RAFIKI by David Minier


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In this debut novel, a man trying to rebuild his life goes to Africa, where he strikes up a unique rapport with a gorilla.

After the untimely death of his wife and only son, David Durfee is in a bad way. Desperate to halt his downward spiral, he accepts an offer to go with a church group to Uganda for a few months to do volunteer work at a mission. Once there, he has a chance encounter with a large silverback gorilla. However, instead of becoming violent, the meeting results in an unusual friendship. Durfee names the gorilla “George,” teaches him some rudimentary sign language, and plays him some music. George acts as a kind of therapist for Durfee, listening silently as the man pours his heart out regarding his lost family. Trouble looms, however, when a poacher with a grudge seeks to kill George. Meanwhile, the mortgage on the mission complex comes due, and the landlord already has a wealthy corporation lined up to become the new owner, with plans to build a hotel. Minier has written a simple yet direct book that will speak to anyone who yearns to get away from it all but who’s wary of uncertainty. The author’s theme—that you never know what can happen until you try—is central to the book and never buried under useless verbiage or rambling subplots. The storylines are all germane to the main story and resolved quickly. The prose is vivid, as in his description of Ugandan jungle flowers: “There were lobelia, with their broad, circular green flowers, purple flowered veronica, and St. John’s Wart bushes with brilliant yellow blossoms.” He also mixes in numerous Swahili words—the title, for example, is Swahili for “friend”—which reinforces the story’s realism. He makes skillful use of a large character roster, never taking the spotlight off Durfee but also making the others distinctive; of one secondary character, Mel, he writes, “He had replaced…the baseball cap…worn at orientation with a classic safari pith helmet.” The book’s premise is basic and has been done countless times before, as in White Fang (1906) and Lassie Come Home (1940). However, its message is still profound.

A touching book about friendship between man and gorilla.

Publisher: Lumino Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2015


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