Maina was staring at him when he stood. Kip expected to be teased for his excesses and waited for the snort of derision before Miana launched into his taunts. But Maina had a strange look in his eyes. He was peering at Kip, but not seeing him.
‘Why are you here, mzungu boy?’ Maina said. They were the first words he had spoken all morning.
Kip blinked at him. ‘To hunt bush pig or…’ But he realised that wasn’t what Maina meant. He fell silent again.
Growing up with his cruel mother and an ‘aunt’ who is really his mother’s lover, Kip is unhappy. Knowing little about his father, except that his mother hates him, Kip is treated as a little better than a slave. His only friend is Maina, a Kikuyu boy who tolerates rather than likes him, and allows him to join in on hunting expeditions.
As an adult, Kip has his own successful safari business, but is still haunted by memories of his childhood and by his curiosity about his origins. When he crosses paths with Maina, it is not a happy reunion. Maina is a government minister, with little tolerance of Kip or other whites. Moreover, there is a mysterious link between Kip and Maina’s girlfriend, Rose. It is through Rose that Kip starts to unravel the mystery of his father.
In Search of Africa is a story about family, about betrayal and about love. Set mostly in Kenya , but also in Uganda, England and Australia, it transcends the years from the Second World War until the 1990s. It begins with the meeting of an Australian and a Ugandan in a German prisoner of war camp, and follows the lives of the two and of their children, focussing on Kip, the Australian’s son, and Rose, one of the Ugandan’s children. Their stories are separate yet come together, at the same time exploring the turmoil of Ugandan and Kenyan politics, and the impact of war and of dishonesty on families.
Coates’ writing is graphic, transporting the writer to the places he sets his tale, with the detail which can only come of an affinity with the setting. This is a fine piece of writing and an absorbing tale.
In Search of Africa, by Frank Coates
Harper Collins, 2006