Marcy's Reviews > Three Weeks in December

Three Weeks in December by Audrey Schulman
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Apr 22, 12

Read in April, 2012

Audrey Schulman captures Africa through the senses of two of the main characters who visit Africa with two very different missions, one in the year 1899, and one in the year 2000. Through these two main characters, the reader learns about the African landscapes of Kenya and Rwanda, in addition to its changing landscapes. The reader also learns about the innermost feelings and challenges of the two main characters the audience comes to understand and accept.

Max is an ethnobotanist who has been commissioned by a pharmaceutical company in the year 2000 to find the Rwandan "medicinal" vine that the mountain gorillas eat, to save thousands of people from heart disease. Max has Asperger's Syndrome. She does not want to work on fragrances, but instead, desires to make a difference in her life. Max has a flat expression, speaks in monotone, rocks, flaps her arms, and does not like any closeness of human contact. Over the years, Max has developed coping mechanisms to appear normal - breathing deep and focusing on pleasant experiences in her life. Along with the challenges of Asperger's Syndrome, Max does have the focus to become intimately aware of every plant she encounters, its texture and smell. She can become so focused, that falling, bleeding, and breaking her arm does not prevent her from straying from finding the medicinal cure she has sought out to find. In her quest, Max becomes one with the gorillas, whose very behavior is similar to hers. With the gorillas, she is not alone any more. The tension mounts as the danger of the Civil War in the Congo is only 3.5 miles from where Max works in the mountains. (The Kutu are child soldiers who are trained to attack white people).

Jeremy is an American engineer who wants to leave his homosexual humiliations behind him as he ventures out with many Indians to build a railroad and a bridge near the River Tsavo, in the country now called Kenya, in an effort to expand the European scramble for African territory. Jeremy falls in love with Africa, the red earth, the smells, and the numerous animals that are a part of the landscape. "All around them now, gazelles spronged upward out of the grass, living popcorn, legs ramrod straight beneath, their tails swishing behind their tight white buttocks...the gazelles bounded away in the direction the men had come from, their bodies arcing over the top of the grass like dophins over the sea."

Jeremy's challenges are Malaria, dead Indian bodies with hot coals in their mouths to represent Hindu cremation, Yellow Fever, and two large lions mauling Indian workers. Jeremy is expected by his crew to exterminate the large animals. This is not only Jeremy's challenge. He falls in love with an African guide and fights to hide his feelings from his workers, the doctor on site, and the man he loves.

There is so much to learn in this story. I read each chapter, one chapter about Jeremy, the next about Max, with great emotion and understanding. Audrey Schulman is one special author!

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