A Substantial Hymn of Joy to Kenya

BREATH OF AFRICA – the second half. (see Half way Through)


I liked the way that, alongside the maturing of its characters, your novel became substantial as it progressed. The changing consciousness of the two boys, and of all the main protagonists, is very well captured.  Life becomes how it is lived, no longer subject to idealistic ideas or aspirations (black or white). Everyone has their certainties dented by lived experience and what is, in the end, shared is a rounded human life.

Undoubtedly, much of the novel’s power lies in the descriptions of landscape and wild life. You have an accurate and observant eye, but record with great feeling. I like this huge feeling you have towards Kenya – the sweep of Rift Valley with its soda lakes and birds and remote places – such as Baringo and Turkana and Magadi. And the Coast with its coral beaches, crabs, cowries, bougainvillea, palms and bandas. The awful roads and perilous shanty towns and everyone jostling to make a living.

It’s impressive – the casual but tough life lived by Caroline and her fellow citizens. “Breath of Africa”, as a novel, amounts to a substantial hymn of joy to Kenya.

One day, if ever you write about how you chose to structure ‘Breath of Africa’, I’d be interested to read it, especially why you used the theme of witchcraft and oathing to underpin “the plot.” I do remember those Mau Mau years and, later, reading about oathing ceremonies.  I remember once, as a child, seeing a witchdoctor.  And we had a pishi who undertook a witchdoctor’s healing for his abdominal pains. He must have believed that someone had “pointed the bone” (as they would say in this country) at him.

It’s an achievement, Jane.

From Jo.

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