Julie Smith (Knitting and Sundries)'s Reviews > Three Weeks in December

Three Weeks in December by Audrey Schulman
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's review
Oct 30, 2011

bookshelves: galley, julie-s-2012-read-many-books-challe, literary-fiction, reviewed
Read from February 03 to 06, 2012 — I own a copy

This review first appeared on my blog:


In 1899, Jeremy Turnkey travels to British East Africa as an engineer in charge of helping to build a railroad. He knows himself to be different in a time when being different is not accepted and is a partial outcast from his family and "polite" society. Faced with the dizzying task of overseeing Indian workers in a hostile African environment, he has enough on his plate already. When two lions begin killing the men in his camp and people in surrounding villages in the dead of night, he now has the unenviable task of trying to hunt and kill them in a malaria-induced haze. With the help of Otombe, an African raised by missionaries until he was six, when they had their own child and returned him to his village, Jeremy attempts to prove himself.

In 2006, Max Tombay, an ethnobotanist, travels to Rwanda in search of an unknown vine that contains five times the beta blockers of any other known plant. She joins a group of scientists and animal behaviorists in the mountains on her quest to find the vine, shadowing a group of gorillas in the hope that they will lead her to the plant. As she observes them, she notices similarities between her Asperger's Syndrome and their behavior, giving her a particular affinity and insight with the gorilla family. What her employers DIDN'T tell her is that there is a roaming band of thousands of Kutu (child soldiers) right over the border killing both natives and foreigners. As the group of scientists becomes increasingly isolated, conserving electricity and with their food stores diminishing significantly, Max faces her own moral dilemma.

On the surface, these two narratives have nothing in common except their locations in Africa, however, the deeper meaning of these stories has a lot to do with true coming of age and the deeper realization of inner strength that each of the main characters finds within. The thread of lurking danger that is woven into each narrative makes for a nail-biter, especially with Max's story.

Gorgeously written and evocative, Three Weeks in December is a feast for the senses. If you like literary adventure, this is definitely one for your shelves.

QUOTES (from an ARC; may be different in final copy):

When people met Max, she passed as normal, at least at first. More than passed. In Maine, she was exotic. Men's heads tended to track her on the street, until at times she worried she might be dressed or moving inappropriately. Even women refocused as she walked by, their bodies going still.
Of course once the men or women actualy interacted with her, talked with her, their reaction changed. The flatness of her voice, the way she didn't look at them. The subtle social signals she missed. After a while the men stopped leaning in as close, their voices got less warm and confiding. It gook differing amounts of time. depending on how much each had hoped. The women caught on more quickly. Their words would drag a bit as they puzzled it out. Then they'd spot the final clue. There'd be this pause. A silent adjustment.

The overriding thought was that this was his fault, each fever here, each missing limb, any deaths. He was the one responsible - as much as if he had injected each infection of malaria or started each cut - him and the British, this railroad.

"My tribe," Otombe said, "has a myth of a giant metal snake. Like the story of how the world started, it is one of common knowledge shared among the tribes. It is said, in a time of hunger, drought and disease, the metal snake will arrive. It will stretch itself across the land to strangle the life from our tribes."

Max imagined returning with the vine she searched for. It would be a blockbuster drug, saving the lives of thousands of people. The vine's discovery would allow her mom to talk to her sister in something other than that small voice.
It would help make up for how Max had sat rocking in a corner while her dad's brain - a major vein to it blocked off - suffocated and then died.

Writing: 5 out of 5 stars
Plot: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Characters: 4 out of 5 stars
Reading Immersion: 4.5 out 5 stars

BOOK RATING: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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Reading Progress

02/03/2012 page 215

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Her Royal Orangeness You have the most amazing collection of ARCs and galley proofs! Most jealous am I. :)

message 2: by Julie (new) - added it

Julie Smith (Knitting and Sundries) Oh! Thanks! But it means lots of reviews to write and keep track of, especially trying to get them in near pub. date. THIS one is pretty awesome, actually.

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