Despite an overly complex and loose narrative, this is a thoughtful story about a country’s imperialist past.


African colonialism is confronted in this subtle, multilayered Kenyan tale.

A “massive, snakelike creature whose black head, erect like a cobra’s, pulled rusty brown boxes and slithered down the savanna”: it’s 1901, and the first train has arrived in Kenya's Rift Valley from the port of Mombasa. This is how Kimani (Before the Rooster Crows, 2004) opens this lyrical and powerful historical novel about his homeland. It’s primarily the story of three men: the Master, Ian Edward McDonald, the Brit who built the railroad; Richard Turnbull, a preacher and friend of McDonald's; and Babu Salim, an Indian who helped build the railroad. Babu is also the grandfather of Rajan, a talented musician who now sings his songs in the Jakaranda Hotel, near where the railroad ends. Once a majestic monument to love that McDonald built for his wife, Sally, it fell to ruin—a “veritable heart of darkness”— after she refused to live there, disgusted when she saw how McDonald brutalized the workers and servants. Through a series of flashbacks the lives of these three men “run parallel to each other for decades,” finally coming together and unraveling in a “momentary clash” in the 1960s when Rajan is suddenly kissed in the dark hotel by a mysterious woman who then disappears. His obsession with her finally ends when he sees her on the dance floor and brings her onstage. Rajan and Mariam quickly develop a relationship; when he brings her to meet his elderly grandparents, she utters something to Babu, unleashing an unexplained curse dealing with ages-old illegitimacy and infidelity upon the family. Kimani weaves together a bitter, hurtful past and hopeful present in this rich tale of Kenyan history and culture, the railroad, and the men and women whose lives it profoundly affected.

Despite an overly complex and loose narrative, this is a thoughtful story about a country’s imperialist past.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61775-496-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Akashic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.


Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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