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Thursday, 2 July 2015

Michael Holman - Last Orders at Harrods

 review written by Ro Bennett and read on the bookshow 2nd July 2015
Michael Holman was born in Penzance but was brought up in Zimbabwe from the age of two. 

I listened to this on the free library audio book service. This one came from the Borrowbox app. It’s an excellent book written by an author who really knows his stuff and was so good I bought the paperback. 

Drawing on his extensive knowledge and experience of Africa, Michael Holman has written a very insightful yet funny, heartwarming, starkly realistic novel about the aid and development industry in the fictional East African state of Kuwisha.  The Harrods of the title is not Mohamed Al-Fayed's store in Knightsbridge, but a small bar in the slums of Kireba. 

The book begins with this naive British journalist having his bags stringently searched by airport security before he boards the plane to go home. It’s very tense. Once on the plane, he settles down with relief to listen to a tape he has had secretly recorded, which he believes contains explosively revealing information that would result in the overthrow of the powerful, wily, ancient, lifelong president Nduka. However the plane isn’t yet safely in the air…

The story revolves around Charity Mupanga, the widowed owner of Harrods International Bar. London lawyers are threatening to sue her for misuse of the name of the famous London store. Of course she has no money… Inept efforts to foil the lawyers by Edward Furniver, a former fund manager who runs Kibera's co-operative bank only makes the situation worse. And it is interesting to see how this will be resolved.  

The book is well written, it has intrigue and suspense and there is a rich cast of characters which are clever and perceptive portrayals of different stereotypes we could all recognise. Charity Mupunga who works tirelessly and quietly to help ease the suffering of those who live in the disease ridden slum; the street boys, orphaned or abandoned, scrabbling to stay alive, growing harder and developing a ruthlessness as they struggle to survive. Then the corrupt, callous, vicious police and the equally corrupt, manipulative, greedy politicians.  

Then there are the the foreigners - the bumbling diplomats, the officious representatives of financial institutions, the advisors from governments East and West jostling for influence and opportunities to exploit. 
The author includes the naive and ill-informed aid and development agencies pouring money and resources into ill conceived or useless projects which don’t actually alleviate the poverty or dire circumstances of those most in need. 

He cleverly depicts the earnest and eager charity workers and NGO’s as well as those who have become disillusioned and cynical; the reporters who will grasp at anything potentially news worthy without being too picky about truth or accuracy as long as they reach their deadlines. They all have their own agenda and are skilfully woven into the story.  Michael Holman gets the balance between satire and humour just right. It’s a thought provoking, hard hitting book but it’s also entertaining, so it’s not a dark depressing read, but very informative.    

Michael Holman was Africa editor of the Financial Times from 1984 until 2002; between 1977 and 1984 he was the Financial Times’ Africa correspondent, based in Lusaka, Zambia. Michael is a respected freelance journalist and continues to travel extensively in Africa. 

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