Emotional turmoil seethes beneath the surface of a couple’s African safari in this debut novella.
Three years into their affair, Richard Delmore, a 50-something telecom executive, and Sofie Cerruti, a much younger journalist, go on safari in Tanzania, their first extended sojourn together away from his unwitting wife and children. Standing between them is Sofie’s recent abortion, which Richard argued her into despite previously claiming he wanted her to bear his child, and other secrets they haven’t told each other: Sofie’s liaison with an African man in Zanzibar while Richard was out diving; Richard’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. They arrive at Serengeti National Park as tourist spectators to the struggle for survival among the wildlife, which increasingly feels like a commentary on their own predicaments. After recovering from near-fatal heat stroke, the normally hardheaded Richard visits a local faith healer rumored to have a potion that might cure his cancer. Meanwhile, Sofie, eager to see a kill, encounters a battle between a lion and a Cape buffalo—narrated with agonizing cinematic detail in a terrific action set piece—that upsets her pat notions of a benign cycle of life while reminding her of her own loss. Slender but rich, Eriksen’s Hemingway-esque tale revolves around a delicate dissection of a fraying relationship, writhing with unspoken regret and artful noncommunication, whose real stakes are illuminated by the juxtaposition with primal scenes of life and death. His sharply observed, realistic prose is set against colorful, poetic evocations of the African setting, from the faith healer’s trash-strewn pilgrimage site to “the occasional Maasai warrior in the deep distance, carrying a long stick and wearing only his bright red shuka, walking like someone out of a Beckett play—as if he were in no hurry, and going nowhere—alongside his straggling herd of gaunt and hump-necked cattle.” It’s anything but harmonious, but Eriksen’s quietly wrenching yarn does resonate with ancient themes.
A fine drama of two lovers discovering harsh realities.