All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

What Tears Us Apart – Deborah Cloyed

on April 25, 2013

What Tears Us ApartWhat Tears Us Apart
Deborah Cloyed
Harlequin MIRA
2013, 285p
Copy courtesy of Harlequin AUS

Leda lives a life of privilege in California. She doesn’t need to work, but she chooses to. She goes through a number of jobs, nothing fitting before she decides that she needs to stop taking positions of paid employment from those who need it. Instead she looks at volunteer positions and finds herself enraptured by the website of an orphanage in Kenya, in particular the wide smile of the man who runs it.

It isn’t long before she is in Nairobi and getting to know the young boys there. She doesn’t expect to come to love it so much, or to fall so completely for Ita, the charming and intelligent man who runs the orphanage, all the while trying to become a doctor. Ita returns Leda’s feelings and the two begin to embark on a journey of happiness, content in the present. They do not know what the future will hold – it seems impossible for Leda to stay in Nairobi forever. The elections are looming and the local political situation is becoming more and more volatile.

Their budding relationship is threatened by Chege, a gang leader with whom Ita shares a brotherhood of history. Chege saved Ita’s life many years ago and for a while the two of them lived and fought to survive together. Although their lives are very different now, Ita is aware that he owes Chege. Leda is very uneasy around him though and finds his jibes and taunts very unsettling.

When the slum erupts in violence and Leda is brutally attacked, can she put her trust in Chege or is he nothing better than those he is rescuing her from? After the event, Leda, Chege and Ita all feel a crippling guilt connected to what happened as the various versions align to form the truth. Is there any chance at happiness left for Leda now or will her self-destructive tendencies destroy something else?

What Tears Us Apart is set in late 2007 in Kenya, around the time of an election that led to a rorted, fixed ending and rioting, looting, burning, raping and worse as angry citizens supporting both parties rared up and attacked each other. Leda is a Westerner caught up in all of this. She’s in the country to volunteer at an orphanage – she’s very wealthy and she feels the need to do some good somewhere. I have very mixed feelings about this book.

I’ll start with what I liked, which was the setting. I love books set in Africa, especially ones that do their best to portray places in all their glory and shadow. The slum of Kibera houses so many people but is without stable electricity, running water or proper sewage. It’s hot, it’s dusty, it’s overcrowded and it stinks. But Leda finds a charm in the orphanage and the man who runs it and she begins to bond with the boys as well. She becomes familiar with places within the slum and begins to realise that even here, with no proper toilet or shower, with no make up or pretty clothes, she is happy. Although I’m not entirely sure what Leda’s role was as a volunteer, because she doesn’t seem to do anything except occasionally pitch in with a few cleaning chores, it’s clear she comes to care for the occupants and she wants to use her money to help them in various ways.

However there’s little doubt that Leda does, on occasion, act very stupidly in Kenya.

Leda is flawed in ways that don’t become apparent until quite late in the novel. Her childhood was less than ideal, so far short of what is ideal actually, although this is dribbled out quite slowly until the full horror isn’t revealed until close to the end of the book. She’s a restless character, her inability to stick at a job seems to play into that as does her seeming inability to deal with authority. She acts rashly, on impulse – she darts out into the middle of a riot in the slum and of course ends up in an utterly dangerous and seemingly hopeless situation. She is seemingly rescued from this situation by Chege, Ita’s friend who has unsettled her at each meeting but she believes that it’s more a case out of out of the frying pan and into the fire. However the end of the book and Chege’s fate in particular completely negates the way in which he was written for the rest of it – I’m not sure if this is a clunky attempt at redemption that didn’t work (for me) or Leda’s inability to judge his character. I found her actions rather appalling though and it made me lose respect for her.

I’m not one to quibble about contraceptive mentions in romance novels generally but I’m rather disturbed by the unprotected sex, for many reasons. Leda is in Kenya only a short amount of time – about three weeks. She knows relatively little about Ita and yes they have this grand passion and are falling in love but it seems dangerous and irresponsible. Especially given the reveal at the end of the book when Leda’s actions are thrown into a whole new light. About four per cent of the population in Kenya has AIDS (including many living in Kibera) and given Ita wants to study to be a doctor (and has studied in the past, part of a degree before his benefactor could no longer support him) I would’ve thought he’d be proactive in putting into practice the very things that help prevent this spread, no matter who he is sleeping with. Leda knows very little about Ita’s past and it seems equally strange and irresponsible on her behalf as well.

This book did have some high points but ultimately I couldn’t relate to, or warm to Leda and as the book went on further, I disliked her more. I found her actions selfish and destructive and probably not worthy of a man like Ita. The conflict with Chege turned out to be disappointing and unsatisfactory as well.


Book #101 of 2013


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