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4.3 out of 5 stars
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4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 12 August 2013
Kenya is a fascinating country. In some ways it is a young country having only gained its independence from Britain in the 1960s. Yet is is also at the heart of a region to which we may all owe our origins. In that respect it is the most ancient of places.

Jane Bwye's Breath of Africa is quintessentially a novel of place and time, set in Kenya from the 1950s, when there was a vicious rebellion against British rule and tracing the lives of two young women as they grow up and face a range of personal challenges and setbacks as they and the country that has shaped their young lives come of age.

Although BREATH OF AFRICA is a historical novel it feels very young. The story commences with the two girls breaking out of their school at night to go on a wild horse ride, while Mau Mau rebels skulk in the darkness intending them harm.

Some of the issues feel very modern also. There is an inter-racial relationship and race features when Charles, a talented young black man finds himself struggling to cope with life at Oxford University. The nastier side of white settler prejudice are also captured. But not all the whites are like this. Some opt to stay when British rule ends because they love the country and feel themselves to be as much a part of it as the Africans.

Caroline is a stayer, literally. She abandons her chance to go to Oxford, marries, loses her husband, decides to make her future in the new Kenya.

But the new Kenya is not a place of innocence and forgiveness. Caroline's life becomes entangled in a Mau Mau curse which dogs her childhood friend. We read of malevolence and irrational yet powerful superstition. This is at odds with Caroline's strong Christianity and plain good sense.

So, too, we see how Charles' live evolves as he struggles to make his way in business. His country's independence does not guarantee his success.

It is also fascinating to read how the two white girls are not significantly better treated by the black men who have taken the places of the white settlers. So there are gender issues in play also which feel very modern.

The insights into the Mau Mau rebellion and the efforts made to suppress it are absolutely fascinating. So, too, is the fact that once the British have left the Kenyans proceed to fall out with one another and there is a coup against President Daniel arap Moi.

And all the while, running like a spine through BREATH OF AFRICA is the stupendous natural beauty of Kenya, with is wildlife, exotic birds, mountains, forests, plains and white beaches. This beauty seems more constant than the ways of the humans who act their lives out on its stage.

In some ways BREATH OF AFRICA is a sad story because, especially from the British perspective, it captures the end of a period of glory and power. But from an African perspective the sadness is that many of them suffered under British rule and died during their struggle for independence. And independence for many African countries, Kenya included, often left the way open for local corruption or dictatorship.

That said people struggle to make the best of their lives however politics go. Caroline is a classic case of a woman struggling to do her best, with the best of motives, often against the odds. She is a strong woman and perseveres. She triumphs over the evil and hatred behind the curse.

But in the end she concludes she can never really belong in the new Kenya. This conclusion seemed to mark the very end for the settler commitment to the country. Perhaps it had to be this way. That said she is unbowed and is not in any way beaten personally. Her integrity is intact. So, too, she finds consolation with someone whose job it was to try to ensure British rule continued. Such is life.

BREATH OF AFRICA kicks off at a gallop, literally, and ends thunderously, again literally. The ending is especially strong as Caroline finally sees the African curse die, literally.

The one constancy in the story is perhaps a set of pre-historic paintings in a secret cave, which seem to say to us that the comings and goings of more recent times are as nothing to the longer sweep of human history buried in the rocks and earth of Kenya.

BREATH OF AFRICA is lovingly written, intelligent, informative and moving. It is as much a story of a woman's struggle against prejudice and hardship. Caroline is a single parent. She is not a privileged woman in a big house. She struggles for money. Yes, the story has a very modern feel to it.
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on 3 June 2013
An interesting read. Having lived in Kenya for 20 years, Breath of Africa brought back so many memories, and waves of nostalgia. Many of the situations she described I lived through myself.

Africa is a harsh continent, and life can be cruel there. The author has captured this very well, and none of her characters have an easy ride. Even in a dynamic and emerging modern country, many of the people still believe in witchcraft and can and do die for no other reason than a witch doctor has told them that they will.

I particularly enjoyed her descriptions of Kenya's stunning and varied landscapes. I could see the vistas and smell the dust, and hear the clink of bits in the horses' mouths at the races. Her knowledge of the politics of the country is spot on.

The inter-racial love story is plausible, the characters believable, and I found the whole story to be realistic and satisfying. Just don't expect everybody to live happily ever after.
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on 17 March 2016
Breath of Africa by J. L. Bwye [ASIN:1909841994 Breath of Africa]
I am originally from South Africa and was looking for something to read from the African Continent. I came across this book (the title as well as the cover drew my attention) and I immediately bought the paperback. The author weaves a wonderful tale about Kenya and its rise to independence and how her characters' lives are affected by the momentous changes which happen all around them. She touches on various aspects of life in Kenya as seen from white colonialists' point of view, as well as local tribes, customs, family relationships, work and how Mau-Mau activity, and witchcraft affect everybody during those times.
Many of the characters are memorable.There are Charles and Theresa - coming from two different worlds who meet and fall in love; Caroline and Brian and of course, Mwangi - belonging to the Mau-Mau - and his quest to destroy anyone who doesn't support his ways, using black magic if needs be.
Throughout the story, the author gives beautiful descriptions of the Kenyan Highlands and wildlife as experienced by each character - making for a most enjoyable, realistic read, climaxing in the desert near a family cave. Anyone who is interested in Africa and its diversity - its peoples, animals and birds, as well as it's tempestuous history - will enjoy Breath of Africa very much. Yet, I can also recommend this story to everyone who enjoys contemporary romance, mystery and suspense.
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on 2 May 2013
This novel follows thirty years of Kenya's history beginning at the critical turning point of the Mau Mau rebellion through the newly fledged independence up until the early 80s after the years of Kenyatta's presidency. It is an ambitious sweep viewed through the eyes of Caroline, a privileged white woman and Charles, an African who seeks to break out of the role of agricultural worker to attend Oxford and become part of Kenya's promising future. Through these to contrasting viewpoints we learn of the complexity of this time period, that there is not one truly right position or story. That is the power of this novel and the truly magical backdrop of a country that casts a spell on many.
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on 8 January 2016
Interesting story of the lives of a few Kenyians, both black and white during a period of change in Kenya. I enjoyed the story, learning more about the history of Kenya and also reading about some of the places I'd been to in Kenya in 1982, such as Niarobi, the Rift Valley and lake Turkana. The 1982 coup which took place in Niarobi also features in the novel - thankfully I was safe in Mombasa when the coup and killings occurred. A small part of the novel is also set in Oxford, and this brought back memories of the 4 years I spent there after my trip to Kenya. I enjoyed the trip down memory lane and was reminded about the young Kenyians we became friends with - I wonder what course their lives took and how are getting on now.
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on 24 June 2013
Jane Bwye writes beautifully evocative descriptions of the Kenyan landscape. The heat and dust got to me quite easily as I learned about Kenya in the late 1960s and early 1970s - bringing back vague memories of the Kenyatta period as reported in the newspapers of the era. Lasting and loving relationships of different kinds are explored within the book, some tragic and some happier- racial and cultural differences having a huge bearing on the success of such bondings. The theme of tribal curses runs through the novel but is not depicted in great depth, though the effects on those who believe in a curse are long lasting and poignant. The dilemma of the born and bred in Kenya whites, who want to remain after independence, is sensitively portrayed.
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on 18 June 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.
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on 4 March 2016
Set in Kenya from the 1950s Mau Mau rebellion onwards the novel is always convincing and the descriptions of the Kenyon landscape bring the country vividly to life. The characters that most appealed to me were Caroline, a priveleged white girl facing her troubles bravely, and brilliant Charles struggling to fit in at Oxford. Strong on inter racial relationships and prejudices.
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on 24 March 2013
I couldn't put this book down, loved Caroline and her loyalty to her friend Theresa, the involvement of the mau mau and that nasty little man Mwangi. Caroline seemed so level headed and thought nothing of bringing up the two boys and helping her friend Theresa. She was truly a Kenyan and wouldnt differentiate between the Africans and Europeans.
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on 29 May 2013
The author's love and passion for East Africa explodes from the pages. A beautiful place, amazing people and a wonderful story. This is how a good book should be. I was sorry when it ended, & look forward to more from this talented writer.
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