Mr. Malik is a quiet, gentle, unassuming man. He is one of the many who show up every week to go on bird walks sponsored by the East African Ornithological Society and led by Rose Mbikwa, a redheaded Scottish woman, the widow of a Kenyan opposition politican who moved to Kenya and fell in love both with her husband and with the country. Mr. Malik not only enjoys the birds they see on these outings, but he is also more than a little in love with Rose.
The book's conflict comes in the person of an old school acquaintance of Mr. Malik's, one who humiliated Mr. Malik as a young boy and who now seems poised to barge into Rose's life despite Mr. Malik's misgivings. When both men want to invite Rose to the Asadi Club's annual ball, instead of making Rose choose, the men come up with a contest to determine the more worthy suitor. The man who spots the most different varieties of birds will win the honor of asking Rose to the ball. The ways in which the two men go about finding their birds and the things that impede them along the way illustrate quite a lot about their respective characters. The outcome will surprise and delight the reader in this charming, light book.
The characters as drawn are delightful. Mr. Malik is generally respectful and courtly. The bits of his life beyond the contest to win Rose are rich and full, intriguing and compassionate. Harry Khan is more opaque to the reader but his character is teased out well enough by a few choice incidents as well. The reader definitely roots for one man over the other but getting to the conclusion of the contest is sheer brightness and light and worth every small page it takes to get there.
I thoroughly enjoyed this simple and heartwarming book, laughing with the gentle humor and enjoying the unusual premise and tone. Not for those seeking something fast paced but lovely for someone seeking a slower, richly rewarding afternoon's read.