The African landscape and the people in "The Flame Trees of Thika" became so real to me that I grieved when the book ended. Six-year-old Elspeth Huxley's parents and friends became my parents and friends. Elspeth said of Tilly, her perfectionist mother, "it was the details others might not notice that destroyed her, the pleasure of achievement." However Robin, Elspeth's idealistic father, "as a rule, had his mind on distant greater matters always much more promising and congenial than those closer at hand."
Other notable characters included Elspeth's neighbors the beautiful, Lattice and her formal husband, Hereward, the kindly Ian, their house guest, who was in love with Lattice; Juma, their Swahili cook, Sammy their Masai/Kikuyu headman and Njombo, the Kikuju laborer's spokesman.
Huxley has the rare ability to understand and convey the culture and viewpoint of both the European colonial settlers and the Kikuyu and Masai people. The materialistic Europeans were critical of the nomadic Kikuyus who do not aspire to change, tame, possess or improve the countryside. The Kikuya, in turn, were mystified at the white man's sense of property ownership and the concept of theft. For the Kikuyu helping yourself to the possessions of the white man "was no more robbing than to take the honey from wild bees."
At the heart of the story is the beauty and the challenge of life in Africa in the early 20th Century.