Publication Date: October 13, 2015
Baroness Tanya von Brantberg’s husband is fighting with the British in East Africa. It’s the first decade of the twentieth century and Tanya knows that a war rages in Europe but her purpose is to work “for the cause.” Tanya is called upon to lead in a way that women rarely are and when her intelligence is recognized by others will she have the confidence to do what must be done?
The author, Maya Alexandri, gave me a copy of this novel in exchange for my review.The Celebration Husband is very much a product of the period in which its set. The tone of the story is very much stylistically like Dorothy L. Sayers and P.G. Wodehouse. The language and routines are quite formal and manners and niceties are practiced. Alexandri reads between the lines for us and there’s an undertone that lacks political correctness for our time but was de rigor for the era. There’s a tone in some of the byplay between the East African and European natives that gives the reader the idea that for both cultures, some things are the way they are. When Tanya and her friend convey supplies to the soldiers, a night in a Masai camp leads to an exchange uncomfortable for the Europeans, but that reads as authentic and well researched.
Tanya is an interesting character. I must admit, I didn’t like her as I started reading the book. She is shallow, airheaded, vain and flighty. She kept invoking the “cause” as the way to manipulate people into doing things, but when called to answer, she did not have a clear idea of what that cause was. The impressions that her friend Melana had of her were offputting at first with a thin veneer in the look-back. As we get a broader picture of the character, Tanya seems more a product of her time. Women were supposed to have a lane in which they stayed. They were supposed to look pretty, be entertaining and act appropriately, but in the time of war, things happen. Hassan and another African man have a conversation questioning if Tanya is a “real woman” because of the way she dresses and the way she takes charge as none of their women would. Tanya is ideal under pressure but doesn’t trust herself at all. When asked to find a “man” (the automatic read should be “white man”) to convey supplies to the front, Tanya knows that she and the people she has available to her must do what they can to get the soldiers what they need. In the course of the narrative, Hassan, her East African major domo, relays much of the credit to Tanya’s bravery and intelligence. Tanya shot a lion when she was with her husband and second-guesses that she could do it on her own. It’s only when she speaks with Lord Delamere that she realizes her attributes are her own. The title comes from Lord Delemere’s description of Isak von Brantberg (Page 127), “He is made for life’s celebrations.”
Hassan is perhaps one of the best characters. He is a steadfast guide for Tanya. The author, Alexandri, gives readers a good look into the heart of this character who doesn’t understand his mistress but is willing to stand by her no matter how he might disagree with her plans. As we travel with them we get the tribal take on the disturbance in Europe. I loved when the Masai offered themselves to Tanya to become part of the “tribal war.”The Celebration Husband is a surprisingly soulful look at a strong woman of a bygone era. Alexandri builds a rich cast of background characters with insights to the tribes of East Africa and tribal warfare. The danger of the time feels authentic, as does the fish-out-of-water, heartfelt nature of the characters. The Celebration Husband is extremely well written. The book is carefully edited (I only noticed one error) and the plotting is captivating. Will Tanya and Melana find their husbands? Will they ever see home again? Will Melana survive her injuries? Can Tanya help “the cause?” I loved The Celebration Husband.
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