In the beginning, I thought Eliot Schrefer had followed Binyavanga Wainaina’s satirical piece, "How to Write About Africa," which catalogues the various problematic tropes that writers use when writing about the continent. In his young adult novel, Endangered, Schrefer focuses on animals (specifically bonobos), nature, war, corrupt politicians and words like "African mamas." The bonobos in Endangered, as in Wainaina's words are "…treated as well rounded, complex characters." And let’s not forget our main character, Sophie, "a beautiful, tragic international… who now cared for animals." Wainaina would also describe Sophie’s mother, a Mama Africa as, "a warm and motherly woman who has a rolling laugh and who is concerned for your well-being."
But to what extent does Schrefer’s novel diverge from the master narrative?
Schrefer’s novel allows the reader to see African people as people, like anyone else in the world. In other words, Sophie’s journey throughout the Congo is more of a psychological one. She undertakes this journey with an animal that her mother values so tenderly. In doing so, she hopes to connect with her mother, like any other young thirteen-year-old in the world.
I pulled Otto’s arms from around my neck, he making quiet complaints, and set him on the soil floor. I picked up my shirt. I had it half on, one of my shoulders still exposed out of my stretched neck hole, when I realized that in my nervousness I was putting both arms through one opening. Bouain laughed, and in the few moments it took me to rearrange, I found myself unexpectedly thinking of my mother. I got why she’d spent so many years charming boring men. To survive. The position I was in, playing some disgusting politics with this boy, was awful. But it wasn’t the end of the world. The end of the world was that crowd of men on the far side of the door (p. 204).
The beauty of this fiction is that it could have been set anywhere in the world and its message would have been the same. In this sense, it portrays Africans as humans like you and me. People in the Congo are children, brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers that go through similar daily conflicts.