Arthur Baptiste lives on a flower plantation in Rwanda with his half-Tutsi, half-Belgian father and his English mother. He never ever talks and is not really accepted by the local children for being light skinned, so he is home-schooled and also helps out on the plantation.
His world revolves around butterflies. His treasured possession is a book of African butterflies which he carries everywhere with him, and he also catches, collects and studies as many butterflies as he can find. His only friend is the cook’s granddaughter Beni, a young girl with a mind as curious as his own, who accepts his muteness and shares his interest in butterflies.
However, Arthur is unaware of the political troubles that are arising in Africa, and his mostly untroubled bubble of existence on the plantation soon descends into a dangerous world of violence and crime.
The story is wonderfully descriptive and colourful, describing the butterflies and the flowers of the plantation. We see the world through Arthur’s childish eyes as he takes in the stories his African surroundings and tries to make sense of the actions of the adults around him.
The story flows along nicely and then quickly spirals into the chaos of the genocide that occurred in Rwanda in the 1990s. It’s pretty harrowing stuff and despite some warning signs and the build up of ethnic tension in the storyline, it doesn't prepare you for the brutal imagery of the massacre that ensued.
Tied together with Arthur’s little love story with Beni, and the events effects on his life as a whole, the story is emotionally charged, heartbreaking and yet kind of hopeful too. The Flower Plantation is a powerful story conveying both the light and the dark side of Africa, the innocence of childhood and the beauty of butterflies.