Sunday, August 12, 2012

Lions, and Gorillas and Asperger's, Oh My!

Three Weeks in December by Audrey Schulman is a great summer book, and I'm not sure why more people aren't reading it!  I almost skipped it myself, because I though it sounded too much like State of Wonder  by Ann Patchett.  Like State of Wonder, Three Weeks is about a woman researching new medicines in a jungle.  But really, the similarities end there.

Three Weeks alternates between the story of Max, the woman referenced above, which is set in 2000 and the story of Jeremy, an engineer who is trying to build a railroad bridge, which is set in 1899 and 1900.  Both Max and Jeremy are from Bangor, Maine, and both travel to Africa for their work.  Max and Jeremy face the challenges of Africa in their times, and find themselves acclimating more than they expected.

When we read State of Wonder, the Friends Book Group discussed whether or not the character, Dr. Swenson, had Asperger's Syndrome.  I, personally, ruled out Asperger's, and declared her a psychopath.  In Three Weeks, Max is open about the fact that she is "an Aspie".  She has spent a lifetime studying the behaviors of  typical people, who she calls "normals", in order to figure out what she should do in every situation.  Max's mom has helped her to fit in, while accepting her as she is.  There is one touching scene in which we hear that since Max can't hug people, when she wants to hug her mom, they sit near each other on the couch, each hugging the other's empty winter coat.  Schulman does a great job of explaining Aspergers though Max's actions, and Max's declarations to others.  In that sense, this book had a little of the feel of Still Alice by Lisa Genova, where Genova educated the reader about early onset Alzheimer's.  For Max, her Aspergers' becomes an advantage when she begins to study the gorillas who are said to chew on the plant that she came to Africa to find.

Jeremy's story starts off as a story of American arrogance, reminding me of The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.  Like the father in Posionwood, Jeremy is certain that if he could just bring enough American tools, techniques, and determination to Africa, the continent could be transformed.  As with the father in Poisonwood, the jungle fights back, establishing itself as a force to be reckoned with.  Jeremy also struggles to fit in with society, both in the US and Africa, and occasionally looks a little "Aspie" himself. 

In Max's time, there is a group of child soldiers, called the Kutu, who are armed with weapons, and rumored to be cannibals.  Throughout the story, they are constantly creeping closer and closer to Max's research station.  In Jeremy's time, there are man-eating lions who are hunting and eating his workers.  Jeremy becomes an unlikely hunter, but is also aware that the lions are on his trail.  The reader is always wondering whether both Jeremy and Max, one of them, or neither of them, will make it out of Africa alive.

All told, Three Weeks in December is a page turner, full of action and ethical issues.  It would be a great book group book, because even at the end there is a lot to discuss.

That's one more down for the Support Your Library Challenge!

Next up:  The Grown-Ups by Victoria Glendinning

Still Listening to:  Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult.  I am liking this one much more than I expected!  You'll hear more about it soon . . .

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