Author: Jennifer McVeigh
Publication Date: January 3, 2017
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin Random House
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
After six years in England, Rachel has returned to Kenya and the farm where she spent her childhood, but the beloved home she’d longed for is much changed. Her father’s new companion—a strange, intolerant woman—has taken over the household. The political climate in the country grows more unsettled by the day and is approaching the boiling point. And looming over them all is the threat of the Mau Mau, a secret society intent on uniting the native Kenyans and overthrowing the whites. As Rachel struggles to find her place in her home and her country, she initiates a covert relationship, one that will demand from her a gross act of betrayal. One man knows her secret, and he has made it clear how she can buy his silence. But she knows something of her own, something she has never told anyone. And her knowledge brings her power.
Leopard at the Door is a genius title for this gripping tale. The narrative begins with Rachel returning home to Kenya, after being shipped off to England more than 6 years ago after her mother unexpectedly dies.
While in England, Rachel longs for home, despite the grittiness and violence that exists there - anything better than staying with uptight grandparents who show her no love or affection and who eventually ship her off to boarding school. But it's always her intention to return, despite letters from her father telling her not to. There's no denying her heart rests in Kenya.
At eighteen, Rachel does come back, intent on reconnecting with the grief suffered over her mother's death, and to settle once and for the reasons her father does not care or want for her to return. The most interesting aspect is that the story takes place during a time of tumultuous conflict between the Kenyans, specifically the Mau Mau, and the white British settlers.*
When she arrives, she finds that her father is living with Sara, a woman who made me so angry from the moment she leaps onto the page. She exhibits a quiet hatred for the Kenyans who have always served the family well, stemming back to when her mother was alive. Despite the long-standing relationship, Rachel's father does nothing to stop Sara's behavior towards them and this became very frustrating for me, especially to witness her dad's continuous indifference.
Jennifer McVeigh is absolutely brilliant at pulling the reader into the landscapes of Africa. As the story gets going, the tensions of the growing conflict between the Kenyans and the settlers is consistently apparent. This was actually my favorite part of the story. On the one hand, there was always a sense of connection, longing, and of love and friendship, while on the other hand, there was a very real, prominent feeling of fear and paranoia which stems from living in a land torn by war.
In the end, the story is told at a satisfying pace, with a love interest that could have bothered me, given the circumstances, but didn't. I was completely immersed from start to finish and once I did finish, I was content with the unique angle of a coming-of-age story -- simply stunning. It's told in first-person tense, which does not bother me at all since it is the technique used in many young adult books, my preferred reading category.
I don't normally read historical fiction novels but I recommend this one if you're like me. And if you do read historical fiction, then this title should be up there on your list. It's wonderful and thought-provoking and I can't wait to read more Jennifer McVeigh!
*Historically, British Kenya’s Mau Mau Rebellion spanned eight deadly years, from 1952 to 1960. Contrary to public perception, just thirty-two European settlers died in the uprising, and another two hundred British soldiers and police were killed. In contrast, over eighteen hundred African civilians were murdered by Mau Mau and a reported twelve thousand Mau Mau rebels died, though the real figure is likely closer to twenty thousand. More than one thousand Kikuyu men were executed for Mau Mau offenses, far more than the 346 convicted murderers. It remains the largest scale state execution in the history of British imperialism.
Jennifer McVeigh graduated from Oxford University in 2002 with a degree in English literature and went on to work in film, television, radio and publishing. She left her day job to do a Masters in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and then wrote The Fever Tree. She lives in London with her husband and three children.
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