IN SPITE OF LIONS SUMMARY
After a lifetime of abuse, Anna leaves home, but not to run away. Rather she runs towards freedom when she heads to Africa. On her journey there she befriends Mary Livingstone, the wife of missionary David Livingstone. Upon her arrival on foreign shores, she follows the Livingston family into the African interior to help with their work.
“It is necessary that you work against the pain of the body to make it stronger so that you may be a strong African woman,” she explained. “It will hurt, Miss Anna. But does that make it bad?”
However, Anna’s previous life has left her unprepared for the challenges of her new one. Though she finds acceptance from the tribal chief, the villagers greet her with suspicion.
While learning the basic tasks of daily survival, Anna also finds herself in the center of political conflict between the Boers and her new African family. And all the while a past she hasn’t come to terms with yet still haunts her.
The synopsis of In Spite of Lions intrigued me, as did the excellent reviews. I also rarely run across books featuring this type of content and historical setting.
The story differs a bit from what I expected. But the story fulfilled its’ promise of transporting me completely to another world.
A WORLD OF CHARACTERS
One thing I appreciate about historical fiction is that I’m often able to “meet” people who are long dead. I knew little about the Livingstones prior to reading In Spite of Lions, but now, like Anna, I feel I’ve lived among them.
Their total commitment to their calling is matched by their true love for the people they lived amongst. But perhaps even more admirable is their marriage. It is not only a love match but a union of hearts devoted to service and sacrifice. It’s a beautiful depiction of a mature relationship founded on something more than emotion.
Mary had prepared biscuits and some vegetable soup. I asked her if she always provided refreshment. “Neither civilization nor Christianity can be promoted alone,” she spoke wisely. “If they are encouraged to strengthen their spirits by strengthening their bodies, I am happy to oblige.”
One person I did not expect to meet was the Livingstone’s friend and Bakwena tribal leader Chief Sechele. He is perhaps the most unique character I’ve ever found in a story. Especially fascinating is his love of all things British, passion for learning and commitment to his newfound faith.
Matched with his fierce protectiveness, surprising wisdom and childlike enjoyment of life he seems almost unbelievable. I honestly thought the author made him up. But he is also a real historical figure who perhaps was even more of a missionary to his people than David Livingstone.
With only the bare necessities I was the happiest I had ever been. Mother had been wrong. Joy was not where she found it. When I sat very still, I could find gladness in a moment, without anything in my hands.
But In Spite of Lions is really Anna’s story. The author frames Anna’s decision to leave everything she has ever known as a choice of faith, not of fear. This sets the tone for her physical and emotional journey from victim to survivor.
It’s hard to imagine how anyone could willingly face the hardships and dangers of life in Africa as she does. And there are plenty; political instability, the threat of war, learning daily survival skills, animal attacks and drought.
I could feel the dusty heat of a land without water, the utter dryness of cracking lips and eyes with no moisture for tears. Not to mention the fear and despair of those whose dependence on the weather leaves them with no control over when water will be available. It’s a sobering reminder of how much we take for granted.
But despite all these challenges, Anna not only learns to thrive but grows into a woman of selfless courage.
PROS AND CONS
Fans of historical romances may be a bit disappointed in In Spite of Lions as it’s not a main focus of the book. There is a romance that develops for Anna, but it feels a bit tacked on rather than organic to her development.
Also, the book presents a more sympathetic view of British colonialism in Africa than history conveys. The conflict which would eventually lead to their war with the Boers is more complex. The novel portrays the Boers as the villains, which is not completely historically accurate.
The presence of the Livingstones as main characters in this book necessitates the inclusion of a faith thread. But it’s mostly conveyed through their lifestyle and work among the Bakwena than preached. So, the faith message is organic to the story and not overtly proselytizing.
Overall, I found In Spite of Lions turned my expectations on their head in a good way. This is a great fit for fans of historical fiction who appreciate a well-researched story with interesting characters.
In Spite of Lions would make an excellent feature film. The Livingstones and Chief Sechele are historical figures whose lives are the perfect inspiration for a movie.
Not to mention, the story is compelling and the setting is not one we often see on screen. I only have one suggestion for casting. Emma Watson’s blend of outward fragility and inward strength is a perfect match for Anna.
Content Note: A descriptive scene of an animal mauling is included. Battle scene violence is also described.
You can buy the book on Amazon HERE.
Have you read the book, In Spite of Lions? If you haven’t, are you interested in checking it out? Let me know your thoughts on the book in the comments.