Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wednesday's Book

A Guide To The Birds Of East Africa
By Nicholas Drayson

A delightful book about a Mr. Malik, an avid birdwatcher, who is secretly in love with Rose, the woman who leads their weekly bird watching expedition in and around Nairobi, Kenya. Mr. Malik, who is of Indian descent, is probably in late middle age. He belongs to the Asadi Club, where his fellow Indians meet to relax and exchange the latest gossip and news.

Mr. Malik is trying to get up his courage to send a note to Rose, inviting her to the annual Nairobi Hunt Club Ball. While he is working on his courage, his childhood nemesis, Harry Kahn, returns to town. Mr. Kahn is a flashy character with a fancy car and no lack of confidence. Mr. Malik soon finds out that Mr. Kahn also intends to invite Rose to the ball. What happens next is what the book is all about. 

When both parties intent of inviting Rose to the ball becomes known around the Asadi Club, someone suggests a Wager be made. Before Mr. Malik can back out, rules are established in writing, Mr. Malik and Mr. Kahn are now the protagonists and the winner will have the privilege of inviting Rose to the ball. What is involved in the wager? Counting birds! If you are not into birds, this may not sound like a lot of fun, but it is. The book is hilarious in places and also very warm and human. It is a story about atmosphere, about the people in the Indian community in Nairobi, about Rose, a Scottish woman in Africa, and about Mr. Malik, who carries a secret sadness and a love for Rose. And of course, the book is also about Kenya and its birds.  

The details of the Wager are put in writing. In essence, the Wager will be won by the protagonist who in one week can identify and count the most birds recognized by the Official Check List of the Birds of Africa. Sub species are not eligible. Birds must be alive, in nature, not caged, and the identification must be visual, not by call, track, pellets, etc.

So while Rose is out of town, a most hilarious chase takes place between Mr. Malik and Mr. Kahn. And while out there in the African landscape, the reader learns a thing or two about the birds of East Africa. But it is the humanity of Mr. Malik that will touch your heart as it did mine.

A Guide to the Birds of East Africa is a delightful, funny, and insightful book that I most definitely recommend.

Before I go, I want to add this:

I said I cried at the end of Zeitoun, the book I talked about last week, and now I'm sorry I did. I have a really hard time when animals die like that without a fair chance. However, that is not described in detail in the book, just a sentence or two. I guess the images we all saw of the Katrina dogs came back to my mind. However, and make no mistake here, Zeitoun is a book everyone should read. It was ranked one of the best books of the year by many newspapers; it was a New York Times Notable book, and an Entertainment Weekly Book of the Decade. After reading my review, a friend of mine downloaded it on her Kindle and couldn't put it down – she read the entire book that same night. I couldn't put it down either. Zeitoun is an excellent book and one I strongly recommend.


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