A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson is a clever way to write about Kenya and politics and its expatriates, British and Indian. In spite of the title, A Guide to the Birds of East Africa is actually a novel, with sketches and the names of dozens of birds in Kenya.
The story centers around a widower, Mr. Malik, who owns his own business but takes time off weekly to visit AIDS patients in a hospital and to attend the Tuesday bird walks led by a widow, Rose Mbikwa. Mr. Malik wants to ask Rose to the Nairobi Hunt Club Ball, but when another member of the Asadi Club, Harry Khan, expresses his interest in the lady as well, the club members decide the two men should have a competition to determine who should ask Rose to the ball.
The competition involves bird watching and making a list of the different species of birds they see within a set period of time. The winner will be the one that sees the most birds of different species. While Harry enlists the help of two Australian birders and hops on planes to fly remote parts of Kenya that have the most unusual birds, Malik remains close to his business and counts birds in his garden, at the Botanical Garden and the arboretum in the city, and the area around the sewage plant. He does make a car trip away from the city, to the home of a young man in his employ, which adds a lot to his list of bird sightings.
For Malik, the competition is more eventful than for Harry. Malik's car is stolen at the arboretum, and after he recovers it, he is waylaid in the bush by two Somalis intent on capturing his young employee Benjamin for conscription into their army. Malik escapes by leaving his car and hiding in a cave.
One more worry for Malik - the notebook in his stolen car. Not only does it have the list of birds he has seen, it also has compromising notes on the political characters he satirizes weekly in a newspaper column - which he writes anonymously.
Harry also his share of adventure - he is arrested by soldiers while birding at night too close to a military compound. In the end, does it all work our for Malik, the book's obvious hero? Does he win the competition, stay out of jail?
The book has been sold, evidently, in eight countries. I enjoyed reading it.