After a career in magazine copyediting, 72-year-old Danze spins a quietly moving tale of destiny and romance in colonial West Africa, as a young naval cadet encounters the unconventional woman who will be the love of his life.
Son of a physician turned gold speculator, David Unger at 17 has one idea about what the future will hold: service in the Royal Navy, followed by a quiet life in South Africa, where his father went bust and his mother abandoned them. But meeting Maud King, a serene ethnologist with a deep thirst for knowledge about the unspoiled African interior, quickly turns his head. Smitten, he starts bringing her mail to her, then helps her gather the samples and material she needs. He saves her from a deadly scorpion sting and they grow increasingly close, but when he has to go home and is immediately drafted to fight the Zulu (who capture him and from whom he makes a daring escape), they lose touch. Bereft, David goes to study in London, and there reads in the British press of Maud’s explorations as she works her way through West Africa. A full-blown hero when she finally returns to England, she tracks David down, and their former intimacy resumes—but only briefly. Maud is keen to return to Africa; David has no choice but to let her go. Again they lose touch, and only after more heartbreaking years have passed and he has nearly finished work for his medical degree does he find a trace of her. He leaves to be with her at once, but when he arrives, he finds only tragedy.
Details of love and loss, and especially the images of Africa, are poignant enough here, but Maud—and all she represents—falls short of finding a separate place in the story, seen as she is only through her lover’s heated gaze.