6 reviews

Leopard at the Door
by Jennifer McVeigh

Published: 2017-01-03
Hardcover : 400 pages
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Recommended to book clubs by 6 of 6 members
Set in Kenya in the 1950s against the fading backdrop of the British Empire, a story of self-discovery, betrayal, and an impossible love.
After six years in England, Rachel has returned to Kenya and the farm where she spent her childhood, but the beloved home she’d longed for is much ...
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Set in Kenya in the 1950s against the fading backdrop of the British Empire, a story of self-discovery, betrayal, and an impossible love.
After six years in England, Rachel has returned to Kenya and the farm where she spent her childhood, but the beloved home she’d longed for is much changed. Her father’s new companion—a strange, intolerant woman—has taken over the household. The political climate in the country grows more unsettled by the day and is approaching the boiling point. And looming over them all is the threat of the Mau Mau, a secret society intent on uniting the native Kenyans and overthrowing the whites.

As Rachel struggles to find her place in her home and her country, she initiates a covert relationship, one that will demand from her a gross act of betrayal. One man knows her secret, and he has made it clear how she can buy his silence. But she knows something of her own, something she has never told anyone. And her knowledge brings her power.

Editorial Review

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Chapter One

1952. Mombasa, Kenya.

The steward has said we will dock at 9 a.m., but I am too excited to sleep, and I walk on to deck in the dark, long before the sun comes up, watching for the first sight of land. I pull a packet of cigarettes from my coat pocket, light one and inhale, smoke curling up into the warm night sky. My heart beats out a rhythm born of long anticipation. After six years I am finally coming home. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. Over the course of the novel, Rachel—though always one of the more progressive characters—develops a more nuanced, less naive view of the impact of imperialism and racism in Kenya. How does this happen? Which characters and events are most influential in this transformation?

2. Were you surprised by the romance between Rachel and Michael? Why, or why not? What does each see in the other? How does their relationship develop and grow?

3. Discuss the role of memory in the novel. How does the past come to bear on Rachel’s aspirations, values, fears, and triumphs? How might Michael’s perception of the past differ from Rachel’s?

4. How does the legacy of World War II figure into the story?

5. Consider the reference to the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel in the novel. How is Rachel’s story similar? How is it different? Do you feel any sympathy for Robert, Rachel’s father, and Sara, his mistress?

6. Rachel’s home Kisima is located in rural northern Kenya and is so isolated that the closest neighboring farmhouse is an hour away. What impact does this setting have on the story? Why was it important for this story to be set there, rather than in a metropolitan area like Nairobi?

7. Much of the novel is concerned with imbalances of power and the fight for control and dominance. What relationships and institutions illustrate this theme? How do various characters try to exert control over Rachel? How do the European settlers try to control the African natives?

8. Discuss the importance of some of the smaller characters, such as Harold, Jim the cook, Kahiki, Nate Logan, and Lillian Markham. What does each add to the story?

9. The novel is not only a love story and bildungsroman but also a gripping and tense depiction of a turbulent moment in history. How did the author build the suspense in the story? Which were the most heart-pounding moments, and why?

10. Near the end of the story, Rachel is involuntarily committed to a mental institution because of her affair with Michael. What do these scenes convey about the function of asylums in British colonies in the 1950s?

11. In the postscript, Jennifer McVeigh quotes a historian who notes that only thirty-two European settlers were actually killed by the Mau Mau, yet the European characters in the novel treat the Mau Mau as a mighty threat to their own safety. What accounts for this discrepancy? Do you see any parallels to how rebellious and subversive groups, especially those whose members are mostly not white, are perceived today?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

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Member Reviews

Overall rating:
by Sharon P. (see profile) 07/10/19

by Jean B. (see profile) 09/27/17

by Judy S. (see profile) 09/21/17

by Tish G. (see profile) 02/22/17

  "Leopard At The Door"by Elizabeth P. (see profile) 01/17/17

Can you really ?come back home? Is it always the same or always changed?

Rachel was returning to her childhood home after being in England for six years and living with her maternal gr

... (read more)

  "Leopard at the Door"by nancy p. (see profile) 01/16/17

This was not one of our book club's selections but I am definitely going to suggest it to our group. The Kenya setting was beautifully described. Mystery,intrigue, romance..it has it all.

  "Marvelous book about a violent, shameful piece of history!"by Gail R. (see profile) 01/13/17

Leopard at the Door, Jennifer McVeigh, author, Katharine McEwan, narrator
When Rachel Fullsmith was 12 years old, she stayed at home at Kisima, the family farm in Kenya, while her parents w
... (read more)

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