Mists of the Serengeti by Leylah Attar
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
*** 3 Cranky Stars ***
This is the first book I've read by Leylah Attar and I think I'm one of the odd ones out here. I picked it up because many of the blogs I follow and reader friends I trust were recommending it.
Mists of the Serengeti starts with an horrific event that devastates people, but links them through heartbreak. A man, Jack, grieving for his daughter in Africa; a woman, Rodel, grieving for her sister in England.
They meet through Rodel's desire to honor her sister, Mo's, memory and continue Mo's work of getting children to a school in Wanza, Tanzania. In particular, Albino children. In parts of Africa, this group have superstitions attached to them, a blood price, and are in danger for simply existing.
There begins a journey of honor and redemption, not to mention love is found on the way. In some ways this book is a love letter to Africa and many issues are jam packed into it: superstition, cultural differences, cultural relativism, cultural practices, corrupt authorities, poverty, cruelty, apathy, and lack of services.
Maybe that was one of the issues I had with it. It felt like a cultural exercise for dummies with two interlocutors.
As the book continued, I became uncomfortable with it. The two main characters are white (one insider and one outsider) fighting the good fight, spotlighting the dark parts of Africa, and encouraging the locals to take a stand. Even though Attar took care to set this up, it still felt like a tourist had to come to Africa to save her from herself.
There are some beautiful lines in this, but even this felt flat to me. As if I'd read it before - on memes - and it had been interwoven into the story for emotional connection.
I did, however, find the development of the relationship between Jack and Rodel engaging until it swapped to Jack's point of view. Then it felt like a retelling of all the things why we should like Rodel and what was admirable, even though I'd had the majority of the book to make that decision for myself. I ended up skim reading this section as quickly as I could.
I, in fact, found Rodel a clever and engaging character with or without the explicit tell. I have to say that this book has a wonderful cast of secondary characters. I looked forward to Goma, Scholastica and Bahati's appearances every time they turned up on the page.
As for the epilogue: it didn't give me closure. It reduced this book to sentimentality (in my opinion) just to reinforce the connections theme, even though it had been clearly, possibly even overly, done.
I've given this book a three star for the author's talent as a writer. This book, however, was not for me.
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