When Lions Roar
Two women from different lands, each struggling to survive; a child’s mysterious disappearance will alter both their lives forever…
Maggie has become unrecognizable to herself, succumbing to the predictability of being a mother and wife. Every day she reminds her daughter to brush her teeth, has the same conversation with her husband about what’s for dinner. Maggie struggles to cope with the disenchantment of the monotonous tedium that has become her life. Despite her boredom, when her husband David is called on assignment to South Africa, Maggie resents having to rearrange her life just because David has decided they all need to traipse halfway across the globe.
While on safari, Maggie awakens one morning to a mother’s worst nightmare; their daughter Hannah has gone missing. Just when things can’t get any worse, Maggie is confronted with the harsh truth of her emotionally abusive marriage and what she has allowed her life to become.
When Lions Roar is set against the backdrop of the exotic and intriguing landscape of South Africa, when the country is reeling from the aftershocks of apartheid. Will Maggie find the strength and courage to abandon the fragile ties of her marriage and confront her self-destruction in time to save the life of her daughter?
Maggie is a difficult character to connect with. She puts up with abuse, blames herself, and drinks heavily. After she leaves David, she comes into her own a bit, running a gift shop in the village near where Hannah vanished, but she’s understandably preoccupied with her missing daughter. Gruber accurately depicts a sheltered white American woman’s hyperawareness of being surrounded by Africans, but Maggie’s exoticizing of the villagers can be painful to read, even when it’s couched in positive terms such as being “astounded” by their artistic ability.
The fairy tale of the Golden Creature is more compelling than Maggie’s troubles, but frequently repeated elements, such as the prophecy, can be wearying for adult readers. A white girl taking a savior role in Africa may also give readers pause. The novel’s saving grace is the simple yet eloquent prose (“The elephants are defyingly enormous,” Maggie marvels), which nimbly evokes the setting. Even when it’s challenging to read, Gruber’s unusual bifurcate story showcases her ability to immerse readers in a time and place and get deep in her characters’ heads.
Takeaway: Readers who appreciate fantastical elements in a contemporary novel will be drawn to this story about a woman’s escape from a harmful marriage and a girl’s mystical connection to South Africa’s wild animals.
Great for fans of Marissa Honeycutt, Ker Dukey.
Design and typography: A+
Marketing copy: A-