Title: Olive the Lionheart: Lost Love, Imperial Spies, and One Woman's Journey into the Heart of Africa
Author: Brad Ricca
Publication Information: St. Martin's Press. 2020. 400 pages.
ISBN: 1250207010 / 978-1250207012
Book Source: I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.
Opening Sentence: "Olive was dreaming."
Favorite Quote: "Olive had not yet arrived at her destination. Yet already she had seen monsters."
A waterfall in the heart of Africa is named after Olive Macleod. Olive Macleod was an explorer. She did not start off as such. She was born in 1880 in Ireland to an affluent family. A chance meeting with Lieutenant Boyd Alexander led to a relationship and promises of marriage. Boyd Alexander was an African explorer. Soon after their meeting, he returned to Africa with promises to return. The relationship continued through letters. Then, news came that he had died - been murdered - in Africa. Grief drove Olive Macleod to journey to Africa to visit his grave.
What a journey it was! She and her group travelled across the ocean. On land, they travelled about 3,000 miles via foot, horseback, and litters through areas that had never been visited by a white woman. The impact of that exploration went far beyond Olive Macleod's personal journey. The French who had authority over the region applauded her courage by naming one of the region's waterfalls for her.
This is the journey that this book attempts to capture. As the introduction itself describes, "It is a narrative based on factual sources: a book, diaries, journals, letters, phones and drawings, and other first person accounts." Olive Macleod's story is one of courage, danger, perseverance, and discovery. For teaching me this history which I may never have encountered, I applaud and love the book.
That being said, the telling of the story leaves me a bit baffled. For me, it does not capture the very real adventure and the drama that must have been this journey. The book travels back and forth through time It tells of the journey. It also tells of the time that Olive Macleod and Boyd Alexander met and their very brief in-person courtship. It then continues interspersing with the travels letters that Olive Macleod and Boyd Alexander wrote to each other. As a result, it seems to me to focus more on the emotional reason for Olive Macleod's journey rather than the journey itself. I do wonder if this is because the story is that of a female explorer? If the genders were reversed, would the story still have been told in the same way?
In the same way, the telling of the story does not for me capture the wonder and grandeur of the setting or the cultures the Olive Macleod must have encountered. For a book about an explorer, I cannot picture what they saw. The discussion of the surroundings often occurred in the difficulties of traveling them. The discussion of the wildlife came in the context of hunts. The discussion of the cultures and people encountered showed the elitist and superior attitudes of the explorers towards the "natives."
From the history, Olive Macleod sounds like a courageous, formidable woman. I love the premise of telling her story and the story of the lands she travelled. I just wish I had seen more of that than the romance. I was hoping for the story of an explorer and of the exploration. I got the story of the romance. Nevertheless, I am glad to have discovered the history of Olive Macleod.