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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A STRONG WOMAN'S STRUGGLE DURING THE BIRTH OF A PROUD AFRICAN NATION
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,...
Published 16 months ago by r j askew

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars A good read
I enjoyed the book, with some exciting moments. I would like to know how true to life it is - I know it was based on experience in the country
Published 16 months ago by Mrs J A Steen


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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A STRONG WOMAN'S STRUGGLE DURING THE BIRTH OF A PROUD AFRICAN NATION, 12 Aug 2013
By 
r j askew (London + St.Albans, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Breath of Africa (Kindle Edition)
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lovely tale, 2 May 2013
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This review is from: Breath of Africa (Paperback)
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and entertaining read, 3 Jun 2013
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This review is from: Breath of Africa (Kindle Edition)
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book of breath-taking scope, 18 Jun 2013
By 
Dr. Mark A. Patton "Mark Patton" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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This review is from: Breath of Africa (Paperback)
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THANK YOU from James Penhaligon (Author of 'Speak Swahili, Dammit!'), 29 May 2013
This review is from: Breath of Africa (Paperback)
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great plot, hard to put down, 26 Mar 2013
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I really enjoyed this book and found it difficult to put down - a real page turner and I think would be great for a holiday read! At the same time it does address some serious issues and interesting historical episodes in Kenyan history. Definitely a must for anyone who loves to read about Africa, its interesting culture and beautiful scenery. A wonderfully evocative book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breath of Africa - very special, 24 Mar 2013
By 
Anna Murray (Bridport, Dorset, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Breath of Africa (Kindle Edition)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It is the story of two girls - daughters of white farmers - and how their lives are affected by the life of the country that the, 8 Sep 2014
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This review is from: Breath of Africa (Kindle Edition)
Intriguing tale scanning Kenya's move to independence

This novel moves from the turbulent times of the Mau Mau to the creation of a modern independent nation. It is the story of two girls - daughters of white farmers - and how their lives are affected by the life of the country that they love. But there is something dark and sinister which has a disasterous impact on their lives and reveals the hold that ancient beliefs still have in modern-day Kenya.

It is a fascinating and gripping story - and the author obviously loves Kenya and understands its recent history well.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating insight, 8 Jun 2014
This review is from: Breath of Africa (Kindle Edition)
I was born in Kenya and though I did not live there for long, I know quite a bit about its history. However, I found this to be a fascinating insight into Kenya's recent history. Caroline, who comes from a privileged white background, wants so much to be a part of the country's independence but she knows it will always be a problem to be accepted by its people. I loved the description of Charles, a farm worker who receives an offer of a place at Oxford, trying to cope with modern day life in the UK. And despite his privileged education and his Christian upbringing, he still believes in the myths of his tribal background. This is an exciting read by a lady who knows her subject well.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I like this....!, 5 May 2014
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This review is from: Breath of Africa (Kindle Edition)
This is a beautifully written novel. Kenya is a major character here, as well the backdrop for the stories of Caroline and Charles. The author has dealt respectfully and honestly with the difficult question of how (and if) the history of a black country can be told through white eyes. Her characters are strong, and the storytelling is absorbing. I really like this book.
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Breath of Africa
Breath of Africa by J L Bwye (Paperback - 5 Mar 2013)
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