Read from my local library
Angel has lived all of her young life in Africa, she has known nothing else. She’s making her way across Tanzania with her mother and their two camels to fulfil a promise, something that they consider to be very important. When tragedy strikes, Angel is left all alone in the desert, facing predators. Her rescuer is an unlikely source.
Emma is a medical researcher from Melbourne Australia, who has made a trip to Tanzania to visit a research station and hopefully lay some ghosts to rest. She lost her mother, also a medical researcher to a deadly viral hemorrhagic fever that her mother was researching at the time. Emma was only seven at the time of her death and it affected her profusely. Now that she is turning the same age her mother was when she died, she has a desire to go and see the research station and hopefully find some peace. When she arrives me meets Daniel, a quietly spoken and very well educated Masai who is working at the station. When Emma’s guide vehicle has some engine trouble, she ends up staying at the research station overnight and is surprised by the arrival of camels that look well cared for but also like there has been some struggle. Daniel tracks the camels path and they find the body of a woman and evidence of a small child…and a lioness and her cubs.
Emma knows she can’t leave now – not until she has found the child. The authorities believe that she is dead, dinner for the lioness and her cubs but it seems that this particular lioness was raised by a human, a white African who keeps a sanctuary of sort, raising cubs who have had their parents killed by poachers or who may have been injured. They go to him for help, certain that if anyone can find this lion and the girl, it is him.
The longer Emma spends in Tanaznia, the harder it is becoming for her to think about leaving. She is interested in the work being done here and thinks that she might have an idea for how the researchers can take their approach to the next level. And then there’s Daniel, who impresses her with his quiet intelligence and manner. Suddenly she can see, when she has been unable to before, just what might have drawn her mother back here time and time again.
Lioness was my April read for the Around the World in 12 Books Challenge where the chosen country was Tanzania. Whilst I’ve been on quite an African fiction run lately I don’t think I’ve read anything set in Tanzania. I can’t say the inclusion of the viral fever in this book particularly made me want to go there, but I did find the research interesting. The actual virus the author uses in the book doesn’t exist but it is very close to both the Ebola virus and the Lassa fever, both of which sound like the stuff of nightmares. Should I ever go to Africa (highly unlikely) I imagine I would be the sort of overly paranoid Western traveler that Emma is in the beginning. She’s overly cautious about everything – eating the food, drinking the beverages, smothering herself in mosquito netting when she sleeps and making sure she has her green bag strapped to her at all times which is basically a massive first aid kit containing everything the wary first world person might need in a third world country. Given her mother did die – a scientist who accidentally pricked her finger with a bloody needle containing a contaminated sample, then perhaps her fear is understandable. Yet despite this, Emma has chosen to become a medical researcher too, albeit in relatively safe obscurity in a Melbourne laboratory.
Emma comes to embrace the remoteness of Africa, the danger and the beauty. She relaxes as she spends more time there, letting go of some of her strict monitoring of food, drink and sleeping routines. She experiences something truly remarkable at the lion sanctuary and the epiphany she has regarding research into the virus spurs her passions and makes her realise that there’s some things at home that she’s not very passionate about.
Although this book was an easy and enjoyable read, I did find it fairly flimsy in terms of really good plot. What would’ve made a fantastic read all would occur after the end of the book, such as the research being undertaken to help develop a vaccine to the terrible virus, a Westerner adjusting to living in Africa, not just visiting there for a few days, dealing with the bureaucratic issues, the lack of quality equipment and conditions. I would’ve much preferred to read about that as well as the journey to get there.
The author works to establish some sort of ‘connection’ between Emma and Daniel but it wasn’t something that particularly worked for me. He’s polite and intelligent yes, and she’s awkward and foreign but their so called bond that develops as they search for Angel didn’t ever strike me as something that seemed natural, something that would make her want to stay in Africa. It’s one thing to move interstate for a man you don’t know well (who does that? *cough*) but it’s quite another to move not only to another country but to a country that is different in every single way to the one you left behind. I’m not saying it wouldn’t work, but Emma’s decision process seemed very faulty, especially for the way in which her character had been established throughout the whole rest of the book.
Book #69 of 2012
Katherine Scholes was born in Tanzania and lived there for 10 years before moving to England and then later Tasmania. She has lived in Melbourne and since moved back to Tasmania with her family. This book counts towards my Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012 and is the 22nd novel completed.
This is my April read for Shannon over at Giraffe Days’ Around the World in 12 Books Challenge. April was Tanzania.