But you don’t have to travel across the world to relate to the universal themes of racial tension, prejudice, and injustice held within these pages. Those, sadly, remain universal.}
The book: (from the publisher) 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.
Set in Kenya in the 1950s against the fading backdrop of the British Empire, Leopard at the Door is a story of self-discovery, betrayal, and an impossible love.
The author: Jennifer McVeigh graduated from Oxford University in 2002 with a First in English literature. She went on to work in film, television, radio, and publishing before giving up her day job to write fiction.
Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction/Women’s Fiction/Book Club
Maturity rating: R for disturbing themes, depictions of violence and sexual encounters
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Reflection: This rich, complex novel immediately caught my attention with its luminous, incisive prose. McVeigh writes gorgeously, even when her subject matter is not. More than once, I paused in my reading simply to savor the construction of an idea, often saying aloud to whomever was in the room with me, “You’ve got to listen to this sentence.”
But I will warn you, this isn’t a nice story, though in my view, it’s a necessary one. It’s at times both brutal and beautiful — riveting throughout. McVeigh is a master of delivering a last line so that every chapter ended on a powerful emotional note, driving the reader forward into the next one. She’s also especially adept at painting a vivid picture of Africa and the intense conflict that escalated between the Africans and white colonists in 1950s Kenya. Less believable, I felt, was the illicit affair Rachel cast herself into. This relationship — her lover in particular — needed more development for it to be truly credible. I never could fully wrap my arms around Rachel’s desire for this man, especially since I never saw his participation to be anything but physical.
I would recommend this book for those who love Africa and its people, who hate injustice, and who do not despise a tough read. It is particularly well-suited for book clubs who are looking for meaty discussion afterwards.
In books I choose to read, my aim is to find those that celebrate what is beautiful amidst the brokenness of our world. In Leopard at the Door, I read to nearly the end believing it would capture only the broken, despite its lovely prose and fascinating delivery. But I was wrong. Beauty is exposed here, though hardly more than a glimmer. But sometimes a glimmer is enough. There is no glamorizing, no veiling of the harsh, unjust reality of Kenya Colony. It reminded me time and again of the imperfect complexity of our world while yet daring to show that there is — always — reason to hope that tomorrow might be better.
Thanks to G.P. Putnam’s Sons for providing me this book free of charge. All opinions are mine.
After words: Have you traveled to Africa? If so, where? If not, would you like to?
Giveaway: Thanks to the generosity of the publisher, I’m able to offer my readers the chance to pick up a copy of this incredibly complex novel. You may enter to win a print copy of Leopard at the Door through January 16, 2017 at 11:59 pm. Must be 18 or older to enter. Winner will be chosen at random and notified by January 18. U.S. entries only please.