The plan was for both Sarah and her fiancé, David, to go to a rural hospital in Tanzania. She would work as a doctor and do some kind of research on lowering the maternal mortality rate while David did his own research. But, at the last minute, David has to stay in the states and Sarah is too far in to back out of her research/doctoring deal. And so, at the beginning of Gayle Woodson’s moving and charming novel After Kilimanjaro, we meet Sarah as she’s on the last leg of her ocean- and continent-spanning trip. She doesn’t know how the next year is going to go. She’s not sure about her relationship. And, to top it all off, someone is having a medical emergency on the plan and she’s the doctor in the house.
After Kilimanjaro is the kind of character novel I love. Sarah won me over near the beginning; I’m a sucker for a character with imposter syndrome. She doubts herself, but when it comes to medicine, she proves herself to be a good doctor, over and over. Slowly, Sarah starts to find herself as an individual. She slowly loses her identity as a girl who followed in her dad’s surgeon footsteps and as the girl who has been in a relationship so long that everyone just expects her to marry David. (They got engaged mostly through miscommunication.)
What makes the book genuinely delightful is Sarah’s developing relationship with another ex-pat doctor, Pieter. Pieter is also on a journey of self-discovery but has no idea until much later. He’s an incorrigible flirt and always willing to make a dirty joke (I guffawed). His saving grace, as far as Sarah is concerned at the beginning, is that Pieter is the perfect person to have along in stressful situations. He’s handy, quick on his feet, and is mostly unflappable. I loved both characters so much that watching them fall in love is a joy.
When I read books about white characters who go anywhere outside of North America or Europe to minister (in one way or another) to people of color. I always worry that the main character will turn into a white savior, which will completely ruin the book for me. That is not the case with After Kilimanjaro, thankfully. Sarah has good ideas, but just enough self-doubt and team-spiritedness that she seeks consensus from the what I’ve learned are called traditional birth assistants (rather than just midwives) when she starts teaching them medical skills that can help identify women who need to be sent to the hospital for high-risk deliveries, thus lowering maternal mortality. Sarah teaches these women, so that they can teach their apprentices.
For readers looking for a good story, with a bit more of gritty reality than most romance novels, where nothing quite follows genre expectations, and/or with realistic character development, I would definitely recommend After Kilimanjaro.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration.