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 “The Clouds Beneath the Sun” by Mackenzie Ford is an epic novel about paleontology piting the ambitions of the scientific community vs the sensitivities of the native culture of the Masai.

It is 1961 and Kenya is preparing for independence Dr. Natalie Nelson is asked to join the renowned Deacon family in Khan Gorge. Trained as an archeologist at Cambridge, she accepts this invitation to be included in a famous excavating team. This, her first dig, is also is an opportunity to leave England, a married lover and painful memories of her past.

When Natalie arrives at a remote airstrip in the Serengeti, she finds that scientists there have just made an amazing discovery, a knee joint which leads them to believe they have found a bipedal human. 

They are all ambitious scientists, very excited about their possible future discoveries as well as their own personal good fortunes. Being the first to find something is monumental, especially when digging on land traditionally owned by the Maasai people.

 There are rivalries over this new woman coming into their group. One of the scientists is murdered and Natalie finds herself in the middle of the upcoming trial as the only witness.

There are tensions between the Masai, the colonial paleontologists and between English law and tribal custom.

As Kenya prepares for independence there are uncertainties about the role of the black and white people of this new nation. For some of the tribal leaders it is a time to reclaim what was rightfully theirs.

This trial pits blacks against whites and many try to influence Natalie’s testimony. What might be the right testimony for the good of paleontology and of Kenya would be to tell a lie, but Natalie cannot lie. It is a dilemma.

The characters’ work, cultural differences and inter-personal relationships create the main plot.

The author, Peter Watson, writes under his pen name, Mackenzie Ford. Dr. Watson is a well-known and respected historian and research associate at the MacDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at Cambridge University.

The author writes with vivid descriptions of Kenya in the early 1960’s, the role of the British Empire, archeological digs in Africa and the society of the Masai of the Serengeti.

The novel is a complex and intelligent blend of history, politics, science, social upheaval, romance and intrigue.

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“The Typist” is a little gem of a novel by Michael Knight. Protagonist Francis Van Vancleave is a teenager through most of World War II, too young to go off and fight. His father, too old to enlist, pilots a tugboat from Mobile, Ala., to northern factories and thus is gone many nights.

Van is proud of his father for what he is doing for the war effort, but he still wants someone in his family to actually fight. When Van graduates from high school he volunteers right away. Though the war is almost over, he can still contribute. However, once the army learns that he can type 95 words a minute, he is placed in the typing pool, eventually finding himself in occupied Tokyo under the command of General MacArthur.

He thinks he has missed out on everything, but occupied Japan has its own human land mines. Van’s roommate turns out to be a member of the Honor Guard, MacArthur’s distinguished servicemen recruited to accompany him to Tokyo.

Capitalism is producing black markets and panpan girls. Communists are protesting. The mixture of people is very strange to Van. With all the American soldiers there, though, in some ways it is like working and living in a Little America.

MacArthur is called “Bunny” by his soldiers, and Mrs. Bunny and eight-year-old Arthur are also there in Tokyo.

One day Van sees young Arthur paddling around in a little boat named Bataan in the swimming pool and feels sorry for him, so closed up and protected.

When he hears Arthur’s birthday is approaching, Van buys the child a small present. This comes to the general’s attention and the next thing Van knows he is being recruited to come “play” with young Arthur. He is now a typist – and “official playmate.”

This compact novel gives a glimpse into life in Occupied Japan as the protagonist maneuvers through some major turmoil involving betrayal and treason.