The People of Ostrich Mountain – by Ndirangu Githaiga – independent book review – Historical Fiction (Kenya, Britain)

NOTE: I received free access to this manuscript in exchange for writing an impartial review. Thank you NetGalley and Bon Esprit Books. Publication: May 9, 2020.

THE PEOPLE OF OSTRICH MOUNTAIN takes on the transition from British colonial control to an independent Kenya. Awarded three stars on Goodreads. The story covers 50 years across three continents, beginning in the 1950s when local guerrilla fighters (Mau Mau) launch the war (1952-60) that will ultimately lead to Kenyan independence.

Author Ndirangu Githaiga uses the daily lives of a handful of individuals, both British and Kenyan, to tell this larger story:
• Wambũi, a 14-year old girl, whose family lives a simple, subsistence village life. When the violence of war and increasingly repressive government measures begin to threaten her village, Wambũi‘s family makes the difficult decision to send her away to boarding school, one of the first dedicated to educating girls. 
• Eileen Atwood, a dedicated British teacher devoting her life to her students. She is the first to notice Wambũi‘s extraordinary mathematical abilities and is determined to develop her talents. Even if Wambũi dislikes the extra attention.
• Ray, Wambũi‘s son, a gifted physician who winds up experiencing all the discrimination and prejudice typical of a black man living in an American urban city.

As decades pass, lasting friendships form, unexpected opportunities appear, and material success transforms lives. The fledging independence of Kenya brings its own restrictions. What becomes apparent in this novel is the profound impact individual life decisions can have on the ultimate life one leads. As well as the ways societal events and attitudes can impose unexpected limitations to and interference in an individual’s goals. 

Physician-Author Ndirangu Githaiga

On the plus side, I learned a lot about how one African country took control away from a colonial power and about the difficulties and rewards of transitioning to independence.

On the minus side, I felt the book lacked focus. Stories jumped around, time passed abruptly, and some passages (like a long description of a safari in the Maasai Mara) felt like they were added for no discernible reason. I also never found myself emotionally involved with the main characters. So, I’d only recommend this one to those interested in the subject matter or time period. 

More about the author, Ndirangu Githaiga.

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