WHAT TEARS US APART by Deborah Cloyed


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An American heiress volunteers for a month at an orphanage in the slums of Nairobi and falls in love while having to navigate political, racial and ethnic tensions.

Looking for relevance and a true human connection she’s never been able to find, Leda volunteers at a boys’ orphanage in Kibera, in the sprawling slums of Nairobi. She is immediately and powerfully drawn to the director, Ita, who’s traded in his dreams for the responsibility of child-rearing in tumultuous Kibera, as well as to the seven boys he is effectively raising. As attraction flares between them, Ita’s complicated childhood friend Chege—now a violent gangster—is confused and threatened by their romance. Meanwhile, tensions are rising amid a volatile political atmosphere (the book is set during the protests after the December 2007 presidential election) which will come to a head just as Leda is preparing to leave, with intentions of coming back. But as violence erupts in the slums, actions, reactions and misunderstandings will find Leda, Ita and Chege making difficult choices. They will see themselves and each other at their best and at their worst and must decide how to move through fear and betrayal into forgiveness and redemption. This is at heart a romance between two people who find acceptance and love in each other, after lifetimes of never quite feeling at home wherever they were. The book is marred by a jarring starting point, given its overall tenor and message, and an ending that works but may be too easy for some readers. (It certainly is easier to find a happy-ever-after when there is money enough to bring about life-changing opportunities.) The narrative style jumps back and forth among various voices and timelines, which can be disorienting, though it lends a suspenseful edge to the events.

Despite some flaws, a courageous romance that reminds us that many of our problems are of the first-world variety, and how lucky we are for it.

Pub Date: March 26th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-7783-1379-3
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Harlequin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2013


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