"All I wanted to do now was get back to Africa. We had not left it yet, but when I would wake in the night, I would lie, listening, homesick for it already." – Ernest Hemingway
It all starts with a trip to Africa. In Rules of the Wild by Francesca Marciano, Esme’s father has died and she realizes that her life needs to change. She says, “I needed to go somewhere where my body would be the only tool required to survive, a place where I would be able to test my fear, rather than putting off the moment I had to face it.” Africa definitely fits the bill. Here she will be tested and challenged until she discovers who she really is. What starts out as just a vacation with her boyfriend-at-the-time, P. (who doesn’t even get a full name) becomes something much more when she decides to stay. “Everything can be changed,” she says.
At the beginning, she spends her time going on safaris and to dinner parties with the other wazungus, white people. Most of the expats have a rather colonial attitude—they go about their own business, giving little thought to the troubles of the native Africans. The two men she forms relationships with represent two sides of herself, two philosophies to live by—and she must choose one. There is Adam, a Kenyan-born safari leader, who is sympathetic, but almost places more importance on the land than the people. Then there is Hunter, a war correspondent, who has seen the tragedies of Rwanda and Somalia and keeps Esme aware that this, too, is Africa, and something she has to deal with, if she is to stay.
What kind of a person is she and where does she stand, morally, in relation to her adopted continent? Can she resign herself to the paradox that is Africa: beautiful, yet deadly; hopeful, yet tragic?
Marciano’s writing has been compared to Flaubert, Ondaatje’s The English Patient, and Dinesen’s Out of Africa—lyrical and intense. You won’t want to put it down until you come to the end. This book is ranked at the top of my “Favorites” list for travel-related fiction. It gives you a strong sense of place. Marciano has two other novels in OC Public Libraries. Just as Rules of the Wild will pull you into Africa, Casa Rossa will do the same for Italy and The End of Manners for Afghanistan.