ââ¬ËBeautifully written...a book alive with the sights and scents of Africa.ââ¬
ââ¬ËJulie Davidson ââ¬¦ has created in this remarkable work of historical and geographical reflection a fascinating picture of a remarkable life. I find the resulting story very moving. It is moving because it gets under the skin of a beguiling part of the world that so often claims the hearts of those who engage with it. It is moving, too, because it is sensitive to the spirituality that one finds in that part of Africa and that is so deeply affecting. This book achieves a real understanding of that spirituality without in any way romanticizing or sentimentalizing it. When she eventually found Mary Livingstoneââ¬s grave, Julie Davidson laid four small flowers upon it. In this lovely memoir, she lays on that lonely grave more flowers yet.ââ¬
'The fate of Mary Moffat, resurrected and explored in this wonderfully rich book , was to marry David Livingstone. Julie Davidson asks whether this was an opening to happiness or the beginning of a long ordeal of exploitation and neglect which only ended with her early death on the banks of the Zambezi. Livingstone saw ââ¬Ëa little, thick, black-haired girl, sturdy and all I wantââ¬. Others saw only a heavy, hard-working, uncommunicative woman - ââ¬Ëa queer piece of furnitureââ¬. Itââ¬s Julie Davidsonââ¬s achievement to bring her into the light and out of the fog of disparagement by her husbandââ¬s adorers. She reveals somebody of powerful feelings, not always suppressed. Mary was strong enough to endure the death of children and the miseries of missionary life in the remote African bush and yet vulnerable to depths of depression and self-abandonment when left on her own with the children.
Another writer said that ââ¬Ëshe had no choices, only situationsââ¬. Davidson speaks of Maryââ¬s ââ¬Ëmorbid dependenceââ¬ on her husband, who left her behind for years at a time as he headed further into the unknown. And yet the author cleverly shows that behind the grim toil and the resentments, the pair concealed private delight: jokes, pranks and clownings, and ââ¬" it would appear ââ¬" plenty of sex.
What makes this book such compelling reading is that it plaits two strands together: Maryââ¬s biography and Julie Davidsonââ¬s own pilgrimages to seek that life, journeys at once merry and learned, across that immense and empty landscape of south-western Africa. Itââ¬s a place she knows well. To read Davidson on lions, ( beasts she has much knowledge of,) or on trackless bush or rivers run dry or the grunting of eagle owls in the night is to be brought close to Mary and David Livingstone. Davidson shows that Mary did not make her self a nothing by giving up everything for her man. Seldom understood, no communicator but no mere victim either, this woman fought through her ââ¬Ësituationsââ¬ and tried to shape her own world. '
'In truth, we cannot know, but Davidsonââ¬s portrait of Livingstone is not entirely unsympathetic. If he was impulsive, ambitious, selfish, he was also idealistic, and could be kind. He was no hero, but no monster either. And his wife, while strong, steady, courageous, was no angel. Both emerge from this book as complex and contradictory, in other words, real, messy, fallible human beings. In that sense, this book honours both of them.'