Jane Bwye



BREATH OF AFRICA 5 stars from Lucinda Clarke script writer, radio and TV presenter, multi-award winning writer. 3/4/2017
I LOVE BOOKS SET IN AFRICA Although I did not live in Kenya for all that long, this book brought back so many memories. The Thorn Tree restaurant at the New Stanley hotel, Uhuru highway, Nairobi national park on the very outskirts of the city to name but a few. I understand from her biography that this author lived in Kenya for 50 years, and it shows how well she knows the country and how she loves it. The idea of cross cultural liaisons together with the misunderstood powers of the witchdoctors feature strongly throughout the book and some ‘home truths’ which are not understood outside the Dark Continent, reflect my own experiences. A lovely book I thoroughly enjoyed, well written, characters that leap off the page and an exciting storyline. I shall be getting her second book very soon.
Well deserved 5 stars.


An in-depth review on GOODREADS by Chris Elgood, author with an interest in things supernatural. (I know that he has got the MC's name wrong, but I forgive him whole-heartedly!)

At one level this is a book about a European woman living in Kenya from the 1950’s to the 1980’s.The title is well-chosen because the book creates a true feeling of what it is like to live in many parts of Africa. It conveys the space, scale and openness that are lacking in an over-crowded, urbanised European island. It is full of love for the scenic beauty of Kenya, and it’s variety. It conveys the comparative degree of personal freedom that can’t be found when life is so complicated that every aspect must be regulated. You can almost breathe African air.

The story starts about the time of the Mau Mau emergency when principal character, Catherine, is a pupil in a convent school. She is brought up in the white highlands and enjoys the privileged life of the settlers. She is a well-meaning liberal who loves the country of her birth and repeatedly expresses hope of a ‘New Kenya’ in which people are united. The book tells of her way of life as the country changes, the people who she meets and parts from, the places she visits and her romantic attachments,

At another level it is a serious consideration of the extent to which European and African thinking can relate to each other. The book recognises the conflict inherent to racial difference. One character describes this as having been inevitable since European colonisation began. This affects Catherine’s life in ways that she copes with well, but which inform us in a subtle manner of the demands that are made upon her African friends: demands that are outside her experience. They appear to be fully adapted to the western life-style but can be reclaimed at times by tribal beliefs and loyalties.

The extremes of black and white attitudes are shown, with the difficulties these create for people of goodwill. It is noticeable that Catherine’s humanity enables her to ignore race where possible. She makes her living by running a guest house, but we are never told if her clients are black or white. Yet the cultural division is the most powerful theme in the book, which starts with the imposition of a curse. The effects of this curse are worked out at intervals during the book and have an indirect effect on Catherine herself. The final outcome is suggested but never explicitly stated.

So the book is about a life spent through troubled times in Kenya by a European woman. It ends with her conclusion that she can contribute to the new country but that the divisions are so great that she can never be an integral part of it. One of her African friends says to her, “We must advance in our own way. Only then will we promote a truly African answer to our international identity”.


Dear Jane,


I have been meaning to write – and your  Valentine promotion prompts me.  I DID finally read your book,

and enjoyed it very much.  So many questions, so much to unravel.  First and foremost

I must tell you how well you write.  Your descriptions of everything are so real, so

articulate, that it really brought the book to a life that I knew.  You really got the

scary bits scary, and the Kenya life was real.  I was confused in the first few chapters,

but then settled into a story and started to relate to the people and to the events.  I need

to read it a second time.


I am a strictly non-fiction reader, so reading a “novel” which was clearly based on

non-fiction events, had me trying to guess at every turn who the people were, and

which places.  For example, in the beginning, the school – a “convent”? Near enough

to run off in the night to a forest? A race track?


The characters:  I was certain, by the end of the book, that Caroline is you, give or

take an inch?  This pesky Mwangi?  And Charles, by God, he WAS alive at the end?

How the devil did he get from the Mombasa Road to the cave beyond Magadi?

The men – who was your boyfriend at the coast (in the book) as I read it?  Maybe

I should have read it as a “story”, but I had to translate to myself all the time to try

To attach every person to someone I should recognize, or a place I should know!

Does that make any sense?


Anyway, it was great Jane, well done.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and will do so more the

Second time.



Love from Vivien




Enjoying reading it on my iPad no end, 13 Dec 2013
Mrs. Marylyn J. Barnes "mjb" (Mauritius)
Amazon Verified Purchase
This review is from: Breath of Africa (Kindle Edition)
A well written easily readable novel enjoyable for anyone, just such a pity Kindle books can not be sent to others - correct me if I am wrong. However it is a must for anyone who has lived in Kenya - very few can live there and not be touched by life with all it's difficulties and joys. This book shows them all.

Gets in your blood
 15 July 2013
I fell in love with the continent of Africa as an adolescent and was fortunate to visit a couple of countries some years back. Africa definitely gets in your blood. And this is clearly evinced by Jane Bwye's book. 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 excellent 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. 

5.0 out of 5 star



By Ron Askew
Kenya is a fascinating country. In some ways it is a young country having only gained its independence from Britain in the 1960s. Yet it is also at the heart of a region to which we may all owe our origins. In that respect it is the most ancient of places.

Jane Bwye's Breath of Africa is quintessentially a novel of place and time, set in Kenya from the 1950s, when there was a vicious rebellion against British rule and tracing the lives of two young women as they grow up and face a range of personal challenges and setbacks as they and the country that has shaped their young lives come of age.

Although BREATH OF AFRICA is a historical novel it feels very young. The story commences with the two girls breaking out of their school at night to go on a wild horse ride, while Mau Mau rebels skulk in the darkness intending them harm.

Some of the issues feel very modern also. There is an inter-racial relationship and race features when Charles, a talented young black man finds himself struggling to cope with life at Oxford University. The nastier side of white settler prejudice are also captured. But not all the whites are like this. Some opt to stay when British rule ends because they love the country and feel themselves to be as much a part of it as the Africans.

Caroline is a stayer, literally. She abandons her chance to go to Oxford, marries, loses her husband, decides to make her future in the new Kenya.

But the new Kenya is not a place of innocence and forgiveness. Caroline's life becomes entangled in a Mau Mau curse which dogs her childhood friend. We read of malevolence and irrational yet powerful superstition. This is at odds with Caroline's strong Christianity and plain good sense.

So, too, we see how Charles' live evolves as he struggles to make his way in business. His country's independence does not guarantee his success.

It is also fascinating to read how the two white girls are not significantly better treated by the black men who have taken the places of the white settlers. So there are gender issues in play also which feel very modern.

The insights into the Mau Mau rebellion and the efforts made to suppress it are absolutely fascinating. So, too, is the fact that once the British have left the Kenyans proceed to fall out with one another and there is a coup against President Daniel arap Moi.

And all the while, running like a spine through BREATH OF AFRICA is the stupendous natural beauty of Kenya, with is wildlife, exotic birds, mountains, forests, plains and white beaches. This beauty seems more constant than the ways of the humans who act their lives out on its stage.

In some ways BREATH OF AFRICA is a sad story because, especially from the British perspective, it captures the end of a period of glory and power. But from an African perspective the sadness is that many of them suffered under British rule and died during their struggle for independence. And independence for many African countries, Kenya included, often left the way open for local corruption or dictatorship.

That said people struggle to make the best of their lives however politics go. Caroline is a classic case of a woman struggling to do her best, with the best of motives, often against the odds. She is a strong woman and perseveres. She triumphs over the evil and hatred behind the curse.

But in the end she concludes she can never really belong in the new Kenya. This conclusion seemed to mark the very end for the settler commitment to the country. Perhaps it had to be this way. That said she is unbowed and is not in any way beaten personally. Her integrity is intact. So, too, she finds consolation with someone whose job it was to try to ensure British rule continued. Such is life.

BREATH OF AFRICA kicks off at a gallop, literally, and ends thunderously, again literally. The ending is especially strong as Caroline finally sees the African curse die, literally.

The one constancy in the story is perhaps a set of pre-historic paintings in a secret cave, which seem to say to us that the comings and goings of more recent times are as nothing to the longer sweep of human history buried in the rocks and earth of Kenya.

BREATH OF AFRICA is lovingly written, intelligent, informative and moving. It is as much a story of a woman's struggle against prejudice and hardship. Caroline is a single parent. She is not a privileged woman in a big house. She struggles for money. Yes, the story has a very modern feel to it.

A book of breath-taking scope, 18 Jun 2013
This is a book of breath-taking scope, spanning three decades. The story of a group of friends and their complex and interwoven personal lives is set against the backdrop of the momentous political upheavals of Kenya in the second half of the Twentieth Century in a way that, for me, recalls Doris Lessing's masterpiece, "The Golden Notebook." Bwye also has something of Lessing's talent for evoking the physical landscape of Africa, counter-balancing its permanence with the changeability of the human institutions and relationships that exist within it. The book addresses serious themes (colonialism and its inheritance; the the interaction of expatriate and indigenous communities; the plight of the individual caught up in the sweep of history), but it does so with a lightness of touch that comes from being anchored in the experiences of the characters and, most of all, rooted in a deep love and profound understanding of a particular place.

Interesting and entertaining read, 3 Jun 2013
Swizzlestick (Boston) 


An interesting read. Having lived in Kenya for 20 years, Breath of Africa brought back so many memories, and waves of nostalgia. Many of the situations she described I lived through myself.

Africa is a harsh continent, and life can be cruel there. The author has captured this very well, and none of her characters have an easy ride. Even in a dynamic and emerging modern country, many of the people still believe in witchcraft and can and do die for no other reason than a witch doctor has told them that they will.

I particularly enjoyed her descriptions of Kenya's stunning and varied landscapes. I could see the vistas and smell the dust, and hear the clink of bits in the horses' mouths at the races. Her knowledge of the politics of the country is spot on.

The inter-racial love story is plausible, the characters believable, and I found the whole story to be realistic and satisfying. Just don't expect everybody to live happily ever after.



THANK YOU from James Penhaligon (Author of 'Speak Swahili, Dammit!'), 29 May 2013

The author's love and passion for East Africa explodes from the pages. A beautiful place, amazing people and a wonderful story. This is how a good book should be. I was sorry when it ended, & look forward to more from this talented writer.

Great plot, hard to put down, 26 Mar 2013
By Vica K

I really enjoyed this book and found it difficult to put down - a real page turner and I think would be great for a holiday read! At the same time it does address some serious issues and interesting historical episodes in Kenyan history. Definitely a must for anyone who loves to read about Africa, its interesting culture and beautiful scenery. A wonderfully evocative book.

Lovely tale, 2 May 2013
By Kristin Gleeson "Kristin Gleeson author of Selkie Dreams

This novel follows thirty years of Kenya's history beginning at the critical turning point of the Mau Mau rebellion through the newly fledged independence up until the early 80s after the years of Kenyatta's presidency. It is an ambitious sweep viewed through the eyes of Caroline, a privileged white woman and Charles, an African who seeks to break out of the role of agricultural worker to attend Oxford and become part of Kenya's promising future. Through these to contrasting viewpoints we learn of the complexity of this time period, that there is not one truly right position or story. That is the power of this novel and the truly magical backdrop of a country that casts a spell on many.

Evocative novel about life in Kenya, April 13, 2013
Jo W (Victoria, Australia) 
I liked the way that, alongside the maturing of its characters, this novel became substantial as it progressed. The changing consciousness of the two boys, and of all the main protagonists, is very well captured. Life becomes how it is lived, no longer subject to idealistic ideas or aspirations (black or white). Everyone has their certainties dented by lived experience and what is, in the end, shared is a rounded human life.

Undoubtedly, much of the novel's power lies in the descriptions of landscape and wild life. You have an accurate and observant eye, but record with great feeling. I like this huge feeling you have towards Kenya - the sweep of Rift Valley with its soda lakes and birds and remote places - such as Baringo and Turkana and Magadi. And the Coast with its coral beaches, crabs, cowries, bougainvillea, palms and bandas. The awful roads and perilous shanty towns and everyone jostling to make a living. It's impressive - the casual but tough life lived by Caroline and her fellow citizens. "Breath of Africa", as a novel, amounts to a substantial hymn of joy to Kenya.

Take a deep breath of Africa, March 27, 2013
A thoroughly enjoyable read. Like the author, I was raised in Kenya and can relate to many of the characters and incidents in this book. The story, for the most part, deals with Africa in the post-colonial era and shows the complexities of life and relationships in a developing nation. Here, the star-crossed lovers have to try and overcome a racial and cultural divide as deep and wide as the Rift Valley itself, and how they go about this is the very heart of the book. Those who have lived in Kenya, or visited it, will find joy as I did in reliving the sites and scents and sounds of that wondrous country. Those who have never been there will find themselves transported by the felicity of Jane Bwye's evocation to the wide, game-filled plains and great mountains and deep forests and lovely seacoast that make Kenya such a special place. Along the way you will meet valiant Caroline and ambitious Charles, doomed Brian and tragic Teresa, kind Boney and malevolent Mwangi and all the other characters that bring Breath of Africa to life.
A Garden in Africa

Transported to a Different World, 5 April 2013


Breath of Africa has a great dramatic opening in an unusual setting. I could feel the exhilaration of the moment within a threatening scenario with two girls illicitly out at night. Good punchy dialogue and tight action adds to the drama. A captivating introduction to the politics and society of the times. A wonderful picture of life emerges as the threat of the Mau Mau uprising rumbles away in the background.

An intriguing blend of hierarchies battle it out based on skin colour, social status and sex. Such a complex melange of social forces interplay, and the author shows a thorough understanding of the times.

Breath of Africa is a wonderful tale of interesting and well-drawn characters going through a time of great social change. This is a culturally rich novel with some fascinating vocabulary which the glossary helps us understand. I learned a lot about Kenya in the 1950's while enjoying a cracking read. The quality of the writing is excellent and the style is punchy and riveting. A very worthwhile and rewarding read.

Breath of Africa - very special, 24 Mar 2013

By Anna Murray (Winchester, VA, USA)

I couldn't put this book down, loved Caroline and her loyalty to her friend Theresa, the involvement of the mau mau and that nasty little man Mwangi. Caroline seemed so level headed and thought nothing of bringing up the two boys and helping her friend Theresa. She was truly a Kenyan and wouldnt differentiate between the Africans and Europeans.




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Jane Bwye finished Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs https://t.co/n3zwveXylo
Saturday, 27 January 2018 04:39