The setting for Katherine Scholes’ latest novel, Lioness, is the wide desert of Tanzania, a land of rocky outcrops and little water, but plenty of life. Wild life, as well as human life, that is. Emma is a medical researcher based in Melbourne, who is on a pilgrimage to Tanzania to find closure over her mother’s death. Her mother was a virologist for the American Center for Disease Control, sent to a research station to Â study an outbreak of Olambo Fever in Tanzania days before Emma’s seventh birthday.
Tragically, she caught the disease and died, leaving Emma motherless in New York. More than twenty years later, Emma’s journey to follow her mother leads her to the same research station on the edge of the nyika – desert – where she meets local veterinarian Daniel who is still trying to trace the Olambo fever between outbreaks. He tragically lost his wife and unborn daughter to the disease so immediately understands Emma’s need for closure.
Meanwhile, Angel Kelly, a 7-year-old English girl born in a Tanzanian village, is on a journey between villages with her mother when tragedy strikes. She is left alone in the desert surrounded by vultures and hyenas. The only thing that can scare a hyena pack away – a lion – is approaching. And this lion has three cubs. How can Angel hope to survive the desert and travel to the next village when there is a protective lioness in front of her?
Emma and Angel’s journeys collide in the camp of the “Lion Man” George Lawrence. Here, Emma comes to relax, despite the lions, and even to realise the harsh beauty of the African desert. She becomes abel to accept how her mother’s abandonment of her has shaped her outlook on life, and that maybe it is time to change.Â Emma’s ability to recognise the mothering instinct in a camel, a lioness, and in herself, grows throughout the novel.
I really enjoyed this novel for the descriptions of something I may never see – the wild country of Tanzania – and for the way the author understands the reality of relationships, no matter where they begin. Â The story is a gently-paced window into a different world which I found charming. For a wet weekend – this is a winner.
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