2017 Reviews · action · Adventure · Africa · Australian · fiction · historical fiction

Book Review: Congo Dawn by Katherine Scholes

Title: Congo Dawncongo dawn

Author:  Katherine Scholes

Published: April 3rd 2017

Publisher: Penguin Books Australia

Pages: 608

Genres: Fiction

RRP: $32.99

Rating: 4.5

You can’t go back and change the past. All you have left is the future.

Melbourne secretary Anna Emerson’s life is turned upside down when a stranger hands her a plane ticket to the Congo. The newly independent country is in turmoil, Simba rebels are on the move – but the invitation holds a precious clue to the whereabouts of her estranged father.

Dan Miller signs up as a mercenary commando to fight the Communist uprising. He supports the cause, but that’s not really why he’s there. A devastating tragedy has taken all meaning from his life, and he’s got nothing left to lose.

In the Congo, Dan’s belief in the war begins to crumble. Anna heads deeper into danger as she travels from a grand colonial mansion to an abandoned hotel on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, to a leprosy mission in the jungle and beyond. Their two paths collide through circumstances more extraordinary than fate.

Inspired by real events, Congo Dawn combines epic drama with an intimate journey into the heart of a fractured family, as two characters, in search of people they lost, at last find a way to come home. It is a landmark novel about good and evil, and the inexhaustible power of love.

My review:

Katherine Scholes marks her seventh novel by marrying together the countries of Australia and Africa. Congo Dawn is a book filled with adventure, history, politics and the unearthing of one young woman’s family roots.

Congo Dawn’s story begins in Melbourne with Anna Emerson, a young secretary who finds her life suddenly turned upside down by the unexpected news that her estranged father is dying and wants her to return to Africa. Anna left Africa as a young girl with her mother for a new life in Australia and she has turned her back on the country of her birth many moons ago. However, there is no doubt that Anna feels the emotional pull of returning to the place of her birth and connecting again with her absent father, despite her mother’s stiff opposition. When Anna reaches Africa, she realises her freshly independent home country is in much strife, overrun by dangerous rebels, called the Simba. As Anna makes the perilous and eventful journey back to Africa, a man named Dan Miller’s story begins to converge with Anna’s. Dan is a mercenary commando in Africa, fighting against an uprising coming from the communist cause. Eventually Dan’s belief in the war begins to disintegrate, but the past the haunts him and he continues on his quest, in the hope it will bring him the meaning he has lost in his life. As Dan battles his beliefs, Anna’s life takes a turn for the worse and she is put directly in the path of danger. Anna’s search for her family roots takes her on quite the wild goose chase, from an opulent mansion, through to a mission and finally the dangers of the African jungle. Eventually Dan and Anna’s lives converge, highlighting the power of fate in bringing two lost souls together.

Katherine Scholes is an African born, Australian based writer I have come to love. When I read my first Katherine Scholes book, The Perfect Life, in 2013, I knew there was something special about this writer. Scholes has the ability to bring the wilds of Africa to an Australian reader who has never had the opportunity to visit this spectacular country. I believe Congo Dawn is Scholes best work yet. I greatly admired this epic historical saga.  Congo Dawn takes the reader directly from the city of Melbourne in Australia in the 1960’s, through to the untamed beauty of Africa. Anna’s search for her ancestry in Africa is an effective tale of how far one woman will go to uncover her heritage.

What I loved about Congo Dawn was the fact that this novel is told from the author’s heart. By basing her story in the place of her childhood and upbringing, Congo Dawn comes across as deeply authentic, despite it being a work of fiction. Scholes has successfully interwoven her own recollections from her life in Africa and incorporated this into the struggle faced by a young woman from Melbourne.

Scholes takes a strong emotional approach to her characters. Dan was an overwhelming character.  I felt much emotional pain and heartache for Dan as the book progressed. His story is sad and will be sure to tug at your heartstrings. Scholes uses the character of Dan to show us how deeply penetrating the loss of parental rights can be, the loneliness that comes with situation and how it has the power to haunt this person for years to come. Anna’s pathway is also far from ideal. With Anna’s mother firstly dismissing Anna’s attempts to connect with her father, then refusing to give details of her true birth away, actually incited a great deal of distaste for Anna’s mother. Anna is a beautiful soul who has been touched by deception and misunderstanding. I admired her determination in seeking out her family roots, on a journey that was dangerous for a young woman travelling alone in Africa. The sections in the novel based on the mission where Anna finds herself for a time really displayed Anna’s growth of character.

The landscape is a true starring feature of this novel and almost stands on its own two feet as a separate character. Scholes uses the landscape of Africa to show us how obstinate and harsh this country can be. Scholes uses Anna’s adventure in the jungle and Dan’s war mission work to show us the terrifying natural beauty of Africa’s landscape. The land is untamed but brimming with magnificent creatures, which had me in awe many times in the novel. Scholes also offers up a stark contrast in extreme wealth, to the dirt poor, which is expressed in vivid detail in this novel.

Scholes sets her scene well, portraying a time and place marked by uncertainty, war, turmoil and conflict. Scholes interweaves her mesmerising narrative around Anna’s search with real life key events of the time in the Congo. There is much to learn historically and politically speaking about the battles, exploitation, wealth struggles and atrocities that occurred in Africa at this time. Scholes is highly versed in the troubles of the country at this point in time.

There is a grand touch of drama and a focus on family roots in Congo Dawn.  Romance takes a backseat in this novel, barely touched upon as the search for family takes centre stage. This part of the story was endearing and definitely provided me with the impetus to continue with Anna’s story until the bitter end. I liked how Scholes used the narrative strategy of concealing the connection between the two different stories until much later into the novel. The final turn of events highlights the power of never giving up and it delivered a flooring twist of fate, which was almost too good to be true for our lead character Anna!

Congo Dawn is a historical saga at the height of excellence. With a breathtaking and compelling setting, a narrative that draws you in and characters you come to treasure, this book has so much to offer.

Congo Dawn by Katherine Scholes was published on April 3rd 2017 by Penguin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of Congo Dawn, Katherine Scholes, visit here.

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