Leopard at the Door is set in Kenya in 1952, just before the Queen’s coronation and during an important time in the fight for independence from British rule. Rachel returns to the family home after 6 years away in England. Her mother had died, leaving Rachel to spend the rest of her childhood in boarding schools away from her father. On her return, her family home and Kenya itself are not what she lovingly remembers from childhood.
It isn’t long before the Mau Mau are introduced to the reader. They are a secret society who have been blamed for grass fires in neighbouring towns, and are the root of the uprising in Kenya. They are reported to be forcing workers to rebel against the British farm owners with ever increasing violent acts. As time passes, the farm owners feel the increasing threat to their lives creeping up on them. Nobody knows where the Mau Mau will strike next, or how they will find a way to destroy another family home. There are some very graphic, hard hitting and emotional scenes in this book that will stay with me for a long time.
My two favourite characters were Michael, the mechanic, and Sara, the new memsaab. Sara treats the locals with such contempt, it is difficult to see any kindness in her. Nothing pleases Sara, despite all her efforts to control those around her. Micheal encourages a respectful and accepting view of the black people in Kenya whilst teaching Rachel as a young girl. The contrast between the two was a highlight of the book, and encourages real empathy in the reader.
There were also characters that I loved to hate. The deception, violence and manipulation were in stark contrast to Rachel’s own nativity after spending so long away from Kenya. I’m still not sure who the Leopard in the title really is; the animal at the barn door, the Mau Mau, or someone closer to home.
I received a copy of this book via Netgalley.
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