A Guide to the Birds of East Africa features a lot of birds, albeit in surprising places. They appear, squeak, fly over and can be seen all over Kenya in their grandiose variety and multitude. But this is not a field guide for ornithologists (although amateur and professionals do play a role), but a story about Mr. Malik who joins the birdwatching club every Tuesday to spot the manyfold birds that can be seen at the most ordinary places around Nairobi (but you need eyes to see). But there is more in the air than feathered friends. Silently Mr. Malik is in love with Mrs. Rosa Mbikwa whose husband’s was silenced by the government in his search for freedom. And here is where the story starts. At the Tuesday walks at the museum Rosa guides and inspires with her distinct voice. She has trained most of the birds enthusiasts around the country. Like many of her fellow citizens she is utterly amused by the zoological column that recently appeared in the newspaper and that is so widely read that the newspaper has to print thousands of extra copies on Wednesday. But the identity of its author remains a mystery.
Most readers realize there is more to the innocent wildlife stories and recognize the daring political satire. If only somebody had that audacity when her husband was alive, sighs Rosa. With careful clues we discover more of our protagonists’ past and how they are drawn together. Mr. Malik makes plans to invite Rosa for the annual Hunt Club ball. But then Harry Khan intrudes his territory. Malik foolishly proposes a contest to see how many live birds one can count in a week within the Kenyan borders. No hurting or killing is allowed but the hunt is open. It is like David and Goliath where events take a surprising turn.
A lovely read full of surprises that leaves a smile bigger than a banana on the attentive observer of the story.
Nicholas Drayson, A Guide to the Birds of East Africa, Mariner Books, 2009.