Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

African tale lacks urgency, feels shallow

  • Print

NOTHING cures what ails you like a trip to Africa -- or at least that seems to be the lesson behind Ontario writer Heather A. Clark's debut novel. This Eat, Pray, Love-style story follows a 30-something woman from the suburbs of Toronto to an orphanage in Kenya, where she seeks peace and an escape from her past.

The novel opens just after Nicky and her husband Eric have learned their latest round of fertility treatments has failed, yet again. The first few chapters of the book outline the compelling, difficult and lengthy process on their road to becoming parents.

Eventually, Nicky does become pregnant, and the couple couldn't be happier. Tragically, the baby is born early and only survives for a day. Unable to communicate their grief to one another, Nicky and Eric's marriage falls apart.

Nicky then decides to take a volunteer teaching position for three months in Ngong, Kenya, and it's there she meets her host family, including the wise old Mama Bu with whom she shares countless cups of chai as they discuss the ups and downs of life.

The opening quarter of the novel holds some truly heartfelt moments that might have you reaching for the tissue. Unfortunately, Clark fails to capture any of that same magic during the remaining pages of her tale.

Clark's description of Africa and Nicky's time there reads like someone who has never actually been there, but whose scope of reference was gleaned entirely from watching Hollywood movies and World Vision commercials. The scenery and description are too vague and generic, leaving the reader without any real sense of place. As a result, we never feel immersed in the story.

The prose is completely bogged down in stilted dialogue that lacks flow and authenticity, particularly during exchanges that seem overly polite and unnatural.

Many exchanges start with something like "Thank you, Nicky" or "I agree, but ..." And Nicky's reaction to what she sees in Africa is often laughable -- it seems impossible that a supposedly intelligent school teacher would be so surprised they have cellphones and email in Kenya.

The novel also suffers from clichéd descriptions of those living in Third World countries and is filled with empty sentiments like, "The children have next to nothing, yet they were filled with a richness that money couldn't buy."

Nicky herself becomes an instant Mother Teresa when she discovers the children at the orphanage are being beaten and abused by the cruel director. It seems everyone takes to her a little too easily as she becomes a benign force that can do no wrong. Once again, the result is a story that feels inauthentic and shallow.

Ultimately, the novel lacks any sense of urgency and intensity, as every conflict is resolved too easily and without any depth.


Winnipeg writer Nisha Tuli and her husband recently had their first child.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 7, 2012 J8

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Jets players discuss outcome of Game 3 and hopes for Game 4

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Marc Gallant/Winnipeg Free Press. Local- Peregrine Falcon Recovery Project. Baby peregrine falcons. 21 days old. Three baby falcons. Born on ledge on roof of Radisson hotel on Portage Avenue. Project Coordinator Tracy Maconachie said that these are third generation falcons to call the hotel home. Maconachie banded the legs of the birds for future identification as seen on this adult bird swooping just metres above. June 16, 2004.
  • A goose flys defensively to protect their young Wednesday near Kenaston Blvd and Waverley -See Bryksa 30 Day goose challenge- Day 16 - May 23, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


What do you think of the government's announcement that there will be no balanced provincial budet until 2018?

View Results

Ads by Google