this conflict until now. It is a terrible chapter of African history that should be told so that our understanding of international human rights violations can grow.
And with her gift of story-telling, McVeigh does exactly that.
One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of Leopard at the Door. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected. USA addresses only, please.
I received a copy of Leopard at the Door from Putnam for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.