lundi 2 mars 2009

An unusual contest

Very often, a book will come in the store and just sell itself right off the table. When that happens I don't get the chance to talk about it here. Luckily though a second chance comes around when the book gets published in its paperback format. I was so glad today when I saw on our table of fiction new releases Nicholas Drayson's A Guide to the Birds of East Africa in its lovely paperback form. I'd read this book months ago and enjoyed it immensely. In fact thinking about it now makes me like it even more. Contrary to its title, it’s a novel set in Nairobi Kenya and its actually the story of an unusual contest.

Rose Mbikwa has long led the Tuesday morning bird walk of the East African Ornithological Society. One faithful attendee of the walk is Mr. Malik who has long nursed a secret love for the widowed Rose. Unfortunately he is much too shy to declare his feelings for the fetching Rose. As he attempts to figure out how to ask Rose to the annual Hunt Ball, an unexpected rival, in the shape of the much wealthier, flashier Harry Khan, arrives on the scene. And when Mr. Malik unwittingly blurts out his secret, a bet is set between the rivals. Whoever sees the most number of birds in the week, will ask Rose to the ball.

This is a good old fashioned romantic novel that is both heartwarming and funny. I'm always told that my choice of reading material is often grim or depressing or both, and its true that I'm often stumped when I'm asked for a book that's light but I've found a good one in this book! Drayson writes his characters with great feeling and you can’t help but root for the hapless Malik, who very much resembles David battling Goliath. What's nice as well is that the author is able to infuse his book with the color and sounds of Africa. He even manages without being preachy or heavy, to plausibly weave into the narrative the different problems that beset Kenya. But he does this in a very simple and artless way that keeps the book from being too gloomy or heavy. And unlike Q and A, which I enjoyed reading a lot a few weeks ago, the Guide to the Birds of East Africa doesn't require a suspension of belief. For all you realists out there who prefer their fiction a bit grounded in reality, this is one lite reading that you should be added to your books-to-read pile.

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