In a way, Audrey Schulman’s “Three Weeks in December” is two books in one—and they’re both fantastic.
In alternating chapters, we meet two Americans who have arrived in East Africa for their own adventures, a century apart. Jeremy, an engineer, arrives in Kenya in 1899 to supervise the railroad construction from Mombasa to Nairobi and beyond. Max, an ethnobotanist, arrives in Rwanda in 2000 to search for a special vine, eaten by mountain gorillas, that could serve as the basis of the next wonder drug.
While the two quests are a century apart, they have similarities. Both Jeremy and Max are “invading” in ways that will—or have the potential to—bring life-altering changes to East Africa. We know how the railroad helped usher in the colonials; and in Uganda, if Max is successful and more people follow in her footsteps, the mountain gorillas and their habitat could be wiped out.
Jeremy and Max both face social difficulties. He is awkward with others at the best of times, and hiding his homosexuality seems to have created an even wider gulf between him and his family/community in Maine. When he arrives in Kenya with no peers, he finds himself isolated again. For Max, who has Asperger’s, arrival in the rainforest brings a delightful surprise: She finds the gorillas’ behavior and communication style much more comforting than those of her fellow humans.
They also have other challenges: Rogue lions begin to kill railroad workers, and Jeremy has to slay them before his workers mutiny. Max and the others at a small research station in Virunga National Park fear the encroachment of a brutal rebel army from the Congo.
I loved this book—from the descriptions of the animals and environment to the inner musings and development of the two protagonists, along with a nice dose of suspense.