Friday, December 23, 2016

Book Review ~ Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh

Leopard at the Door
by Jennifer McVeigh
Expected Publication Date:  January 3, 2017
Published by G.P. Putman’s Sons Books

Set in Kenya against the fading backdrop of the British Empire, a story of self-discovery, betrayal, and an impossible love.

After six years in England, Rachel has returned to Kenya and the farm where she spent her childhood, but the beloved home she’d longed for is much changed. Her father’s new companion—a strange, intolerant woman—has taken over the household. The political climate in the country grows more unsettled by the day and is approaching the boiling point. And looming over them all is the threat of the Mau Mau, a secret society intent on uniting the native Kenyans and overthrowing the whites.

As Rachel struggles to find her place in her home and her country, she initiates a covert relationship, one that will demand from her a gross act of betrayal. One man knows her secret, and he has made it clear how she can buy his silence. But she knows something of her own, something she has never told anyone. And her knowledge brings her power.

Note from the Publisher

Quick Take: LEOPARD AT THE DOOR is at once a historical survey of the Mau Mau Rebellion, a bloody and brutal uprising that the author researched in her travels to remote areas of east Africa, and a story of blossoming love and hope amidst the hostile backdrop of a nation at war. Rachel Fullsmith grew up in Kenya at Kisima, her British parents’ sprawling up country farm. When her mother died suddenly, the twelve-year-old was abruptly sent back to England for a proper boarding school education and a “civilized” life. Six years later and her schooling finished, Rachel boards a ship for Kenya to reunite with her father and her beloved childhood home. But after her arrival Rachel quickly learns that the Kenya of her dreams is slipping away. Her father’s live-in companion, Sara, is a controlling, intolerant woman and the farm has changed dramatically without her mother’s loving hands to manage it. Her distracted father is disturbingly accepting of Sara’s casual cruelty toward Africans who for years have served the family and worked the land. Kenya’s political climate is growing more unsettled by the day, with the Africans pushing back against colonial control. But most frightening of all is the rise of a secret society known as the Mau Mau that is gaining momentum as it works to unite native Kenyans to overthrow the whites. Struggling to carve out a new role in her home and her country, Rachel enters into a secret relationship, a potentially scandalous affair that forces her into a bold act of betrayal. Rachel must decide who she is truly loyal to and realizes that nothing is simple—in love, as in conflict “the lines of right and wrong have blurred.” Her life is in imminent danger and it will take every ounce of courage she has—along with the intervention of those who love her—to survive. Jennifer McVeigh weaves them into a haunting story that exposes the best and worst of human nature. The result is an illuminating tale of self-discovery and a vivid reminder of the resiliency of the human spirit. 

Historical Angle: British Kenya’s Mau Mau Rebellion spanned eight deadly years, from 1952 to 1960. Contrary to public perception, just thirty-two European settlers died in the uprising, and another two hundred British soldiers and police were killed. In contrast, over eighteen hundred African civilians were murdered by Mau Mau and a reported twelve thousand Mau Mau rebels died, though the real figure is likely closer to twenty thousand. More than one thousand Kikuyu men were executed for Mau Mau offenses, far more than the 346 convicted murderers. It remains the largest scale state execution in the history of British imperialism.

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Leopard at the Door had me captivated from the very moment I opened the book to start reading.  With the author’s beautifully descriptive writing and lyrical prose, I had no problem visualizing the story unfolding before me.   The author did an outstanding job at researching British Kenya’s Mau Mau Rebellion and I applaud her for bringing her readers a very thought-provoking and enlightening story done with a manner of sophistication and exquisiteness which made this a gripping and compelling read.

Jennifer McVeigh is an incredible storyteller and Leopard at the Door shows her talent in an absolutely stunning way and in the process, brings to light a disturbing and horrific conflict that occurred in the past that some readers might not have known about.  This story not only pulled me into Rachel’s life, full of forbidden love, treachery, and horrific loss of life, but also the sadness of bigotry, betrayal, and upheaval which kept me in its grips until the very end.  If you love and enjoy historical novels, then this is a must read.  

4 stars

Jennifer McVeigh graduated from Oxford University in 2002 with a degree in English literature and went on to work in film, television, radio and publishing.  She left her day job to do a Masters in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and then wrote The Fever Tree.  She lives in London with her husband and three children.

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