Burn My Heart
This powerful novel brings to life the Kenya Emergency of the early 1950s, when a group of freedom fighters brought fear to white settlers on isolated farms and provoked a terrible backlash.
The story centres on two boys. Eleven-year-old Mathew Grayson, the bwana’s son, and Mugo, the kitchen toto, are friends. They play together, build a hide, and exchange small treasures. But Mathew and Mugo are both always conscious of their difference in status – and their lives are about to change forever.
The Kikuyu freedom fighters – the Mau Mau – want justice: the return of those farms where their families had lived for generations until the British government sold the land to white settlers and reduced the local people to the status of servants working for the new owners. They are pressuring these servants to join their secret society. Mugo’s own elder brother joins, and because of this all members of his family become suspect. As fear and anxiety spreads, the settlers soon don’t trust even their most loyal servants.
Beverley Naidoo paints a devastating and totally realistic picture of life in Kenya at that time. She shows the harshness of the settlers’ lives – the guns, fences, dogs – but also the beauty of Mount Kenya and the closeness of the Kikuyu people to their land. Mathew’s father is a good man who feels betrayed by the servants he has cared for; he in turn betrays those who might have helped him. There is a sense of escalating horror as more and more innocent Kikuyu people are sucked into the emergency. Wisely, the author does not suggest a possible reconciliation in the future, or a happy ending of any kind. A moving and detailed Afterword explains the background.