Smoke: Askari by Lee Benoit Noble is an American medical anthropologist who wants to save the world. His work in Kenya is off to a slow start until he accidentally moves into a brothel. The night guard, Harry, is more than what he seems, and soon he’s helping Noble take his research, and love life, to a whole new level.
Their work among the poorest of Nairobi’s poor is challenging, and they find great comfort in each other until an old crush calls Noble away and sinister forces mass against him and Harry. From slums and whorehouses to game parks and Indian Ocean beaches, this isn’t the tour books’ Kenya, and Harry and Noble aren’t your ordinary couple! Can simple love triumph against the complex forces of corruption, prejudice, and public health crises? Or is it just a curl of smoke, ready to be blown away?
This is a cross-cultural romance, done by someone who has to have had experience in East Africa. The smoke burned the back of my throat, the smells and tastes startled me with their strangeness, and the attitudes made me think. The romance, though it was importance, was almost secondary for me in the strange culture. It wasn't a travelog, it was an immersion.
The main character, Noble, gave the impression of looking for a new culture because he didn't quite fit into his 'home' one, and he found a way in, with Harry the askari of the title, a protector that always seemed to have a little more meaning lurking than the author actually explained. I like that detail, it gave the impression of you could figure it out if you could just read a little more, if she would PLEASE just write more pages with more hints. Anyone who's reading just for the sex would probably be irritated by that quality but I loved it.
So don't read it just for the sex, which is sweet and hot, understated for the most part and a reminder that the rest of the world sees things a little differently, but read it because it's a big step outside your culture and that's good.
A negative for me was Stuart, because while I could understand the evolution of Noble's feelings towards him, I wasn't so sure what Noble saw in him in the first place. Maybe it's another kind of win if the reader wants to hit a character with a big stick.