Two Reviewers have mentioned BREATH OF AFRICA in connection with Doris Lessing, Nobel Prizewinner for Literature, 2007.
5.0 out of 5 stars A book of breath-taking scope, 18 Jun 2013
This is a book of breath-taking scope, spanning three decades. The story of a group of friends and their complex and interwoven personal lives is set against the backdrop of the momentous political upheavals of Kenya in the second half of the Twentieth Century in a way that, for me, recalls Doris Lessing’s masterpiece, “The Golden Notebook.” Bwye also has something of Lessing’s talent for evoking the physical landscape of Africa, counter-balancing its permanence with the changeability of the human institutions and relationships that exist within it. The book addresses serious themes (colonialism and its inheritance; the the interaction of expatriate and indigenous communities; the plight of the individual caught up in the sweep of history), but it does so with a lightness of touch that comes from being anchored in the experiences of the characters and, most of all, rooted in a deep love and profound understanding of a particular place.
I fell in love with the continent of Africa as an adolescent and was fortunate to visit a couple of countries some years back. Africa definitely gets in your blood. And this is clearly evinced by Jane Bwye’s book. Spanning almost thirty years, this novel follows the trials and tribulations of Caroline, a girl from a privileged background in Kenya. Her childhood with best friend Teresa is scarred by the State of Emergency that existed due to the Mau Mau uprising. Two other significant characters are Charles Ondiek, a farm labourer who aspires to study in Oxford and Mwangi, a wielder of effective black magic curses. Interwoven in the story is Kenya’s transition to independence under Jomo Kenyatta.
`The great canopy of sky overwhelmed her; she breathed in deeply, savouring the immensity of the scene. The breath of Africa filled her being. This was her country, her home.’ This quotation comes from p92 – but the breath of Africa permeates the entire book and certainly reminds me of Doris Lessing’s The Grass is Singing in the depth of feeling by Jane Bwye for the dark continent.
Despite tragedy and disappointments, Caroline survives, an excellent example of fortitude in an uncertain world.
Breath of Africa is a novel of recent history that sheds light on the place and the period. There’s a useful glossary at the back.