The cover photo featuring an eerie acacia tree in Africa captured my interest immediately. Then I saw that the author was Jennifer McVeigh who wrote THE FEVER TREE a few years ago. I knew right then that I wanted to read this book.
It’s 1952: Kenya. Rachael Fullsmith is about to step foot onto land she’s not touched in six years. Not since her father took her to England after her mother was killed in a freak accident when she was only twelve. And he left her there…
Rachael is returning to her father’s farm in Kenya against his wishes. But she has always only felt that Africa was her home. She arrives to a once-familiar home that is now almost foreign. There’s another woman living with her father. And she’s taken over. It’s not pretty. Of course they don’t get along.
Kenya is in the midst of a revolutionary movement called the Mau Mau rebellion. I’m linking to information about this since it really happened. It’s harsh, true, and terribly blunt. You see, this is not your martini and party novel of Africa. This novel set in Kenya is based on a story McVeigh was given in a small suitcase by a man her father once knew. His grandmother had left photographs that spur this story and bring it to life.
Rachael feels unease before she’s even done unpacking. This new woman has a teenage son who she can tell is not comfortable with the situation. But there’s much more to that story, too. The rift that occurs between the woman and Rachael is made even wider by the father’s lack of involvement. And it begins.
Rachael recalls the farm as it was when her mother was alive. Mom was caring and loving and took care of the African people who worked the farm. This new woman is a fascist and a mean spirited person. They resent each other. But the tension is becoming thick between the Africans and the Europeans. Murders have been reported. Some of the victims are whites who have actually helped and worked with the blacks. Everyone is nervous and Rachael’s dad begins sleeping sitting up with a rifle pointed at the door.
With all this angst continuing to grow Rachael finds herself becoming closer and closer to her old tutor Michael. This is bound to come of no good since he is a black African. Throw in a fierce secret that Rachael has been keeping since the day her mother died. This novel becomes a complicated emotional rollercoaster.
I would never want to live anywhere I had to fear for my life. And that is what the people of Kenya do each night. They fear they will be hacked to death by the mau mau. And many are. It is ruthless. And quite harsh. But it is brutally honest. The research proves it. And, in fact, you can be sure, that as accurate as the telling is here, the reality must have been even harsher.
Is there a love story here among the ruins. Yes, of sorts. And you can see that it isn’t possible to end well. But it is realistic.
McVeigh has spent time in East Africa.
She has traveled extensively. And spent nights under the moon. The scenes she creates are eerie and so tangible that at times I felt myself wondering if I could actually hear the hyena screaming in the night outside my window… And her sun rises and sun sets are devastating. You will certainly be transported.
My absolutely gorgeous finished trade paper copy of LEOPARD NEXT DOOR by Jennifer McVeigh, arrived on my doorstep curtesy of Putnam Books, a division of Penguin Random House.