I came to this book by way of Margaret Mead. As a young (delusional) wannabe Anthropology major, I was captivated by the rather colorful women (Goodall being another) in a field that, in the early 20th century, was dominated by men. I longed for that kind of adventure, that kind of study where one immersed oneself in trying to understand a culture, a group (a species, in the case of Goodall). So it was with great gusto that I jumped in.
Now, to be fair, this is a tidy little book that does a nice job of telling a story without too many glaring problems. But for me this book fell short. I think it was a case of neither here nor there–neither fiction nor non-fiction. If this book were purely fiction then I guess it would have succeeded on some level–good story, (marginally) interesting characters, an exotic setting . . . . But because she dangled the “inspired by the events in Margaret Mead’s life” carrot, I expected so much more. I wanted to believe this was a work of non-fiction, but she was very careful to say, at the outset, that this was fiction, merely “inspired by” not attributed to a real-life person.
I’m not sure why King didn’t go whole hog and just do the research necessary to make this a biographical piece (or even a piece of “creative nonfiction”)–lack of primary source material (I find that hard to believe given the work they did and the volume of notes they must surely have kept as a result, as well as given the notoriety of the original characters), lack of permission, lack of stamina? But she didn’t. Everything was very superficial. If nothing else, she could have researched the setting itself, the culture, the tribe, and drawn us in that way, but no.
This book gave me nothing to sink my teeth into. It made me wonder, given this gem of a story, given these scandalous characters, this colorful locale, WWEL–what would Erik Larson do?