Title: Blood & Milk
Author: NR Walker
Release Date: June 23, 2016
Page Length: 262 pages
Reviewed by: Renée
Heat Level: 4 flames out of 5
Rating: 4.2 stars out of 5
Heath Crowley is an Australian man, born with two different coloured eyes and the gift—or curse—of having premonition dreams. He also has nothing left to live for. Twelve months after having his life upended, his dreams tell him where he needs to be. So with nothing?and no one?to keep him in Sydney, he simply boards a plane for Tanzania. Not caring if he lives or dies, Heath walks into a tribe of Maasai and asks to stay. Granted permission, he leaves behind the name and heartbreak of Heath and starts over with the new Maasai name of Alé.
From the day of his birth, Damu has always been an outcast. The son of the chief and brother to the great warrior leader, Damu is reminded constantly that he’s not good enough to be considered a man in the eyes of his people. Ordered to take responsibility for Alé, Damu shares with him the ways of the Maasai, just as Alé shares with Damu the world outside the acacia thorn fence. But it’s more than just a cultural exchange. It’s about trust and acceptance, finding themselves, and a true sense of purpose.
Under the African sky on the plains of the Serengeti, Heath finds more than just a reason to live. He finds a man like no other, and a reason to love.
I am in awe of the beautiful world that Ms. Walker created in this story. I began reading this book completely ignorant of anything about Tanzania. I will likely begin Googling the shit out of it because of the beauty described in this story.
Heath Crowley is a unique, but broken, man from Sydney, Australia. He experienced something so horrific, so vicious, it’s a wonder he didn’t fracture completely. A brutal hate crime against he and his partner, Jarrod, left his partner dead and Heath battered. But his suffering didn’t end there. Neither of their families accepted their “homosexuality,” and his partner’s family blamed Heath for their son’s death, kept him from his partner’s side in his final days, and banned him from the funeral. I can’t even imagine experiencing that kind of pain. What makes our Heath unique is that he dreams a lot, and some of those dreams are foreboding dreams that always come true. He can tell when it’s one of those dreams, and if it is, the events in the dreams always come to pass.
Approximately one year after the horrific event leading to Jarrod’s death (and Heath’s death, he tells himself), he dreams of Jarrod. Jarrod tells him he must go to Tanzania and ask to live amongst the Maasai people. Given his experience with his premonitory dreams his entire life, and the utter devastation his current life is in, he makes arrangements and goes to Tanzania to do just that. And because his Jarrod tells him to.
After days of travel and bargaining, Heath is not welcomed, but allowed, into the village. Kasisi, the Chief and Diviner of the village, sees something in Heath because of his heterochromia. He is a seer, and knows that Heath is too, and he knows that Heath is supposed to be with them. The others aren’t so sure, the lead warrior in particular, but they will follow their Chief’s words. The Chief has Damu, one of the members, take responsibility for Heath.
The beauty of this story is in Damu and Heath’s friendship, then relationship. Heath devotes himself to learning the culture this group. They clearly all work toward the betterment of the group as a whole. Everything is shared, which Heath wholeheartedly appreciates in with a warmth in his heart. But everything is not equal. The ingrained misogyny bothers Heath a lot, but he would never disrespect the people who didn’t have to allow him to stay by making any references about it. Damu is clearly separate from the other men in the village, but it’s not clear why. He is given daily tasks that are similar to the women of the group instead of the men.
Heath and Damu sleep in a tiny hut together: Damu on a thin mattress, Heath on the dirt ground. And Heath feels more at peace than he has felt in over a year. The simplicity of life while he learns of and gives to the Maasai brings him joy. His short conversations with Kasisi bring him joy. Teaching the children brings him joy. And Damu, above all else, brings him joy.
Damu has never left his village. He knows only that the men are rigidly told when it’s time to marry and whom, when it’s time to procreate for the village, when it’s time to become a warrior, etc. And men never lay with men. Women never lay with women. The act is punishable by death.
The pacing of Heath and Damu’s friendship and relationship was very nicely done. Damu has been treated differently from the other men in his village his entire life, and we come to understand why. It was unexpected, and nothing I would’ve predicted. Theirs is a special friendship and love story. I can’t tell you how many FEELZ I got reading this story.
“What we do, is my only joy.”
….”It is in all my life that I have something for me. That make sense of my heart. Not toward women, but to men, it make sense now. Because of you.”
My only complaint with this story was the pacing and exploration at the end. I spent the whole book wondering how it would turn out. What would happen to them? Would they stay? Would they go somewhere else to be together? When I got my answer, I wanted more exploration for it.
Otherwise, I can’t share much more without spoiling this. It truly was a beautiful story that Walker tells. Damu is an amazing man who brought Heath back to life. Their friendship brought stinging to my eyes more than once while reading. If you are a Walker fan, you will likely love this story. And for those who are wondering, Walker definitely brings the steam here!