Review of ‘Dian’s Ghost’ by Justine Saracen
Well, this was a fantastic read for the not so faint of heart!
This was food for thought from the beginning. And I mean ethical dilemmas that I’m not sure anyone has a clear answer to. It starts with Dana Norland committing a double murder in New York City. As the police pursue her, she enters Columbia University and manages to blend in with students in an auditorium. The speaker that day happened to be Kristen Wolfe, previous assistant to Dian Fossey and current director of Karisoke, the gorilla research facility Fossey founded in Rwanda.
Dana posses as a biology student and willingly signs up to work at the research center, away from her crimes. Once in Rwanda, she realizes her inner struggles have followed her there, and the guilt simply mixes with new emotions tied to the gorillas and their daily struggle for survival. The story takes many turns as the mains find themselves in the middle of the war against poaching and the genocide that tore the country apart in the mid-nineties.
The book blurb and categories it is officially listed under are a little misleading in my opinion. The story is simply better and more compelling in every way. Although a secondary theme, there is some romance in this story. It is also a historical fiction piece and not a straight general fiction/adventure story. The blurb mentions Fossey’s ghost too, but this was not a literal ghost story at all. It was more about her legacy, the things she did and how she died, and how it permeated the main characters’ present. I would hate for someone to discard this story based on the ghost description. In fact, if it wasn’t for my love of animals I would have done just that.
The author did such a great job of trying to present moral dilemmas. The concept of ‘an eye for an eye’ was the main philosophical issue here. Is it right to kill someone after they have killed another creature? If someone viciously killed your dog, would it be fair justice to kill that person in return? How about the person who kills a gorilla? It becomes obvious that each individual has their own set of morals and there are simply arguments for all sides. How about a human? A family? A tribe, a race?
This story was heart-wrenching at times and thought-provoking all the time. I found myself thinking about the book when I wasn’t reading and after I had finished it. The author was masterful in her use of characters to voice the different opinions and sides of the story. Ms. Saracen presents the conflicts, and even though the story is no doubt told from an animal conservation point of view, she manages to at least make the reader think about other points of view out there, even if considered less righteous. And boy, it gets very convoluted. Some things are clear enough, but some areas are murky indeed. I often get asked how can someone be cruel to something as innocent as an animal. I have no words until I remember that humans can also be cruel to other humans. This story is proof of that.
Oh, and there is good action, great writing, a gorilla baby, an important historical figure and events, a veterinarian!, politics, ethical issues…wait, I mentioned that already. I will definitely be reading more from this author once my soul recovers a little.
Overall, a fantastic read that will push the reader to think about what justice is and how it is enforced in our world. 5 stars.