This novel, set in the green chaos of East Africa, concerns the ambitions of three women, teachers at a remote girls’ school. They are the only white women in this region, and each is in her way doomed.
Miss Poole, the Headmistress, was born in Africa and cannot live anywhere else. A colonial, she wants desperately to order the society along Christian principles. But she has little support in this. Her most intimate friend is Rose, an African albino girl. Bettyjean Lebow -- B.J. to her friends -- an American Peace Corps volunteer from San Diego, has other ideas; she has come to help and can’t understand why the others “have this thing about black people.” And yet she has difficulty reconciling her Hollywood fantasies of Africa with her liberal outlook.
Heather Monkhouse, about whom much is rumored, left a dull job in outer London to come to Africa, where she hoped the loveless routine of her life would end. After being fired from a teaching job in Nairobi, she arrives at Miss Poole’s and creates a threatening mood of suspense, made worse by the hysteria all the women feel in their loneliness. Trapped at the school, each struggles to realize her own vision of Africa, and to survive.
During one school term, in an isolation where the only willing men are two black cousins, Wangi and Wilbur, the vision of each woman alters against her will, then is destroyed. And the sardonic humor that characterizes the earlier chapters explodes into a denouement of ferocious violence.