The Lioness, by Chris Bohjalian book review

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It all sounded so glamorous. That Hollywood star. Her famous best friends. A touch of her beautiful family. They are Hollywood lions, on their way to safari in the Serengeti. On this luxury excursion, there is even a petroleum-powered ice machine to cool gin and tonics. What could go wrong?

Well, almost everything.

In Chris Bohjalian’s latest book, “The Wind Wind”, things are calm in all a dozen pages before the roar – both humans and animals – begins.

But in that calm, the stage is set. It’s 1964 and Katie Barstow is the queen of Hollywood. Daughter of famous New York theater people with a legacy of alcohol and abuse, she ran to the west coast to have that quiet life. What she found is fame, fortune and good people.

So good that she has decided to turn her honeymoon adventure into a comrade moon. Katie is just married to David Hill – a struggling gallery owner who is also her brother’s best friend from childhood. He was a support during the gloomy times and is now not intimidated by his wife’s bank account – or her choice of honeymoon. Along with them on safari are seven others – including Terrance Dutton, a black actress whose star is rising and with whom Katie has shared some steamy scenes on the big screen. Terrance is only the third black guest led by the safari team and is as much of a star to the staff of Tanzania as Katie.

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They are all in the care of Charlie Patton, a white hunter who sticks to his machismo, his mustache on the handlebars and the fact that he once had Papa Hemingway as a customer. But he will lay down his arms and realize that it is the Hollywood audience that will fill his pockets now, even though they are people who are ready to “photograph elephants, not shoot them. People who might want a zebra blanket or a zebrafish, but who would not see the cursed thing killed. “

And so it begins. The travelers learn from the guides and witness the power of wildebeest crossing the Mara River and the beauty of the giraffes at a waterhole. But very quickly the cameras are dropped. White men in a Land Rover show up out of nowhere. There are shots and it is quite clear that they are not aiming at the giraffes.

The armed men are ruthless Russian mercenaries. Within minutes, they brutally kidnap the Americans and their guides, one was murdered by force while the rest boarded trucks with weapons against their heads. The mantra for everyone is: “Just stay alive. See if we can somehow see the sun rise again. “

As the drama unfolds, Bohjalian divides the narrative between all nine Americans and Benjamin Kikwete, one of the group’s young Kenyan porters. Ten narrators is a bold choice, and readers will need the who’s who list provided, but when writing your 23rd book, then your choices should not be bold? That bunch of narrators means no one has enough page time for deep character development, but what is, is rich enough to be revealing, is expertly woven into the present, and the short chapters and changing cast are what make “The Leaf Wind” to a bloody sprint of a reading. (The book has already been selected for a TV series.) And make no mistake, there will be blood. As Katie puts it, to say that the safari had taken a wrong turn, “was like saying that Jack Kennedy’s visit to Dallas had had a few hiccups.”

For some, the horror becomes the hunger games. As in, the actual animals are hungry and human flesh will do just fine. For others, driven through the endless plains, then bound alone, it becomes trying to figure out who the kidnappers are, whether they want to keep them alive for ransom, and of course why?

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Seen against the background of the Congo crisis and the Simba uprising, while at the same time affecting American racism, especially in Hollywood, there are so many reasons why the famous group could have been captured, and the clarification of it all is captivating. But even more, it’s how a group of such prominent people react when they’re landed in hell, and the reason behind their reactions. What did their life look like before this moment? Do they act like the hero? Or can they not play it short when the tragedy is real instead of fictional? In short, would they “rather die laden like a rhino than howl like a goat,” or would absolute panic ensue and the lions be reduced to Hollywood kittens?

In his writing, Bohjalian is anything but a kitten. Smaller writers could not tackle 10 narrators, the complexity of racism in America, African politics, violence both foreign and domestic (as in an apartment in New York) and make the pieces fit together seamlessly. But Bohjalian – whose books include “Hour of the Witch” and “The Flight Attendant” – has repeatedly shown that with him you do not know what you are getting, but you know it is good to get.

With “Løvvinden” the approach is very good. Attracted by the promise of suspense or the guarantee of glamor, readers will stay in the game of survivors and finish the book as happy as a fat cat in the Serengeti.

Karin Tanabe is the author of five books, including most recently “A woman of intelligence. “

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