Book Review: Leopard at the Door, by Jennifer McVeigh

Leopard at the DoorLeopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is probably the best I have read for elucidating the role and experiences of women at the end of the colonial period in Kenya. It shows the independent spirit of the women who ‘went out’ to Africa and how that independence could run contrary to the colonial views of how women should behave and act, not just Kenya, but in all the colonies when it came to mixing with the ‘natives’. I understand her passion for the African continent, having lived and worked there myself in my own contrarian roles. McVeigh has taken the role of telling the life of Rachael who returns to Kenya to live with her father and stepmother ion their bush farm. The book is sensitive to Rachael’s having grown up with Kikuyu friends as a child and having run and played with them for years while growing up on the farm. Now, seeing them in a different light through the eyes of a grown woman, she is drawn to them due to her childhood memories, while being chastised for doing so by her stepmother and the other women who are set in their colonial mannerisms of keeping black Africans in their place. Racheal’s life of colonial tranquility and clandestine love affair with former servant, Michael, reveals within her a mixture of contrasting emotions that cannot be resolved without tragic consequences. The aura of fear, abject terror and horror at the atrocities to which Rachael is exposed, both through rumors and actual experience begin to tear her apart in her effort to continue her love affair with Michael. The reality of her being sent to an insane asylum for living out a pathway in life that contradicts a tightly normed colonial mentality is something that our twenty-first century brains have a hard time grasping. At the same time, thoughtful readers will understand that this rigid adherence to and backlash to protect a dying lifestyle is something we are experiencing in our own country even today. Absolutely top notch writing and a book I would certainly pick as one of my very best reads of the year!

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