Author: E.K. Ndanguzi
Publication date: June 30, 2020
One Sentence Summary: As a boy, Jonathan lost his father to death and his mother to alcohol and now, as an adult, works hard to pull his brother back together and get his own life in order so he can pursue the love of his life.
Honestly, the fact that this book takes place in Africa is what really drew me in. I really didn’t know the smilodon had been a real creature, nor what role it could possibly play in this book, but I was interested in reading more books set around the world, so The Smilodon fit perfectly. And I’m so glad I read it! It was a little rough, a little too back and forth in time, a little too focused on various characters’ backgrounds, but the heart of the story is pure gold and absolutely gorgeous. And the ending! If I had a list of perfect book endings, which I should do one day, this one will absolutely be on the list.
A Story of Constantly Striving
As boys, Jonathan and his younger brother Richard lost their father in an accident. It also yanked their mother from them as her despair at losing everything led her to the bottle. Jonathan worked hard to take care of his family, but his excellent academic abilities took him beyond his mother’s walls.
As an adult, though, Jonathan struggles to prove himself, to lift himself beyond where his father’s death left his family. But it seems life is determined to knock him down over and over, going so far as stripping him of the woman he loves.
Going in, I wasn’t sure what kind of story The Smilodon would present, but I was prepared for and open to anything. It turned out to be something of a character study as it’s mostly about Jonathan during a, more of less, specific time frame. The reader is offered snippets of his childhood, background that clearly tells the tale of how he got to where he is now. And then it picks up and starts telling the story of how Jonathan managed to pull his life together. I loved that Jonathan was always grounded, that he was always dutiful, but still strove to prove himself.
As much as this novel told Jonathan’s story, it also told a beautiful love story about Jonathan and Emilie. They feel like they’re destined to be together, two souls that understand each other despite the wealth disparity. Circumstances conspire against them, though, yanking them apart while their souls continue to try to flutter close.
And the ending! It’s not that powerful kind of ending that will resonate forever, but it was absolutely the best ending ever for this novel. It actually lifted my heart and made me smile. After a story that wound around several minor characters, I was curious about how it would end, and it was just perfect.
Circling Around Jonathan
The Smilodon focuses on Jonathan, but many of the characters around him were also given a lengthy background as they were introduced. It was nice to get to know the minor characters and see where they were coming from, but it did interrupt the narrative of Jonathan’s life.
Jonathan was an incredibly lovely character. A smart young man who cares about his family, but also strives to have his own life and succeed, it’s easy to see him in most people. He’s living a life of uncertainty, of yearning and striving without having much luck. He’s sympathetic and the fact that he really cares and gives what little he has just made me fall in love with him and keep my fingers crossed he would get his well-deserved happily ever after.
There were also some wonderful supporting characters. While I would have liked to see Jonathan’s mother and brother a little more, what was written was enough to paint the picture of a family that’s been hit hard and has been working through tragedy in separate ways. Jonathan’s friend Marcus was an interesting counterpoint to Jonathan. Where Jonathan felt more reserved, Marcus was the life of the party and always had a quick word on his tongue. Emilie, Jonathan’s love interest, was lovely and steady and it was so clear they were a perfect pair, but societal pressures exerted their strength. There were also a number of other minor characters who played the perfect roles. No matter how little they were actually seen, their given backgrounds painted a deeper picture of them all. Even though I found it intrusive, I also liked that they added a layer of depth to the story.
Most of The Smilodon is set in Tanzania. As I know very little about Africa and even less about Tanzania, this novel served as my first introduction to life in that country. I can’t comment on whether it’s accurate, but it felt like it came to life and I could absolutely believe this novel transported me across the world. Usually, my mind will automatically fill in the holes with what I’m familiar with as an American, so I was pleasantly surprised when that didn’t happen here. The author wrote about an African culture and city where there’s an influx of Western ideas and both sides of it meshed really well. It was fun to see what was familiar and what wasn’t, and I was delighted when it just flowed and I felt like I was in Africa.
Overall a Lovely Story
While I found The Smilodon to be more tell than show, it was still a delightful novel. I adored Jonathan and was rooting for him the entire time. There was subtle complexity to the story that made it bloom in an absolutely wonderful way that led up to the perfect ending. I also loved the message of facing one’s fears and just going for what one wants out of life. Overall, this was a fun read that went by a little too fast, but had good character development in Jonathan, workplace politics, great friendships, and a sweet romance.
Great if you enjoy: character focused stories, books set in Africa, quick reads, light romance
Not great if you’re looking for: action-packed stories, heavy reads, plot driven books
How many cups of tea will you need?
4 cups of tea
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Thank you to the author, E.K. Ndanguzi, for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.