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What does it mean to be loyal?
Mathew and Mugo, two boys—one white, one black—share an uneasy friendship in Kenya in the 1950s. They're friends even though Mathew's dad owns the land and everything on it. They're friends despite the difference in their skin color. And they're friends in the face of the growing Mau Mau rebellion, which threatens British settlers with violence as black Kenyans struggle to win back their land and freedom. But ...
What does it mean to be loyal?
Mathew and Mugo, two boys—one white, one black—share an uneasy friendship in Kenya in the 1950s. They're friends even though Mathew's dad owns the land and everything on it. They're friends despite the difference in their skin color. And they're friends in the face of the growing Mau Mau rebellion, which threatens British settlers with violence as black Kenyans struggle to win back their land and freedom. But suspicions and accusations are escalating, and an act of betrayal could change everything.
Internationally acclaimed, award-winning author Beverley Naidoo explores the fragile bonds of friendship in this stunning novel about prejudice, fear, and the circumstances that bring people together—and tear them apart.
Alternating its focus between Mathew, a white farmer's son growing up in Kenya during the 1950s, and Mugo, a native African close to Mathew's age, this novel paints a grim picture of British imperialism and revolution. Mathew and Mugo have been lifelong friends, even though Mugo has been a trusted servant in Mathew's household since the day he saved the then six-year-old Mathew by killing a snake. But the friends' loyalty is tested when rumors of deadly uprisings against white settlers sweep the country, and two groups, the Mau Mau (a band of angry revolutionaries) and "red hats" (police guards trying to control the Mau Mau), become a threat. Examining the effects of hatred and distrust, Naidoo (The Other Side of Truth) casts steadfast Mugo as a far nobler and more likable figure than Mathew, who fails to stand up for Mugo at critical moments. If the author's political message overshadows characters' development at times, the book successfully evokes the fears and moral dilemmas plaguing both European and native Africans in the post-WWII era. Ages 10-up. (Jan.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Naidoo sets this novel in Kenya in the early 1950s, at the beginning of the State of Emergency, which led to the deaths of tens of thousands of Kenyans. Mathew Grayson, son of a prosperous white farmer, and Mugo, son of the Kikuyu man in charge of the horses on the farm, are friends, with all the complexities and inequalities inevitable in such a relationship. As the secret and illegal Kikuyu opposition grows, the differences in the lives of the two boys become sharper and clearer. Then Mathew and a boy from school accidentally cause potential danger to explode into disaster. Naidoo is at her signature best when describing the relationships between the settlers and the indigenous Kenyan people: her careful description of the dialogue and the characters' visible responses is all it takes to lay bare the poison of racism. The story is grounded in the boys, seen through the collision between Mathew's childish reality, and the far scarier adult reality that Mugo, only a little older, is forced to accept. As the strands of the story finally come together and ignite in a literal conflagration, the narrative is heart-stopping. Mathew is faced with a dilemma that will ultimately test his courage: will he tell the truth and risk his standing in the settler community, or will he betray Mugo? The consequences are terrible and brutal. In addition to being an extremely effective tool in ethics discussions, the story will speak powerfully to readers concerned about justice and human rights, as well as those simply looking for a well-told story.-Sue Giffard, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, New York City
Posted January 14, 2010
Eleven-year-old Matthew Grayson and thirteen-year-old Mugo are more than best friends. Together, they have adventures in the Kenyan bush with Matt's trusty dog, Duma. Kenya in the 1950s seems like the perfect playground.
There are elephants, impalas, and hyenas that live in the acres and acres of "Grayson Country," land that Matt's grandfather bought from the British government. Mugo and his family are Kikuyu, native Kenyans who have lived on the land for as long as anyone remembers, and now work as servants. While Matt and Mugo's friendship crosses social, economic, cultural, and racial barriers, the political atmosphere pushes it to a breaking point as their differences increase in number and severity.
In BURN MY HEART, Beverley Naidoo crafts a story about how fear can destabilize the strongest friendships. The escalating conflict between British settlers and a group Kikuyu call the Mau Mau is told through the tight lens of the two boys.
While she voices both political sides and reveals problems of both the British settlers' treatment of the Kikuyu and the Mau Mau's destructive and coercive methods for unity, readers will be as torn as Matthew and Mugo in choosing sides. Matt's friend, Lance Smithers, is charismatic and fun, but, like his father, views the Kikuyu as sub-human. Likewise, Mugo watches as people he admires and respects join the Mau Mau.
This novel transcends its historical context. Naidoo creates characters that are faced with difficult choices, but it never seems like they are examples in a social science lesson. Readers with find her characters at times frustrating, but it is satisfying to experience how they mature and change. The author is particularly successful in not only showing how hard it is to make the right decision, but also the difficulties of determining what is right and wrong.
BURN MY HEART is a compelling novel. Five stars.
Posted January 15, 2014
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