The Daily Telegraph published a portion of a memoir this week about a woman’s time spent volunteering in Zambia as a teenager on her gap year.
Her book tells about her time caring for an HIV-positive orphan and hiding out from murderous rebels. Sounds terrifying – but her story doesn’t add up. And the Internet is calling bullshit on the whole thing.
Louise Linton is a Scottish-born actress and producer who currently lives in Los Angeles. She self-published her memoir, In Congo’s Shadow, in April.
The book is described as ‘the inspiring memoir of an intrepid teenager who abandoned her privileged life in Scotland to travel to Zambia as a gap year student where she found herself inadvertently caught up on the fringe of the Congolese War.’ It also describes Zambia as ‘darkest Africa’.
She writes about becoming a ‘central character’ in the Congolese war of the late 1990s – terrified of what the rebels from across the border would do to the ‘skinny white muzungu with long angel hair’.
She goes on to rattle through a long list of ‘white saviour’ cliches from 12-inch long spiders, to ‘close encounters with lions’ and ‘brutal tales of rape and murder’, to helping a ‘smiling gap-toothed child with HIV’.
And while her book had only attracted a bit of attention, when the Telegraph ran an excerpt from her book, people began calling out what they said were questionable claims and objectionable stereotypes. To put it lightly, all hell broke lose on Twitter.
The first problem? People in Zambia and from other countries in the region say there are no records of Congolese rebels invading Zambian villages the way Louise describes.
In fact, Zambia remains one of the top 10 most peaceful countries in Africa and played a large role in offering secure refuge for those who fled actual wore-torn countries, the Guardian reports.
She also writes about ‘the Hutu-Tutsi conflict in neighbouring Congo’ – which actually happened in Rwanda.
— A.Kit (@LePhilozophe) July 5, 2016
And she refers to a ‘monsoon season’ in Zambia, even though the country doesn’t have one.
Lastly, she speaks about 12-inch spiders. The largest spider in the world, Heteropoda Maxima, can have a leg span of up to 12 inches – but it does not live in Zambia, it lives in Laos. Which is no where near even the content of Africa, never mind Zambia.
BBC Africa’s Victoria Uwonkunda says the memoir contains ‘objectionable stereotypes’ and ‘questionable claims’.
The ridiculousness and exaggeration of this tale from "long angel haired" Brit in #Africa is as unimaginative as anything I've read lately
— Victoria Uwonkunda (@Msuwonkunda) July 4, 2016
Naturally, Twitter got involved to call bullshit on her story, too:
Ugh. Do people still think we don't have internet in Africa? In the 'jungle'. That we'll never read what they write about us. #LintonLies
— Sithé (@_LadySith) July 4, 2016
— jkn4short (@jay_nyendwa) July 4, 2016
Years in Zambia and I figure out we had a hutu-tutsi conflict. Who am I? Where do I belong? #LintonLies
— Queen V™ (@Kvhuyi) July 4, 2016
@TeleWonderWomen "the dense jungle canopy above me"? Zambia has savanna grasslands, not dense jungle. But i guess "English girl experience".
— Maambo (@TwentyKwacha) July 4, 2016
— 🇿🇲 (@MaceWimbu) July 5, 2016
— Lusé Fiasco🇿🇲 (@Skip_toMyLu) July 4, 2016
Obviously, judging from even these few claims that we have seen Linton make (I don’t even want to know what’s in the rest of her book), her story does not give an accurate picture of Zambia.
When asked to respond to the accusations, Linton says she is not contactable at the moment and that her ‘editor and publisher’ was responsible for fact-checking the book. Considering all the inaccuracies in her memoir, that sounds like more bullshit.
She has, however, issued a statement apologising for offending readers.
Moral of the story? If you’re going to insist on bullshitting your way through a memoir, be prepared to get called out on every detail.