Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Review – Nicholas DRAYSON – “A Guide to the Birds of East Africa”

Publ: 2008
My own copy – Secondhand via Internet
ISBN: 978 0 141 03596 3
Genre: General fiction; topography; romance.
Pages: 202p
Recommended by a fellow blogger
Rating: ***** *****

What led you to pick up this book?
Recommended by a fellow blogger

Describe the plot without giving anything away.

A beguiling story that does for contemporary Kenya and its 1,000 species of birds what Alexander McCall Smith's Ladies Detective series does for Botswana.
For the past three years, the widower Mr. Malik has been secretly in love with Rose Mbikwa, a woman who leads the weekly bird walks sponsored by the East African Ornithological Society. Just as Malik is getting up the nerve to invite Rose to the Nairobi Hunt Club Ball (the premier social occasion of the Kenyan calendar), who should pop up but Malik's nemesis from his school days. So begins the competition: whoever can identify the most species of birds in one week's time gets the privilege of asking the object of his affection to the ball.
The subsequent mention of the birds is of minor significance but
Drayson turns an eagle eye on the foibles and follies of the people and politicians who roam the East African landscape.

What did you think of the characters?

Sympathetically but slightly simplistically treated they help to make it easy to side with Mr Malik in his hunt for Rose Mbikwa’s affections. The look at the Asian / British/ African mix of characters is in itself of interest and makes one aware of the multi-cultural; nature of Kenya.

What did you think about the style?
Gentle and witty.

What did you like most about the book?
The fact that whilst it was obviously going to have a happy ending one didn’t know how that was going to happen!

Was there anything you didn't like about the book?

Thoughts on the book jacket / cover.
Simple and appropriate.

Would I recommend it?


Mr Malik, as you already have guessed, is neither black nor white. he is a brown man, sixty-one years old, short, round, and balding. Most men go bald. Be in possession of one X and one Y chromosome, live long enough, and at some stage you will find your hair thinning, receding, or just plain disappearing, and the fact that follicles which depart the scalp seem to appear reinvigorated in nostrils and ears is usually of small consolation.

In the sense that he had always looked after his staff well and the business made money, Mr Malik was a good businessman. In the sense that he couldn’t stop worrying about the business all day and all night and all times in between, he was a bad one.

Harry Khan was only too happy to accept the invitation of his cousin’s wife’s sister’s youngest daughter Elvira... Her fiancé was unfortunately working in Dubai but she would be delighted to show Harry around the town. This time he booked into the Hilton. He hired a red Mercedes. Elvira showed him as much as she could of the city’s charms and more than she should of her own...

‘What do men want from women?’ my grandmother asked me one day apropos nothing at all as we waited to be served at the off-sales counter of the Crown and Anchor, one of the several public houses which were favoured in strict rotation as provendors of the daily bottle of sweet sherry she so enjoyed. Without waiting for an answers he said in a loud voice, ‘Sex’. Satisfied with the look she had created on my late adolescent features, she continued.
‘And what do women want from men?’
I shook an embarrassed head.
‘A good dancer.’
There is, I have come to realise as I have grown older and fonder of sweet sherry, much in this.

There is a distressing but not uncommon condition of presidents and other world leaders known as Worrying about Africa.... ...and frequent attacks of calling for Something to Be Done. The best remedy is invariably a stiff dose of domestic crisis.

Is it an endearing quirk among European explorers to imagine that every geographical feature they clap eyes on for the first time is in need of a new name, or is it just a plain silly one? As far as I understand it, humans have been knocking around this part of Africa for – give or take a birthday candle – three million years. The existence of the large wet patch in the middle of them had not gone unnoticed. ... But that didn’t matter to Dr Livingstone. Along he came and he didn’t ask the locals what they called this large lake at the top end of the Nile. he gave it yet another name, in honour of the elder of a tribe of white people on a small island five thousand miles away. Endearing, or silly? I really can’t decide.

‘Tok’ said the first bird.
‘Tok. Tok. Tok,’ said the second.
‘Tok. Tok. Tok. Tok. Tok. Tok,’ replied the first, which seemed to be some sort of turaco in-joke because both birds began a loud wheezy chuckle.

Nicholas DRAYSON is a novelist and naturalist. His first novel, Confessing a Murder, was critically acclaimed in the UK and US, and short-listed for The Age Book of the Year. His essay 'Strictly for the Birds' won the 2003 inaugural international WildCare Tasmania Nature Writing Prize.
Born and raised in England, he now lives in Australia, so instead of newts and sticklebacks in his pond, he now has frogs and galaxias. He is consultant to National Museum of Australia on platypus acquisitions.


  1. I brought this home from the library, but didn't read it. I think it was too soon after I finished the latest Mma Ramotswe book. I wanted to stay in 'her' Africa for a while, if you know what I mean. I keep reading comparisons to the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series and to see the author in a hat, the way we always see AMS, seems a little weird to me. I know the books are set in different places, but still...

  2. Thanks for the review - it looks great! I'll keep an eye out for it...
    Rosie of BooksAndBakes


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