Now a famous classical pianist, S. Miles-Harcourt, aka “Smiles,” arrives in Congo to play a Peace and Reconciliation Concert, and to make amends with his former schoolteacher and mentor, Lyman Andrew, who has buried himself in the war-torn jungle. Smiles owes his success to the man he helped ruin and harbors a dark secret from his brutal public school days. But a bomb has exploded at the hotel in Kinshasa where Smiles was due to play, and in an unsettling turn of events he is invited to his own funeral. When coffins are broken open by the Garde Républicaine and Smiles is not in his, he is suspected of being one of the rebels. He escapes on a ramshackle boat with the grand piano meant for his recital, which is now destined for his teacher, living more than a thousand miles upriver–a world outside time, where Smiles witnesses the miracles and the terrors of Congo as he plays Beethoven in a forest haunted by nameless atrocities. He is escorted by Lola, the wife of a feared Congolese military officer–even the leopard has a wife, says a Swahili proverb– and her adolescent brother; in the course of their journey, Smiles and Lola fall in love, and Lola’s brother discovers Smiles’s diary and the barbaric past it hides. But all the while an ever vengeful leopard is following . . .
Author Paul Pickering’s arresting prose is awash in sound–from sensuous piano strains to the crack of a rifle, the echo of footsteps, the rumble of tribal drums, the deafening roar of a waterfall; in Congo, each can mean the difference between life and death, joy and sorrow. Set in the contrasting landscapes of the African jungle and picturesque English countryside, The Leopard’s Wife is a searing look at the racial tensions and societal discontents of two vastly different cultures, and it reveals the uncivilized cruelty and tender mercies shared so commonly by both.