Despite the rumors, Janet Livingstone believes her brother, famed missionary David Livingstone, is still alive. When she receives a crucifix in the mail, one she recognizes, Janet becomes convinced it’s a sign from her beloved brother. She meets with the New York Herald to request funding. Reluctantly, they agree to her terms, including Janet’s participation in the search. Journalist Henry Stanley is none too happy about the arrangement as he leads the expedition into the heart of Africa. Along the way, their party will encounter warring tribes, life-threatening illnesses, and lion attacks all while hoping they’ll survive long enough to reach David Livingstone and bring him home.
I was fully prepared to be amazed by the countryside and its exploration but was, sadly, left underwhelmed. What does it feel for a woman who’s never left her home country to see the African landscape for the first time? I don’t know; readers are simply told how it looks. Scenes shift rapidly, cutting out valuable character moments. Without inhabiting the emotional spaces surrounding significant events, characters and the book’s narrative voice are all depersonalized for the reader. In the beginning, Janet’s struggles to stand up for herself are intriguing, but after a couple of chapters, she’s doing this with ease. And somehow, after watching a demonstration back when her older brother was in school (she’s in her 40s), Janet’s setting bones and suturing deep cuts after a lion attack. Additionally, many weighty cultural clashes including slave trading, intolerance, and exploitation are dealt with too lightly. I appreciated the effort to bring an overshadowed woman into the spotlight, but African characters and their cultures are barely fleshed out. It read more like an extremely formal treatise than a fictional exploration. Readers will see an Africa in turmoil but miss out on experiencing it.