In 1899 Jeremy, a young engineer, leaves a small town in Maine to oversee the construction of a railroad across East Africa. In charge of hundreds of Indian laborers, he soon finds himself the reluctant hunter of two lions that are killing his men in almost nightly attacks on their camp. Plagued by fear, wracked with malaria and alienated by a secret he can tell no one, he takes increasing solace in the company of the African who helps him hunt. In 2000 Max, an American ethnobotonist, travels to Rwanda in search of an obscure vine that could become a lifesaving pharmaceutical. Stationed in the mountains, she closely shadows a family of gorillas, the last of their group to survive the encroachment of local poachers. Max bears a striking gift for understanding the ape's non-verbal communication, but their precarious solidarity is threatened as a violent rebel group from the nearby Congo draws close.
"I just finished Audrey Schulman's new novel, Three Weeks in December and have to say it was a vividly memorable journey, inhabited by unforgettable beings, both human and nonhuman... Every spare moment I found myself wanting to see what was going to happen next in this page-turner alternating chapters about its two protagonists, separated by a century, but with their origins in Maine in common, as well as their unexpected opportunities/choices to go to Africa, where both encounter experiences beyond imagining.
Jeremy is an engineer in 1899 and has a difficult assignment: to manage a railroad construction project and deal with the ravenous lions that keep getting past barricades to pick off his workers. Max is an ethnobotonist in 2000 who is given the task of locating a plant that seems to be sparing mountain gorillas the heart disease that dogs their cousins in zoos. Jeremy's challenges are compounded by the fact that he is gay, and Max's by the fact that she has Asperger's and her search is taking place in the middle of a war zone terrorized by child soldiers.
Schulman's writing evokes an Africa beseiged by colonizing influences that both characters collude with in growing awareness and ambivalence, and both are blasted open by being thrust into a context that liberates them from some of the strictures of a 'civilized' life of relative privilege and ignorance. At the same time, the dangers encountered bring more of their aliveness to the surface than they might have dreamed possible before in their more conventional lives that never quite felt aligned with their destinies back in Maine. Nuanced and moving forward with an uneasy sense of the potential for life-threatening violence, both lives grow more complex, but more vibrantly accepting of their fated peculiarities as senses are inevitably heightened in the sometimes deadly, sometimes fascinatingly beautiful landscape of Africa."