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Reviews of The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian

The Lioness

A Novel

by Chris Bohjalian

The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian X
The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    May 2022, 336 pages

    May 2023, 336 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Book Summary

A luxurious African safari turns deadly for a Hollywood starlet and her entourage in this riveting historical thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of The Flight Attendant.

Tanzania, 1964. When Katie Barstow, A-list actress, and her new husband, David Hill, decide to bring their Hollywood friends to the Serengeti for their honeymoon, they envision giraffes gently eating leaves from the tall acacia trees, great swarms of wildebeests crossing the Mara River, and herds of zebras storming the sandy plains. Their glamorous guests—including Katie's best friend, Carmen Tedesco, and Terrance Dutton, the celebrated Black actor who stars alongside Katie in the highly controversial film Tender Madness—will spend their days taking photos, and their evenings drinking chilled gin and tonics back at camp, as the local Tanzanian guides warm water for their baths. The wealthy Americans expect civilized adventure: fresh ice from the kerosene-powered ice maker, dinners of cooked gazelle meat, and plenty of stories to tell over lunch back on Rodeo Drive.

What Katie and her glittering entourage do not expect is this: a kidnapping gone wrong, their guides bleeding out in the dirt, and a team of Russian mercenaries herding their hostages into Land Rovers, guns to their heads. As the powerful sun gives way to night, the gunmen shove them into abandoned huts and Katie Barstow, Hollywood royalty, prays for a simple thing: to see the sun rise one more time. A blistering story of fame, race, love, and death set in a world on the cusp of great change, The Lioness is a vibrant masterpiece from one of our finest storytellers.

Chapter One

Katie Barstow

Hollywood royalty gathered Saturday night at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where Katie Barstow wed Rodeo Drive gallerist David Hill. The two of them left afterward for Paris and then the wilds of Africa on a "safari." Rumor has it that the actress is bringing along an entourage into the jungle that will include her brother and sister-in-law, Billy and Margie Stepanov; her agent, Peter Merrick; her publicist, Reggie Stout; actress Carmen Tedesco and her husband, Felix Demeter; and Katie's friend and co-star in the still controversial Tender Madness, Terrance Dutton. The little group has nicknamed themselves the Lions of Hollywood--though anyone who knows Katie Barstow or has seen her on the screen understands that she is the lioness in charge of this pride.

--The Hollywood Reporter, November 9, 1964

She was watching the giraffes at the watering hole after breakfast, no longer as awed by their presence as she'd been even four days ago, when she'd first seen a ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. What does The Lioness demonstrate about the nature of survival? What role do fate, temperament, life experience, and other factors play in determining the probability of perishing?
  2. As you read about the three married couples (David and Katie, Billy and Margie, Felix and Carmen), what did you observe about their relationship styles? Which partnership seemed to be the strongest one? Did the single travelers (Terrance, Reggie, and Peter) have any advantages by being solo?
  3. In what ways do Juma, Muema, and Benjamin give voice to multiple generations in the period of sweeping social change in their homeland? How does the concept of wisdom shift as their circumstances change?
  4. Are Katie's wealth and fame worth the price? How does her ability ...
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BookBrowse Review


My biggest concern about this book is that it's such a departure from Bohjalian's earlier works. I'd classify his other novels as literary or historical fiction; this one, however, is sheer over-the-top entertainment. And, although The Lioness is set in a politically volatile time and place, the author mostly glosses over the particulars, something I feel is a departure from his usual style. I suspect many long-time fans will be disappointed with the book's plot, especially if they go in not knowing what to expect, but that it'll likely be a huge commercial success — the season's first "beach read."..continued

Full Review (677 words)

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(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

Booklist (starred review)
The novel's opening action may burst forth with a deadly ambush but Bohjalian doesn't blindside loyal readers who have come to expect his signature combination of exotic locations, titillating characters, and energetic pacing. Stark and dark, violent and vivid, this may be versatile Bohjalian's most harrowing work since Skeletons of the Feast. Intimately researched, the Serengeti's beauty and brutality are vibrantly infused in every scene, a grounding counterpoint to the competing dynamics of human cruelty and compassion.

Library Journal (starred review)
Fans of character-driven narratives will relish traipsing through both the Central African savannah and the souls and psyches of Bohjalian's characters.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[A] devastatingly cunning suspense novel...Bohjalian does a superb job of judiciously rolling out the shocking, twist-filled plot builds up to the revelation of 'the real reasons for the safari nightmare.' This brilliant whydunit is not to be missed.

Kirkus Reviews
The most heartfelt portrayal here is of the Serengeti and its flora and fauna, but none of the human characters net enough face time to transcend their typecasting...Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

Author Blurb Angie Kim, New York Times bestselling author of Miracle Creek
I loved this novel so much that I blew off all my responsibilities, turned off my phone, and got lost in this mesmerizing world created by Chris Bohjalian. A masterful tapestry of heart-pounding suspense and deeply moving drama, The Lioness explores what it takes to survive the siren songs of old Hollywood glitter and the Serengeti's majestic expanse. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Author Blurb Jodi Picoult, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Wish You Were Here
The best possible combination of Hemingway and Agatha Christie — a gorgeously written story about the landscape and risks of Africa, whose edge-of-your-seat plot makes it impossible to put down.

Author Blurb Megan Abbott, New York Times bestselling author of The Turnout
From its first dazzling pages, Chris Bohjalian's The Lioness enraptured me. You'll want to sink into its velvety glamour at the same time as you'll be swept up in its sharp-eyed exploration of power and predation.

Reader Reviews


A Masterfully Crafted Mystery Set in an Exotic Locale
Bestselling author Chris Bohjalian says his inspiration for The Lioness was movies. He loves them. One day in 2019 he found himself wondering why he had never written a Hollywood novel or a book set in the era in which he grew up, the 1960's and 70's...   Read More

Is this a kidnapping? Why and by whom?
Everything Chris Bohjalian writes is very good and exceptional. In the case of THE LIONESS, it doesn't start out that way. But if you keep reading, it does get there. It is 1964. Katie, an actress, takes her new husband, brother and pregnant ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Serengeti National Park

Wildebeests in Serengeti National Park standing on grass-covered ground with trees in background Chris Bohjalian's novel The Lioness is set in Serengeti National Park, a 5,700 square-mile wildlife refuge on the Serengeti Plain of north-central Tanzania. Established in 1951, it was one of the first areas proposed to be a World Heritage Site, obtaining that status in 1981.

The park is a subset of the larger Serengeti ecosystem, which spans about 12,000 square miles and includes vast swaths of grassland; indeed, the area's name is derived from a Maasai word meaning "endless plain." The preserve is home to an immense number of ungulates (hoofed mammals) — somewhere around 1.3 million wildebeests (or gnus), 150,000 gazelles and 60,000 zebras — as well as many other animals (lions, hyenas, etc.). Elephants are a ...

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