Two Americans have life-altering experiences in Africa a century apart in this environmentalist adventure novel from Schulman (A House Named Brazil, 2000, etc.).
In December 1899, Jeremy arrives in East Africa from Maine to work as engineer in the construction of a railroad that will open Africa up to colonists. Jeremy, whose homosexuality is not spoken of but obvious, has never fit in at home, and he soon realizes the other white man at the project site will not accept him. But he falls in love with Africa. Soon he is involved in hunting two lions that have been terrorizing both the local population and his Indian laborers. His local guide and fellow hunter is Otombe, who picked up English living with missionaries as a child. In December 2000 another Maine native arrives in Rwanda. Max is a botanist hired to search out miracle beta blockers reputed to exist in certain hard-to-find vines that endangered Rwanda gorillas use medicinally. She has always been an outsider, partly because her professor father was black but mainly because she has Asperger’s Syndrome. Never comfortable with human interactions, she forms an almost immediate kinship with the gorillas. Schulman shifts between Jeremy and Max’s experiences. Jeremy becomes a hero for shooting one of the lions. Parting from Otombe without expressing his true feelings, he sublimates them in his sexual liaison with an African woman who reminds him of Otombe and bears him a child he takes back to Maine. Max’s idyll with her new gorilla family is threatened by the growing power of a violent cult of child soldiers from the nearby Congo called the Kutu. As the marauding Kutus approach, Max goes into hiding among the gorillas with a sense of both joy and impending doom.
Advocacy fiction—a little preachy and obvious but also genuinely passionate about both the cause of African wildlife and the sensory experience of Africa, which Schulman brings to tactile life.