In Chasing the Leopard, Finding the Lion, Julie Wakeman-Linn takes her readers to a late 90’s Zimbabwe that was or is still in political turmoil and Zambia. The book was published in 2012 by Mkuki na Nyota publishers Ltd.
The story begins in Bumi Hills Lodge, Hwange, Zimbabwe where Isaac and Brett work. Aside from being work colleagues, these two are like brothers. Their parents are large-scale farmers and close friends even though Brett’s family is white and Isaac’s black. They grew up together, with Brett’s mother, Ruth becoming like second mother to Isaac when he lost his own. Despite the great kinship they have between them, they are very different character wise. Brett’s other close companion is his Nikon- his love for filming and photographing the wildlife is endearing while Isaac is happiest at the farm, tinkering with beat up engines and old generators and mechanics. And he loves politics, he always participates in the anti government protests in Harare- something that could put his and his families’ lives in danger. On his way home from a protest he has a run-in with the presidential guard and he is assaulted. This is shortly followed by an arrest warrant.
And so begins his exile in neighboring Zambia. With Brett by his side, the journey to Zambia turns out to be more of an adventure and a challenge at the same time- from encountering an elephant blocking the road, to rescuing a young woman from drunken idlers, to job searching, to Brett’s phobia of the city and its congestion, to meeting diplomats and finding love and above all safety.
The differences between the two countries are palpable as one reads on. As some characters observe: “…. Wildlife conservation is something Zimbabwe does so much better than Zambia……Zambia has the advantage in politics.” The author creates vivid images of the rich and immense wild-life in the Zimbabwean veldt, a great contrast to its violent politics; whereas for Zambia, visions of starving animals captive in zoos describe the lack of wildlife conservation even though it had more stable politics.
The two main characters of Brett and Isaac are well portrayed- one is able to understand the political turmoil in Zimbabwe through their own and their families’ experiences. Yet the story isn’t cruel, but the feeling of loss, dictatorship is obvious and the vivid description of the wild and human life if only to make relevance to the title makes it an interesting read. It’s no wonder that the book was a finalist for Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellwether Prize Literature for Social Change. The story’s ending however, gives bright hope for the life that begins afresh in another country, it could be the beginning of “……good luck, good fortune” or even discovering new talents.
Julie Wakeman-Linn teaches at Montgomery College in Washington DC and edits the Potomac Review. Her other works include ‘Their Voices, their stories’ an anthology and she is currently working ‘The thief, the housekeeper and the young diplomat wife’. In her own words “writing is thinking; writing is sharing experience” so one can only hope for more of her books in the future.