Wednesday, 27 August 2014

'Breath of Africa' by Jane Bwye

Guest article by Jane Bwye, 

author of  the highly regarded  'Breath of Africa.'


 As a young girl I used to curl up with a book on the window seat of our sitting room, sometimes gazing out at the garden. For we had a farm in Africa … not, like Karen Blixen, at the foot of the Ngong Hills, but overlooking the Great Rift Valley, where Lake Nakuru and its flamingos lay half hidden behind a hillfold.


Flamingos and cormorants on Lake Nakuru

I’ve always been a dreamer, and I’ve learned that dreaming is a powerful thing. Twelve years ago I found myself in a place I did not want to be due to circumstances beyond my control. I did not know how we were going to survive, and then I was challenged to write a wish list. I was told that if I didn’t know where I was going, if I had no objective, I would never get there.

Was this person crazy? But for want of anything better to do, I complied, and found the exercise quite stimulating. I wrote down my wildest wishes, visualised them, and put the list in the bottom of my in-tray to re-visit and renew every year.

Bryce Canyon, the US on 9/11/11

            I’ve been round the world, but there are still so many places to see. I went to the Galapagos Islands, Egypt, Israel, and to Australia and back. There is still the Far East and Russia, and when I get really old and doddery, most of Europe.

I dreamed of setting up a Granny travel fund for my seven grandkids, all in Australia. That was indeed building castles in the air, given our circumstances at the time. But do you know, two of them have already claimed from that fund!

I wanted to write a book and have it published by a real publisher. Now that was far-fetched, but it had been my dream ever since I’d learned to read. You can lose yourself in a book, you can forget your surroundings and you can write – pour out your soul as a catharsis when you’re caught in a place you never wanted to be.

That’s what I did. I wallowed in nostalgia as I dug into old diaries, letters and jottings, sifted through old photographs, and relived it all again while I researched the turbulent history of my homeland, which was Kenya. That’s how BREATH OF AFRICA was birthed after a gestation period of forty years. The birth was protracted: over seventy rejections from publishers and agents – and that’s not counting the no-replies. Countless edits and re-edits. And I know it’s a cliché, but it was well worth it in the end, and I wouldn’t have had it otherwise.

Two reviews of  'Breath of Africa' 

By 'Reading Otter' on March 28, 2014, 
It is rare to read a novel set in the heart of an important world even, written by someone who was an eye-witness This novel contains several threads set against the background of an awakening African independence. The new order is mirrored in personal relationships. Who will accept it and who will be swept away by it? The old ways will prevail, they will not lie down and die but will they succeed?
This is also a very moral tale by someone who obviously loves the country and her descriptive powers made me feel that I was there. I havenever been to Africa but now feel I know it better.

By R. Nicholson-morton on July 15, 2013,  on

I fell in love with the continent of Africa as an adolescent and was fortunate to visit a couple of countries there some years ago. This is familiar to me, evoking the sounds, smells and sights, and written with heart.

Spanning almost thirty years, this novel follows the trials and tribulations of Caroline, a girl from a privileged background in Kenya. Her childhood with best friend Teresa is scarred by the State of Emergency that existed due to the Mau Mau uprising. Two other significant characters are Charles Ondiek, a farm labourer who aspires to study in Oxford and Mwangi, a wielder of effective black magic curses. Interwoven in the story is Kenya's transition to independence under Jomo Kenyatta.

`The great canopy of sky overwhelmed her; she breathed in deeply, savouring the immensity of the scene. The breath of Africa filled her being. This was her country, her home.' This quotation comes from p92 - but the breath of Africa permeates the entire book and certainly reminds me of Doris Lessing's 'The Grass is Singing' in the depth of feeling by Jane Bwye for the dark continent.

Despite tragedy and disappointments, Caroline survives, an example of fortitude in an uncertain world.

Breath of Africa is a novel of recent history that sheds light on the place and the period. There's a useful glossary at the back.

About Jane Bwye. 

Jane Bwye, an intermittent freelance journalist who lived for fifty-five years in Africa, has dedicated her book Breath of Africa, to the people of Kenya. Described as “a hymn of joy to Kenya,” it can be bought from and, or the publishers



You can read more about the book on Jane’s website and blog:


Jane Bwye's second novel will be launched on 7th October, 2014; not the sequel – yet – but a glimpse of the pain of being in a situation where you never wanted to be.

1 comment:

  1. It's always interesting to learn more about a fellow author, and one that I call a friend. A fascinating article, and well done to both you and Marj. Jane you have had a fascinating life, and I'm sure that you will get to Russia and the Far East. I wish you every success for the future