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How Strong Are You? Imagine Yourself in Chris Bohjalian's Glamourous, But Deadly Safari

Updated: Apr 1, 2023

The Lioness

Escape on a safari...

If you've gone on a safari, or if you've dreamed of going on one, you'll be attracted to Chris Bohjalian's 2022 novel, The Lioness.

I enjoy Chris Bohjalian's stories...not for their lasting impact on my life; not for their deeply rooted social stances; not for their power to educate or change, but for the sheer joy of a good story, well-told.

Chris Bohojalian is an American author, and #1 New York Times bestselling author many times over. He's written twenty-four books, many of which have been named "Best Books of the Year" by major news organizations. His books have been translated into thirty-five languages and made into movies, plays, and television series. (If you've watched "The Flight Attendant" on HBO Max, you've watched an adaptation of Bohjalian's novel.)

He's prolific, for sure. In 2020, he released The Red Lotus, a thriller based on a missing man, a devastated girlfriend, and the discovery of a contagion, (a great read during the real COVID pandemic.) In 2021, he released The Hour of the Witch, a historical fiction set in 1662 Salem, Massachusetts, about the first divorce case in America enveloped by the witch trials.

His newest novel, The Lioness, (narrated by his actress daughter, Grace-Experience on Audible), is an intertwining of Hollywood glamor and the terror of travel gone terribly wrong.

Jodi Picoult said, “THE LIONESS feels like the best possible combination of Hemingway and Agatha Christie — a gorgeously written story about the landscape and risks of Africa, whose edge-of-your-seat plot makes it impossible to put down. Bohjalian just gets better and better.”

I couldn't agree more.

The plot

Katie Stepanov Bristow is the golden girl of Hollywood. She just married her childhood friend, David Hill, the owner of a small art gallery, and also her brother, Billy's, best friend. After a honeymoon trip to Paris, Katie invites a group of people to accompany her and David on an extended "honeymoon-with-friends" on an African safari.

Katie's entourage includes her husband, her agent, her publicist, her brother and his pregnant wife, Margie, and her best friend Carmen Tedesco and her husband, Felix. The group is led by expert guides and porters, native to the area.

The idyllic trip goes horribly wrong when Russian mercenaries rush in and kidnap the entire party.

From there, it becomes like a murder mystery, only it's clear what's killing them, just not who goes next.

The power of the story

The plot definitely packs a wallop, but it's not the plot alone that gives the book power. It's the backstories of each person on the safari, slowly revealed by the author as the events unfold. The real depth of the novel is the insight gained into the moral and ethical core of each individual. The reader starts to understand which characters' relationships will last and which will fall apart - if they survive at all.

It's like watching a skeet shoot. You see the targets placed in range of killing, but you have to watch to see which ones remain whole and unscathed and which ones are shattered to smithereens by the imminent blast.

Interestingly, the author begins the book with an acknowledgment that people would die. It's not supposed to be a surprise, so we know from the beginning that not everyone will make it. The tension comes from guessing who's next and how they succumb.

Kudos to Bohjalian for providing a bit of the guide's backstory, but it would have been nice to know more of the natives' stories intertwined with those of the tourists. The inner thoughts of the guides and porters would have increased the dimension of the reader's understanding of a complex situation.

Perfect pairing

The book has many references to Ernest Hemingway. Rightfully so, since Hemingway was a hunter with his own mental issues who also went on safari.

Perfect literary pairings would be to read The Lioness alongside Hemingway's memoir, The Green Hills of Africa, and the short story, "The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber."

The title, The Lioness

Yes, of course. Safaris include searches for elephants and rhinos and lions. But the titular phrase The Lioness becomes a symbol of strength and survival, and it's not referring to who you think it might...


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