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review 2016-07-28 00:00
A Guide to the Birds of East Africa
A Guide to the Birds of East Africa - Nicholas Drayson A definitive example of "tell-not-show". Yes, that seems to be the guiding principle of this book's style. Even the birds are told and enumerated by name, though what could hold a greater potential of "showing" than two hundred exotic birds?

Each character of any importance to the story has a neat introductory chapter, describing his personal history ("his" is intentional here: there's only one female character), tastes and appearance. I would take that from Dickens, okay (not that he always does it), but a modern writer should know better.

The protagonist is even more underdeveloped than other characters, because we get several things he did or does without any reasons for them either in the circumstances or in his inner motivations; and they are not even essential to the story! The whole purpose of introducing his son is to tell us Mr. Malik is a good person, which is also reiterated outright several times. And you know what? I'm not inclined to believe, because I don't see the person at all, only a collection of carefully enumerated character traits.

The way the author constantly introduces himself into the story, addressing the reader directly with a question as to what they think would happen at this point or an anecdote of his life, was probably meant to create a cosy atmosphere, but failed miserably. These insertions only serve to break up the story flow and so are annoying.

And finally, the plot contains no reward for these deficiencies. The seemingly set up plot twists evaporate when it comes to the point, and the tacked-on twee ending is totally unsatisfactory. Oh, wait - this has a sequel too? Something to avoid, then.
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review 2013-10-14 00:37
A Guide to the Birds of East Africa
A Guide to the Birds of East Africa - Nicholas Drayson

I loved this book.  The main protagonist, Mr. Malik is simply adorable.  He is a man of unusual integrity living in a city filled with corruption.  He is an older man in love with a woman who has no idea of the secrets that lie behind an unassuming façade. 


The story unfolds over the course of a few weeks and the reader, chapter by chapter, becomes privy to these surprising depths.  Mr. Malik is an extremely private person and not even his closest drinking buddies at the club, nor the bird watching kindred spirit he chats with every week, have any idea of the burning passions and personal demons that lie beneath the surface.   


I was enchanted by this book and if I hadn't been so distracted by other things, I would have easily wanted to read it in one sitting.  A really lovely way to pass an afternoon.   


Reviewed October 3, 2011

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review 2012-05-23 00:00
Slave Elites in the Middle East and Africa
Slave Elites in the Middle East and Africa - The Location of the 'Manufacture' of Eunuchs - economics of castration. Death rates may have been as high as 90%!?

My Slave, My Son, My Lord - If we assume that the medieval middle east had the same notions of kinship as 18th century Hawaii, we can make a lot of sense of the social roles of slave elites.

Um...ok. I don't find your argument persuasive, but I would like to read the crossover historical novel you are clearly working on.
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review 2012-01-02 00:00
A Guide to the Birds of East Africa - Nicholas Drayson,Bill Wallis Utterly charming. I love the way the author speaks directly to the reader as if he is telling the story. I was also very impressed with the audiobook reader - great accents, and a wide range of distinctive voices for the various characters.
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review 2011-11-16 00:00
A Guide to the Birds of East Africa - Nicholas Drayson A review on the back of the book jacket states "a sort of P.G. Wodehouse meets Alexander McCall Smith." I do see their point, but I felt this was more than just a sort of comedy of manners or errors. The main character is a kind, good man, similar to JLB Maketoni in "No 1 Ladie's Detective Agency." As in Wodehouse, the main character belongs to a men's club (for men of Indian descent), where certain rules are upheld and the men get up to silly bets and gossip. But underneath that surface, there is a lot more going on. While keeping the tone light, Drayson manages to introduce many African issues and debunk stereotypes that most of us Westerners have about Africa. The story isn't tragic or depressing, and yet it made me think about the ways in which powerful nations minimize or exaggerate the issues of 2nd and 3rd world countries for their own benefit.
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