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4.2 out of 5 stars
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4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 28 April 2015
So glad I bought this delightful book. Juliet brings to life the modern rural Kenya, as she tracks down the old houses of the Happy Valley settlers. The anecdotes of the veteran Mau Mau terrorists and the present day residents of the houses give the African viewpoint on White settlers. You sympathize with Solomon trying desperately to save the Colobus monkey and indigenous trees whilst being thwarted by bigwig money interests.
Juliet's description of the almost impossible rutted roads and quagmires, after the rains transported me back to my childhood in Kenya.
A well written book that brings to life modern Kenya and the plight of the rural African living in poverty, fifty years post independence. One wonders what happened to all the billions of Aid money given to Kenya?? It certainly didn't benefit the rural African.
If you are looking for a saucy read about the Happy Valley sex exploits then this book isn't for you. If you want a snapshot of Kenya fifty years post independence with an update on the settlers farms carved up as land settlement plots, then this book is a must read.
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on 22 June 2014
I was really looking forward to this account of twisted colonialism but was hugely disappointed with this book which I believe wanders in and out of focus. There are really two books here: one about the Happy Valley set and one about the state of the area's Kenya tribesmen. The author appears uncertain as to which to choose but the former appears on the cover, leaving the reader desperately frustrated at having fascinating Happy Valley residents picked up and dumped in favour of the estimable Solomon Gitau and his green credentials concerning trees and the colubus monkey. There are two many different journeys here, leaving the book feeling equally fractured. Also, the book needs proof reading. There are a number of errors, which include things which might be said but look odd in print and, occasionally, some extremely uncomfortable phrasing. The result for me is a lack of depth on what should be a fascinating subject, possibly due to insufficient research, and a failure to get under the skin of these extraordinary characters, both individually and as a group. I felt it read more like a set of detailed notes in preparation for a book. I hope the obviously courageous Ms Barnes will forgive me.
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on 4 November 2015
Juliet Barnes set herself a very difficult task in trying to rewrite a story which has been told numerous times in the last 30 years. She has used an examination of the remains, in many cases the ruins, of the houses occupied by the decadent Happy Valley set as the basis of this new slant. Frankly it doesn't work! Even if you know Africa, and I have lived and worked in many parts of the continent over the last 40 years, the story gets rapidly tedious and her "side kick" Solomon, a Kenyan who has an obsession with colobus monkeys, just adds to the tedium. However, I am a persistent individual and I pursued the book to the finish. Only in one of the chapters near the end of the book does the story get interesting where state involvement in the murder of Lord Errol raises its head. The majority of the book deals with the modern Kenya,its people, the way it is governed and the day to day life for poor people. It is a very unflattering account but one which I know to be true.
The happy Valley set were a totally useless group of people, a total waste of space and really don't warrant the effort which Juliet Barnes expended on their story. A few years ago I wandered around Karen Blixen's house in Nairobi and only felt a sickening weight in the pit of the stomach - what a poor advertisement these people were for the Empire. However, I have to admit a compelling fascination for Alice de Janze but I suppose that is down to my maleness!
If you have a deep interest in this episode of death and debauchery in Kenya then give it a go - but you may, like me, struggle through most of it.
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on 10 July 2013
I found this book is not easy to read at times. I think the writer tends to meander through the descriptions of the houses once occupied by the European farmers. One minute we are at the house called Clouds, once the home of Idina, the wife of Lord Errol and then on to other residences owned by people who also carved out a living and strived to exist and then back to Clouds. I find that I am confused by the number and names of people she finds occupies the houses now. The map she included gives us an excellent idea of the kind of distance these people had to cover to get to any kind of contact with the outer world. I learned a great deal about the sad plight of the beautiful colobus monkey and her friend Simon who's conservation work is so important.

Juliet Barnes puts forward some already tried and tested ideas as to who killed Lord Errol. Many of the theories we have already read about in other books like 'White Mischief' or 'The Life and Death of Lord Errol'. Somebody must know something but we may never know. Julian Fellows, who did an hour long documentary on the murder said at the end that he knew who did it but would not tell! Perhaps Juliet Barnes ought to confront him and try and get some more information from him. The book has many interesting moments,especially when she meets some of the old Mau Mau fighters. I would recommend this as a good read and well worth buying as it has some good details about the type of life these pioneers led which was not easy, yet they stayed and loved the country so much
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on 13 December 2015
I found this very sad, not in the way it is written but the findings of the author in all the forgotten ruins of Happy Valley. To read books (Elspeth Huxley etc )and see films..( White Mischief. etc). where the people are all vibrant and the locations and houses fabulous and then to go back so many years later and find it how she describes it is incredibly sad for me. I wouldn't want to go back and see it all having now read her account. I want it to stay in my mind as it was...before Erroll was killed.
All the same I'm glad I read it but this is one book I don't want to re-read at a later date. I would recommend it to anyone but it will stay on my bookshelf now destined to gather dust like the resting places of the infamous crowd of Happy Valley.
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on 22 October 2015
Juliet Barnes writes of her exploration of the recent past in Kenya through its buildings. Her companion and inspiration is Solomon, an African with dedication to animals and buildings. In fact it was Solomon and his brave and unrelenting love for the animals against at best indifference and at worst violence,who makes this book.
A thread that runs through this book is the identity of Errol's murderer,dealt with in White Mischief and other books. In the end there are suspects but no conclusive proof. The writing style is plain and attractive, and I found this to be the best of the whodunnit books so far.
I was rooting for Solomon and his battles, and it is refreshing how common interests cross racial lines.
I recommend this book to anyone interested in history and conservation
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on 6 May 2016
This is well researched as far as it was possible to explore the past at that time, but more has come to light since then and might well merit another look at this early 1940s Kenyan nest of Colonial vipers. The facts have been laid out clearly but little is said about the damage and great sadness caused to those on the periphery of this notorious case.
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on 6 September 2013
This book is a well written and beautifully documented journey through both time and the lands of Kenya.

The book is very well researched and clearly shows the authors love of her country and home. Not only are we treated to a rich and interesting commentary of Kenya's past (mainly white) history, but the troubles it has caused in modern Kenya, including corruption, de-forestation and rapid urbanisation.

It is a must for any traveler thinking of visiting Kenya, or in fact any one with an interest into colonialism or African history.

A labour of love which is a interesting, and often emotional read for all.

Only critisism is that a table of houses and owners would have been useful because I kept getting confused who everyone is!
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on 28 January 2016
I have gone through two thirds of the book and must admit it is not an easy read. Names, events, houses are muddled up and do not appear in any sequence or order. And once when she does find an old old house of which she had been waiting desperately to see, the description is disappointingly covered in a short paragraph - a prime example being Kipipiri House for which she had to work hard to get access to but it all ended up as being a non-event. There are a few pages of photographs including some taken as recent as 2011 but the quality is so poor that they look like watermarks. I must admit the book is more about Solomon, her safari guide, than the actual characters that is trying to portray. Even the conversations with the elderly Kikuyu employees of the former land owners is no more than what they said without a deeper followup of facts gained.

I will admit the author still has lots of friends connected with the colourful lot of the Happy Valley of the past but sadly all their inputs have not been transformed into enjoyable reading.
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on 9 March 2016
Let me begin at the outset by saying I loved this book. As I have enjoyed all the literature I have read about ‘Happy Valley’ and the intrigue around the murder of Lord Errol. But – whereas, while reading in the dying days of the twentieth century, and the dawn of the 21st, the world of those hedonistic pleasure-seekers of nigh on a hundred years ago appears more fictional than real – here, now, is a tale of truth, no matter how unsavoury some might find it.

Like Juliet Barnes, I was born and brought up in Kenya and have never left, and like her, I am an author. So I take an interest in others’ writing, and their reviews. And reading through some of the reviews Barnes has received for her remarkable book here, I feel compelled to speak up.

More than a few people seem disappointed that this is not yet another vivid peek through the keyhole at all the seedy goings-on of Kenya’s colonial past, and have expressed dissatisfaction at the focus on the new inhabitants of the ruins of the erstwhile pleasure palaces of the Happy Valley set. But this is what Barnes set out to do! Her whole intention, if I’m not mistaken, was to breathe life back into the buildings that still lie deteriorating in overgrown gardens, and introduce the new (and rightful) inhabitants of the houses, mingling history with the current day. And emphasise the difference between that carefree debauched period of notoriety and the reality of many Kenyan’s lives today.

With the redoubtable Solomon as her companion and guide, she is able to take the reader right into the worlds of the people now living in Wanjohi. And get from them their recollections and thoughts about the Europeans who once called the area ‘home’. It is a refreshing, honest and revealing story – thought-provoking and emotive, definitely. I would recommend it to anybody wanting to add another book about Kenya to their library.

Perhaps, if anything can be learned from some readers’ evident disappointment not to have found more scandal between the covers of Barnes’ book, maybe a change to the image on the front cover might solve the problem – include Solomon, and other modern day residents to illustrate the juxtaposition of the two worlds, so readers (who evidently haven’t properly read the blurb on the back of the book) can see what the story is going to be about.
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