In brief: Leda is disenchanted with her empty life in California. So she decides to volunteer at an orphanage in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. She didn’t count on falling in love, nor being part of a political uprising…
The good: It’s different – I loved reading about life in Nairobi.
The not-so-good: Perhaps Leda’s relationship with her mother could have been explored a little more in depth.
Why I chose it: Sent to me by Harlequin Australia – thank you!
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Setting: USA and Kenya
My rating: 8.5 out of 10
Sometimes I really hate myself for bypassing books that have been in Mount TBR for some time. What Tears Us Apart is one of these. When I received it (thank you Polina at Harlequin, who definitely knows my reading tastes better than I do), I thought it was going to be quite sad and political so I didn’t read it right away. Well, this book does have sad moments, and there are some politics (although much less than the lead up to the Australian election) but it’s sweet with the power of human spirit too.
Don’t be put off by the cover – yes, there is the very odd gun, but it’s not about child armies. Let me explain. Leda is a rich young lady without a purpose. She’s got numerous degrees and tried several careers but just can’t get into anything. Nothing spikes her passion. She doesn’t need to work, but she does need a sense of purpose. She decides to volunteer to work in an orphanage in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya to try to give back. When Leda arrives, she realises she’s enters a world nothing like anything she’s ever experienced. Life here is about bare basics – little or no electricity, no beds and an uncertain future. Leda is captivated by the positivity of Ita, the young man who gave up medical school to run the orphanage. But Leda is also disturbed by the visits of Ita’s childhood friend, Chege. Chege is involved in crime and certainly has nothing in common with Ita – so why does Ita tolerate his visits?
The book is told from multiple points in time – from Leda going to the orphanage and again after she leaves amid rioting after Kenya’s elections. It is also told from Leda and Ita’s points of view, with a couple of other characters thrown in. I’d suggest you watch the dates and character at the start of each section to help put the story in order in your mind. It’s not confusing, but it just helps to get the timeline straight – important for the misunderstanding between Ita and Leda. The alternating times also helped me appreciate the growing relationship between the pair and also how things because so muddled between them.
Although there is a relationship between Leda and Ita, it doesn’t take over the narrative (I believe you could put this novel under ‘romantic elements’). Much of the story focuses on the way the people live in the slums and how it’s such an eye-opener to Leda. I’m not sure if it’s because of Leda’s background (quite privileged money-wise, but devoid emotionally) that she’s so surprised or because she’s seeing the poverty through her own eyes. Why Leda believes herself damaged and unlovable is not explained fully until the end of the book – I think this could have been brought forward a bit more and fleshed out because I had the completely wrong idea. I think I would have felt more sympathetic towards her if I’d known more about her own family. Plus I’m not sure why there was a scene that she kissed Chege (despite being in love with Ita) – is it to redeem Chege in the reader’s eyes? Does it reflect back on Leda history, never sticking to a career or job? It just didn’t work for me. And the pregnancy? I see the symbolism (new life, new beginnings) – but Leda should know no glove, no love! Anyway, this is fiction so we’ll assume it was all okay.
Cloyed does an excellent job of describing the political unrest of 2007 and the violence that occurred – it’s quite sickening at times. I quite liked Chege as a character – he’s not an angel, but he brought a spark of naughtiness to the novel that Ita (bless him, he’s so sweet and thoughtful) just couldn’t match. Perhaps this is where the kiss with Leda helps to cement him as a bad boy with a good heart.
I really did enjoy the setting – Kenya is not a country I know a great deal about beyond the news reports, and I love to learn things through reading. The insight into the 2007 elections is definitely worth reading and for that Cloyed should be commended.