The Clouds Beneath the Sun
Mackenzie Ford
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Buy *The Clouds Beneath the Sun* by Mackenzie Ford online

The Clouds Beneath the Sun
Mackenzie Ford
Nan A. Talese
464 pages
July 2010
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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In Kenya in September 1961, independence is expected to be a turning point in the country’s history, the majority of European settlers who had previously enjoyed a comfortable existence now mired in fear and uncertainty. Into this mix comes the beautiful and accomplished British archaeologist Natalie Nelson. Running from a disastrous love affair and the insular world of her taciturn father, Natalie is excited by the opportunity to work as a fully-fledged member of an archeological team led by world-renowned paleontologist Eleanor Deacon.

While Natalie hopes to make her fair share of discoveries in the coming months, the formidable and focused Eleanor runs her excavation with an iron rod. When Natalie first meets Eleanor, she’s busy excavating the famous Kihara Gorge. Along with her sons Christopher and Jack, cocky Richard Sutton and the sharp-edged Australian Russell North, Eleanor is convinced the great discoveries of early mankind will be found at the Gorge.

It is, however, the devoted Dutchman Kess van Schelde who unearths what looks to be hominid bones. While Eleanor is convinced the bones are that of the first bipedal creature, Schelde’s discovery is tempered by the revelation that late one night, Richard and Russell snuck into the local Maasai burial ground and stole some bones of a revered tribal ancestor. Virtually identical to the ancient specimen, the bones have exactly the same configuration as the ancient tibia and femur which Schelde had originally uncovered at the Gorge.

Eleanor is furious at the disgraceful, racially arrogant actions of the foolish Richard and Russell. The ensuing scandal and Eleanor's threats of banishment, however, pale in the face of a violent machete murder. Convinced she saw the camp cook commit the shocking act of brutality, Natalie's testimony thrusts her into dangerous and unchartered waters, the case and the accompanying circus atmosphere of the trial pitting black against white. The Maasai, tense with dissatisfaction, threaten to reclaim Kihara Gorge as payback for the theft of their revered bones.

Modern independent thinking clashes with traditional religious practices while bad blood and professional recriminations provoke a slanging match between Eleanor and Russell, overshadowing the discoveries and achievements of the dig. Meanwhile, Natalie - finding herself caught in the middle - falls into the arms of considerate Jack Deacon, his self-confidence and authority assuaging the fist of foreboding in her stomach.

The full heat of the day encloses the dry, red heart of Kenya, a country awash in turmoil, where lions, elephants, wildebeest, zebra and impala are ever on the move, nose to tail, stretched out like a great stain on the arid sun-drenched landscape. Natalie’s bourgeoning sexual needs clash with her Christian upbringing while racist judges are reluctant to embrace democratic change in a climate of hatred and silence. Tribal loyalties are tested and private passions thwarted as a jealous brother embarks on a mission of revenge in this epic, beautifully told tale of colonial exploitation where love and loyalty are tenuously rewarded.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2010

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