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The Lioness

by Chris Bohjalian

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15515147,533 (4.18)None
A luxurious African safari turns deadly for a Hollywood starlet and her entourage in this riveting historical thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of The Flight Attendant.   "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." --Jodi Picoult, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Wish You Were Here Tanzania, 1964. When Katie Barstow, A-list actress, and her new husband, David Hill, decide to bring their Hollywood friends to the Serengeti for their honeymoon, they envision giraffes gently eating leaves from the tall acacia trees, great swarms of wildebeests crossing the Mara River, and herds of zebras storming the sandy plains. Their glamorous guests--including Katie's best friend, Carmen Tedesco, and Terrance Dutton, the celebrated Black actor who stars alongside Katie in the highly controversial film Tender Madness--will spend their days taking photos, and their evenings drinking chilled gin and tonics back at camp, as the local Tanzanian guides warm water for their baths. The wealthy Americans expect civilized adventure: fresh ice from the kerosene-powered ice maker, dinners of cooked gazelle meat, and plenty of stories to tell over lunch back on Rodeo Drive.   What Katie and her glittering entourage do not expect is this: a kidnapping gone wrong, their guides bleeding out in the dirt, and a team of Russian mercenaries herding their hostages into Land Rovers, guns to their heads. As the powerful sun gives way to night, the gunmen shove them into abandoned huts and Katie Barstow, Hollywood royalty, prays for a simple thing: to see the sun rise one more time. A blistering story of fame, race, love, and death set in a world on the cusp of great change, The Lioness is a vibrant masterpiece from one of our finest storytellers.  … (more)
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A movie star, her husband, costar, best friend, and others join her honeymoon safari in the Serengeti Tanzania, that goes all wrong when they’re party is attacked. Who will live, who will die (and how)? Each chapter is told from the perspective of one of the party members, with cutaways to their non-African life that helps us understand the characters, their motivations, and why these bad things happened to them. I loved the structure and the story. ( )
  KarenMonsen | Jun 28, 2022 |
The story of a young movie star who decides she wants to honeymoon on Safari. She invites her brother, his wife and several close friends on what turns out to be a terrorist event of sorts. Details of the safari are well drawn and the course of events is exciting. ( )
  waldhaus1 | Jun 14, 2022 |
The Lioness, Chris Bohjalian, author; January LaVoy, Grace Experience, Gabrielle De Cuir, narrators
Gosh, I could not wait for this book to be available. Bohjalian is one of my favorite authors. This book misses the mark for me, however. The narrative is tedious, the story is confusing. The timeline is all over the place. There are too many characters, too many tangents and too many scene changes.
Basically, the story is about a young film star who is having a storybook wedding and then taking the wedding party to Africa on a Safari. They expect to be having a wonderful time in luxurious tents with guides and rangers for protection. Their expectations go horrendously awry, and soon they are kidnapped and witness horrific violence and cruelty. The time is 1964. The place is Africa. The reasons for their kidnapping are eventually revealed as political. Corruption is apparent.
Perhaps in print, it would have been easier to follow the many threads of the novel, but as an audio, although the readers did their best, it simply wasn’t good enough to prevent the reading from becoming tedious. If you are familiar with Hollywood, if you have been to Africa, if you are of an age to at least know the stars mentioned throughout, the political issues involved in Africa, Russia and the United States, you might truly enjoy the book’s descriptions of the Serengeti and the animals, the descriptions of the brutality of both humans and beasts,. but being well versed in just one of those threads would simply not be enough. The details often seemed extraneous, unnecessary or unknown, and were often not explained clearly enough.
I was disappointed to find that Bohjalian also succumbed to the demands of our newly “woke” society, including left wing philosophy into his novel. Racist views, anti-American feelings, secret government interference via the CIA, and environmental issues are front and center, sometimes overtaking the actual horror of the kidnapping experience and its historic impact. For me, the novel, unlike his others, felt contrived and not as authentic.
In conclusion, I found that there were far more lions than lionesses, but there were some lambs, as well. The history is there, but it just isn’t the main event as with most of his books. ( )
  thewanderingjew | Jun 12, 2022 |
Bestselling author Chris Bohjalian says his inspiration for The Lioness was movies. He loves them. One day in 2019 he found himself wondering why he had never written a Hollywood novel or a book set in the era in which he grew up, the 1960's and 70's. He had to think of a locale to which he could transport Hollywood people and put them in jeopardy. In the 1960's, the Simba rebellion was unfolding as East Africa sought to escape from colonialism, so he decided on the Serengeti with a simple premise: "The biggest star in Hollywood finally gets married and decides to bring her entire entourage with her on a honeymoon safari" which quickly goes horribly wrong.

Bohjalian and his wife were lucky to go on safari in the Serengeti to conduct research in October 2019, a trip he describes as "life-changing for me as a human being and as a novelist." Far from civilization, he watched the wildebeest cross the Mara River, and observed instances of natural predators conquering their prey. He also had the opportunity to pose numerous, frequently macabre, questions to his knowledgeable guides, who assured him that the key to remaining safe on safari is following the directions provided. The guides explained that exiting a vehicle or leaving a tent at night can prove deadly because "there are so many animals (including snakes) and trees that will kill you." Bohjalian deftly incorporates those tangible dangers into The Lioness, making it terrifyingly suspenseful. Some of his characters fail to heed the guides' warnings, while others find themselves in the wild without their guides by their side through no fault of their own. Regardless, many of Bohjalian's characters are forced to use what knowledge they possess about nature in an effort to stay alive. Not all of them succeed.

The Lioness is a masterfully crafted, engrossing story of a thirty-year-old actress, Katie Barstow, who is a major Hollywood star. She and her older brother, Billy, are the children of acclaimed stage actors who were abusive. They grew up on Central Park West in a sprawling apartment and Billy bore the brunt of their mother's toxicity as their father mostly just went along with her actions. Katie has just married Billy's lifetime best friend, David Hill, whose family resided in the same New York City apartment building. David owns a struggling art gallery in Beverly Hills, and insists that his father works for the CIA but is a 'paper-pusher" laboring in the agency's personnel department. Billy is married for the second time to Margie and they are expecting their first child.

Accompanying them on the safari are Felix Demeter, a screenwriter, and his wife, Carmen Tedesco, an actress who has appeared in films with Katie in supporting roles; actor Terrence Dutton, Katie's co-star and good friend; Reggie Stout, Katie's publicist; and Katie's agent, Peter Merrick. Charlie Patton, renowned for leading hunting safaris with Ernest Hemingway, among others, leads the expedition.

Four days into the safari, the group is kidnapped by evil Russian mercenaries and Bohjalian takes readers along with his characters on a harrowing journey. They are transported in two groups by armed captors led by an intriguing and intermittently charming leader "with ice-blue eyes and a nose that a casting director would kill for if he ever needed a boxer." As the characters attempt to discern the motive for their abduction, they witness and are subjected to appalling violence. Individually and collectively, they assess whether they can outsmart and overpower their kidnappers, and make their way to freedom. But, of course, they are far from civilization with no idea how far they might have to travel to enlist help. And they are in the Serengeti, surrounded by wildlife including leopards, hyenas, and venomous snakes, so they are forced to weight the risks, including the very real possibility that they might evade their abductors only to perish in the wild. The setting is inarguably one of Bohjalian's characters, and he vividly describes the landscape, making readers feel the remoteness and isolation, and looming presence of those things that will kill you. He unsparingly details the dangers his characters encounter. "Character and geography intersect in all of my books," he notes, but they are inextricably and palpably intertwined in The Lioness.

The narrative structure of The Lioness is creative and highly effective. The Prologue, related via a first-person narrative from, presumably, the Lioness, declares, "We went there and (most of us, anyway) died there in 1964." Each successive chapter focuses on a specific character. Bohjalian reveals both the character's history and relationship with the other characters, as well as his/her expectations for the trip and what they are experiencing in Africa. Readers learn about the characters' Hollywood careers and alliances. Bohjalian propels the story forward at a steady pace, but his deftly-timed respites from his characters' fraught circumstances allow readers to understand, relate to (or not), and develop emotional attachments to the characters so that they become invested in the characters' fates. Some of the characters are innocent victims who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. And for some of them, the horror they are experiencing dredges up painful memories. For instance, Katie and Billy's mother used to lock him in a large closet in their home for hours at a time. So when, with his hands and feet bound, he is tossed into a dark hut where all manner of creepy, crawly things might attack, the abuse he sustained as a child intensifies his fears and anxiety. Bohjalian acquaints readers with Benjamin Kikwete, a porter and guest liaison, who proclaims that he'd "rather die charging like a rhino than bleating like a goat." His story is nothing less than heartbreaking, if inspiring. Some of the characters harbor dark secrets and scandalous pasts that, if brought to light, would cause relationships to fracture and derail careers. Some are betrayers . . . some have been betrayed, but may not know it.

The Lioness is a cautionary tale about fame. Like the Serengeti, Hollywood is a critically important character in the book. At the beginning of each chapter, Bohjalian includes blurbs -- some actual, some invented -- from a magazine or newspaper that was published in 1964, among them The Hollywood Reporter and Movie Confidential. To do so, he researched the popular movie magazines of the era, dubbing them "Twitter's ancestor." Much the way social media does today, those magazines influenced the public's beliefs and perceptions about actors and actresses, often exploiting but sometimes keeping performers' secrets, and spreading fake news. Bohjalian also weaves pop culture history into the story, including references to stars of the day. For example, famed Caucasian film director Otto Preminger dated Dorothy Dandridge, a Black actress, but their relationship was "only alluded to" in the magazines and trade publications. As the story progresses, Bohjalian cleverly unveils how fame plays into his characters' predicament, paving the way for the horrors they experience.

And Bohjalian also explores racial tensions. Terrence Dutton, a successful Black actor, recently co-starred in a film with Katie. They have been great friends for some time, but their relationship has remained platonic, in part, because if a romance became public, Katies observes, Terrence would never again work in Hollywood. The movie they made was controversial and one particular scene stopped short of their characters kissing. Bohjalian examines how Terrence's experiences and complex emotions as a Black American visiting Africa differ from those of the other members of the group. He interacts not only with his traveling companions, but also with the African guides and porters who work for Charlie Patton. For example, Benjamin is thrilled to be serving the group and notes how down-to-earth Terrence is. He can't wait to tell his father that Terrence, who is only the third Black man from America Benjamin has ever met, told Benjamin to address him by his first name. Will he get the chance?

Reminiscent of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None and, more recently, Peter Swanson's Nine Lives, characters are eliminated, one by one, in various dramatic and horrific ways. Simultaneously, Bohjalian reveals who organized the kidnapping and why, pulling together various story threads and clues dropped along the way, and again demonstrating what an adept and creative storyteller he is.

The Lioness is an engrossing, entertaining, and wildly inventive mystery populated with fully developed, compelling characters. It's a page-turner -- an adventure set in the most exotic location imaginable -- filled with plenty of themes to keep readers both guessing and thinking about the price of fame and glamor, and how well anyone can really ever know those closest to them. What might they do if faced with similar threats? And what about the title character? Who is The Lioness? Does she survive? Once again, Bohjalian has created a strong female character who exhibits bravery, determination, and resolve she did not even know she possessed until faced with unimaginable danger. By the end of the story, she confesses, "I really do see myself in my mind as a lioness . . ."

Thanks to NetGalley for an Advance Reader's Copy of the book. ( )
  JHSColloquium | Jun 9, 2022 |
A famous actress takes an entourage on an African safari on her honeymoon trip. The glamour and wonder end when they are kidnapped by a mysterious group of Russian mercenaries. I was riveted by the plot and the characters, all set against the backdrop of the beauty and terror of Africa, specifically the Serengeti plain. ( )
  cherybear | Jun 1, 2022 |
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A luxurious African safari turns deadly for a Hollywood starlet and her entourage in this riveting historical thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of The Flight Attendant.   "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." --Jodi Picoult, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Wish You Were Here Tanzania, 1964. When Katie Barstow, A-list actress, and her new husband, David Hill, decide to bring their Hollywood friends to the Serengeti for their honeymoon, they envision giraffes gently eating leaves from the tall acacia trees, great swarms of wildebeests crossing the Mara River, and herds of zebras storming the sandy plains. Their glamorous guests--including Katie's best friend, Carmen Tedesco, and Terrance Dutton, the celebrated Black actor who stars alongside Katie in the highly controversial film Tender Madness--will spend their days taking photos, and their evenings drinking chilled gin and tonics back at camp, as the local Tanzanian guides warm water for their baths. The wealthy Americans expect civilized adventure: fresh ice from the kerosene-powered ice maker, dinners of cooked gazelle meat, and plenty of stories to tell over lunch back on Rodeo Drive.   What Katie and her glittering entourage do not expect is this: a kidnapping gone wrong, their guides bleeding out in the dirt, and a team of Russian mercenaries herding their hostages into Land Rovers, guns to their heads. As the powerful sun gives way to night, the gunmen shove them into abandoned huts and Katie Barstow, Hollywood royalty, prays for a simple thing: to see the sun rise one more time. A blistering story of fame, race, love, and death set in a world on the cusp of great change, The Lioness is a vibrant masterpiece from one of our finest storytellers.  

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