‘She Down There’: Marine biologist’s first novel is a jewel of the deep
The novel is a unique, uplifting, educational read that has the potential to turn climate change denialists into passionate conservationists.
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She Down There is South African marine biologist Lynton Francois Burger’s first novel. It is set in the ’90s.
Half Haida, half French-Canadian, Claire Lutrísque’s love for the ocean sees her journey from the cold, unforgiving Pacific to the welcoming warm waters of Mozambique’s Indian Ocean in search of her calling and life’s purpose.
But this is no ordinary love for the sea – Claire’s passion is one that has spanned generations and is entrenched in her soul. She experiences marine life on a deep, spiritual level.
She comes to know South African Navy diver Klaas Afrikaner, who finds himself in Mozambique years after a covert mission during apartheid.
Klaas, too, is able to channel his ancestral heritage, although steeped in the Karoo, each time he ventures further into Praia do Tofo beach waters.
Both characters, despite being raised continents apart, feel the same deep connection with marine life, as well as the devastation it experiences, owed to poachers, societal apathy, corruption and plastic pollution.
When they meet and their passions align, it’s an unmistakable, albeit complicated, match.
The novel, on first read, forces the reader to suspend disbelief. Burger’s use of deeply metaphorical imagery and intense spiritual (not religious) emphasis is something to get used to, but the result is well worth it.
The author perfectly captures the eco-anxiety felt by the main characters as the fragility of the ocean’s ecosystems are constantly exploited, first by whale hunters in the 1800s, then by the Chinese shark fin trade and other traditional medicinal requirements of the Chinese culture.
Claire and Klaas are tasked with protecting virtually every creature in the deep, from dugongs being poached for their penises to coral reefs feeling the effects of climate change; sharks, dolphins and manta rays.
They must also navigate intricate socioeconomic issues that plague communities where poaching is rife.
That they are overwhelmed by the task at hand is palpable throughout the novel and there are times when reading about the plight of marine life is difficult.
But an underlying message of hope that transcends the period in which the story is set is what makes the novel important and relevant.
“Education, awareness, patience and working with communities to alleviate poverty are just some of the solutions explored.”
These environmental issues are even more relevant today, and will leave the reader wanting to do more to save the infinite and fascinating expanse of deep blue ocean so essential to the world’s survival.
Although a work of fiction, all references made to Haida and Khoi/San culture, the tragic history of conflict in Mozambique, apartheid South Africa and of course, the marine-related content is accurate and carefully researched.
This grounds the sometimes overly expressive writing style. And because the novel is suited for young adults and older generations alike, it forms an important foundation to foster sympathy for
marine life, suffering due to climate change and human greed.
A journey of self-discovery, loss and grief, finding love and being true to ancestral heritage and personal passion, She Down There is a unique, uplifting, educational read that has the potential to turn climate change denialists into passionate conservationists.
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