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Rules of the Wild: A Novel of Africa

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  1,017 ratings  ·  131 reviews
A mesmerizing novel of love and nostalgia set in the vast spaces of contemporary East Africa.

Romantic, often resonantly ironic, moving and wise, Rules of the Wild transports us to a landscape of unsurpassed beauty even as it gives us a sharp-eyed portrait of a closely knit tribe of cultural outsiders: the expatriates living in Kenya today. Challenged by race, by class, and
Paperback, 304 pages
Published September 7th 1999 by Vintage (first published 1998)
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3.82  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,017 ratings  ·  131 reviews

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Julie Christine
It is an inexplicable, unrelenting ache for someone or someplace, so that even when you are in their presence you mourn their absence. It is a heart hunger to go deeper, to consume or be consumed by the object of your desire until it becomes a part of your blood. We don’t have a word in English that quite fits this feeling of longing for something that may never have existed in the first place, a spiritual anguish for the ideal. Toska might be the Russian equivalent; the Welsh hiraeth comes clos ...more
Jun 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've fallen head over heels in love with this author, both for her subject matter and the sizzling passionate voice she uses to write about them. This is the second novel of hers I've read.

Rules of the Wild is set among Caucasian society in Kenya, people of many nationalities, including several born and raised in Africa, who live, love, bicker and work within their own separate little world. Marciano's narrator repeatedly calls them the "white baboon tribe," depicting them with equal parts admir
Jan 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite
Oh my God, I can't believe that this has become my favorite book so far. I can really relate with the main character, aside of course that we have the same name. And I deeply feel that I am going through the same situation as Esmeralda. I like the way she has described her feelings and experiences, like they were mine. I can fully sympathize with her thoughts, struggles and everything else.

This book will always stay with me.

I so love it!


I have found my favorite writer and my
Jul 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read the paperback years ago and over time it has stuck with me. Picked up the hardcover edition yesterday, opened to a random page and started reading. I was entranced! The writing is quite skilled; honest, spare prose and beautifully descriptive, all at once. I would have to reread it to cover specifics and there isn't time right now, but I can see I will return to this book soon. This book has something for everyone - universal themes, colorful landscapes, flawed but lovable characters... but ...more
Apr 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
I wouldn't say this was a GREAT book, but it managed to capture those feelings of being a little out of place, a little out of step, and somehow unsure of your own wants and needs. That really resonated with me when I read it...
This novel's setting -- late 20th-century Kenya, with the Somalian civil war, slaughter in Rwanda and a continent struggling with population problems -- is the attraction here. Francesca Marciano's characters run to stereotypes, uniformly attractive and young expats, with a few (white) natives added to the mix. They overindulge in drink and drugs and sleep around and, except for the journalists and a safari organizer, they don't do much else.

The main character, Esme, who narrates the story, spen
Feb 07, 2008 rated it liked it
This book is kind of a tough one to review... it's definitely a worthy read, and maybe on a different day I would give it four stars. I had some false starts with it - not always a good sign for a novel, but in this case I blame my own schedule and competing claims on my free time. The fact that I was able (and not reluctant) to return to it after several rather long breaks is, I think, actually an indication that it had captured my imagination in some way.

The writing was very lovely, and I enjo
Alison Wiley
Sep 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-i-love
Disclosure: my favorite voice in novels is the first-person narrative of a challenged female protagonist. But even if yours isn’t, I think you would be pulled in as I was by Rules of the Wild. Its vivid prose makes the outer world of modern Kenya and the inner world of a flawed, vulnerable young woman, Esme, into entrancing places we inhabit for a time, as we would a safari.

I can picture my friend Vicki reading Rules of the Wild and saying to me, “Why do you like Esme when she’s so materialistic
Feb 24, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Cynical story about a group of shallow, narcissistic expats living in Kenya. Their trust funds allow them to lead the kind of aimless lives that are often shown in the movies.

That said, I enjoyed the book: great descriptions about Africa (both the beauty and the horror), relevant political undertones (colonialism, race, violence), and interesting plot. The main character, Esme, is a mixed-up young woman who makes questionable choices (and realizes the irony though seems helpless to affect change
Nov 16, 2018 rated it did not like it
This is essentially the worst, shallowest romance book wrapped up with literary prose. I detested it. The superficiality and stereotypes that characterize bad romance are fine if presented as a fun diversion. But the same issues in a book apparently meant to be taken seriously are offensive. The book is deeply sexist. The main character, Esmé, thinks like a nineteenth-century stereotype; I was honestly startled by references to cars, and shocked by references to laptop computers. They aren't ana ...more
Sara Stetz
Aug 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
A visit to Africa has changed many lives whether by safari, charity, work or education. Some are so changed by Africa, they make it their home. The book explores relationships among a group of expats and the complicated countries, politics, wildlife and tribes of Africa. The book’s most beautiful passages are when the characters explore the notion of why they were so attracted to the freedom & vast African landscapes: getting lost versus discovering who you were all along. Maybe the characte ...more
Feb 28, 2012 rated it liked it
This book has two distinct aspects that are very different. The main character and narrator is an Italian woman living in Nairobi which is the same as the author. She uses this book to provide a pretty good analysis of living in an expatriate "ghetto" in a developing country (lived that life so I have a good idea of what it's like) and make her commentary on major political events/issues such as apartheid, the anarchy and war in Somalia and especially the Rwandan genocide. This aspect of the boo ...more
Jun 03, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd have loved to read this book in one sitting, at my leisure, under a shady tree during a hot afternoon, instead of some minutes before work, some minutes during lunch, some minutes before bed. The African landscape is very beautifully described in this book, that it's a pity to let your imagination rush through while reading it, instead of savoring every little detail and make them walk slow motion in your mind.

As for the story... well, it's just okay. Maybe it's because i'm not that interes
Aug 14, 2008 rated it liked it
a read that you don't particularly need to spend too much time figuring out the nuances and subtleties of- they're all there front and center, presented to you on a bitter but beautiful platter by the author and her central female character. it surprises you every now and then, the depth and breadth of her voice and observations, but for the most part it is simply a good and entertaining read that you'll likely want to get to the end of.
Nov 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed reading this book. It’s great for people who like expatriate stories. Romantic, sometimes a little far fetched but it’s easy to go with and get caught up in the lives of all the characters (who like their cigarettes.) The author does a good job of keeping sight of what’s going on in the country (via the journalist characters) contrasted with the “easy” lives of those not involved with the politics of Africa.
Tito Quiling, Jr.
Aug 18, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: donated
I was disillusioned with the first half, trying to gauge if there was something much more significant than witnessing privileged expatriates and trust fund babies spend their time in Kenya hooking up and basically the stark indifference to the local culture.

P.S. Africa is a continent, not a country.
Jul 31, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommended to Philip by: A friend
Picked this up out of desperation on safari and was expecting the worst as it said love story on the cover. I am impressed and loved the style. I think I may know a few of the characters perhaps too. Loved it.
Amirah Jiwa
This is probably the most intelligent and well-written girl-travels-and-meets-boy story that I've ever read. Marciano's writing is lush, sexy, and thought-provoking. Recommended!
Kim Brown
Aug 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Enjoyable read. While it presented as a story about relationships and love, it's really more about how a place can make you come alive.
Feb 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: girls, expats
Why is she not more famous?
Johanna Markson
Apr 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Rules of the Wild, Francesca Marciano
When Esme's larger then life father dies she is set adrift. She ends up being taken on a safari to Nairobi by her new boyfriend. While on safari she feels the pull of Africa and decides to say since she doesn't know what to do with her life anyway. That first night she meets the guy who runs the camp and they become lovers. Esme is a narcissistic, naive, self-centered woman, ripe for heartbreak. She has defined herself by her poet father and now doesn't know
Dec 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
I just read this book for the second time, having read it when it was first published several years ago. I was struck by the fact that it holds up very well. Set in Africa during the Rwandan war, the story makes real what it would be like to be an expatriate living on the edge of a war-torn region. More than anything, this book explores what it means to be an African - whether white or black. The author clearly struggles with a world of privilege and how it sets up against the struggle with pove ...more
Jul 20, 2017 rated it did not like it
Esta novela la leí en mi adolescencia y me pareció un mal intento de copia de Memorias de Africa, a la que tengo infinitas ganas de leer porque estoy enamorada de la película. La protagonista, a diferencia de la de Memorias de Africa me pareció un personaje muy estereotipado, nada interesante pues se pasaba la vida a base de bebidas, drogas y relaciones muy superficiales. Básicamente la trama gira en torno a su relación los 2 personajes masculinos. Lo único interesante es el contexto que rodea a ...more
Franco Forleo
Feb 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I read Casa Rossa by Francesca Marciano a number of years ago and loved it. I hadn’t seen anything from her since then, until visiting a second hand book store and found Rules of the Wild. As an Italian living in Africa, Francesca has captured the essence of this land, with love, life, nature and heartbreak.
Simon Kirkendall
Feb 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Whiny little weenie head of a main character, but very well written and lovely to imagine.
Christina Bowser
Nov 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading this brought back memories of my time in Kenya.
Feb 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a book that I've hung onto for many years, nice to go back and read every once in awhile. Nothing special per se, but I love the narrator's persona and the intimate details of Africa.
Vicki Schmits
Oct 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Really good if you love Africa. You feel like you're there.
Apr 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: africa
Some insightful observations on sociological patterns of expats with occasional beautiful writing.
David Hinton
Sep 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
When I first read "Rules of the Wild: A Novel of Africa" on its 1998 publication, I was totally enchanted. Enchanted with the book and also, I must admit, with its author, since the book's back cover boasts one of the best author photographs I've ever seen.

In fact, I was so enchanted with the book that I thought it needed to be made into a movie---everyone likes movies set in the wilds of Africa, right? So, I sent it to my good friend and Hollywood Producer, Wally Nicita ("Six Days Seven Nights,
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Francesca Marciano is an Italian novelist and a screen writer. She has lived in New York and in Kenya for many years. To date she has written four novels: “Rules of the Wild”, listed as one of the NYT notable books of the year, ”Casa Rossa”, “The End of Manners”,
“The Other Language” shortlisted for the Story prize in 2014. She’s currently living in Rome.
“How can I explain this? Why is it you can never hope to describe the emotion Africa creates?
You are lifted.
Out of whatever pit, unbound from whatever tie, released from whatever fear. You are lifted and you see it all from above. Your pit, your ties, your fear. you are lifted, you slowly rise like a hot-air balloon, and all you see is the space and the endless possibilities for losing yourself in it.”
“I didn't go there lightly. I knew even then that this was the beginning of something very hard to reverse. But I couldn't do otherwise now: I was too possessed” 4 likes
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