Rubbing Stones


by Nancy Burkey
Expected Publication December 1st 2016
Women’s Fiction/General Fiction
4.5 Stars

“Sometimes loyalty and honesty are the same. Sometimes not.”

I love it when I come across an author I have never heard of and their work blows me away. Better yet, when it’s their debut novel and I end up loving every bit of it. Nancy Burkey did just that for me.

I was in the middle of a different book when this gem appeared in my Kindle. Since I had been struggling with the other book for some days, I decided to check the first chapter of Rubbing Stones and see what it was all about. Shock on me when I found myself within the last few pages of the book. I read it all in one sitting and I have to say, she made it so easy for me. Her writing was impeccably smooth and the storyline was well thought out. The rubbing stones make an appearance at the beginning of the adventure and reappear at the end when they play a part in ending the whole ordeal thus tying everything together.

“I carry rubbing stones in my pocket.”

The story revolves around two families, one from the States and the other from Botswana. From the first chapters, it is clear that both families are facing a difficult situation. Dr. Jane O’Neil, a psychiatry professor in America, decides to take her family to Botswana with an aim to reconnect with one of her sons. But before heading there, they all agree a rafting trip down the Zambezi River would be a fun activity for all of them.

Katura and Japera are siblings from Botswana. They are in Zimbabwe to try and get their eldest brother out of prison. When they get there, they find out that the case goes deeper than they had initially imagined and it would take a lot more of their effort to get him out. They get themselves tangled in difficulties when things don’t go as they had planned.

“Are you six years old? Do you have any idea why Mom and Dad left this country? He’s got no right? Katura, we have no rights. No one around here has rights. And that guy was real clear that if we go in there acting like we’re family, we’ll never leave either.”

Their paths collide in a terrifying way when both families are in Zimbabwe and Nancy Burkey does an amazing job in bringing out the situations that drive the characters to do what they do. She does not shy away from bringing out the actions taken by people in desperate situations. They all get caught up in an unexpected adventure brought out by the arrest of one person due to political differences. The political unrest in Zimbabwe is a known fact and Nancy Burkey uses it well as a backdrop in her story.

“His right arm jerked once, maybe twice, then relaxed. Was that the way to describe a dead body? Relaxed?”

When I was done with the book, I wanted to find out more about the author as well as to see if she had any other books I would be interested in. I was extremely impressed when I found out this was her debut novel. It felt like my Homegoing experience all over again. Her background as a doctor explained why all the scenes that showed Dr. O’Neil’s expertise felt so real because of the details that went into them. All along I thought she must have shadowed a real doctor for a while not knowing she was an actual doctor. I feel like I need to add her title before her name but she is not using it in any of her platforms. (Stalker alert!)

The author clearly shows in the book how perception makes us all form different opinions. The fact that they were all from different cultures, backgrounds and upbringings made them look at certain things in a different way from each other. Michael, Dr. O’Neil’s eldest son, was sympathetic to Japera but Jake, her youngest, was not. Different things attributed to this but it was all the perspective they had. Michael having been on the wrong side of the law while trying to save someone and Jake having never experienced that.

To be honest, I did not expect it to be any good. There is this feeling many of us in African countries have about the portrayal of the situations by Westerners. Granted, I don’t know much about Zimbabwe since I am Kenyan but from the little I know I didn’t get as mad as I do when I read other publications. She made me go back to my notes on Zimbabwe and autocracy. There are so many people suffering under such power and the book served as a reminder not to only focus on Kenyan issues.


You know my policy on going in as blind as you can? It applies here. Pick it up when it comes out tomorrow! Take my word for it, it’s pretty good.

Get it here:



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