In her new (self-published) memoir In Congo's Shadow: One Girl's Perilous Journey to The Heart of Africa, Louise Linton, a white actress from Edinburgh, Scotland, recounts the life-changing experiences she had while taking a gap year in Zambia.
Over the weekend, The Telegraph published a lengthy excerpt from the memoir, titled "How my dream gap year in Africa turned into a nightmare," giving people across the world their first glimpse of Linton's talents as a storyteller.
"With my body shaking and my brain frozen with fear, it was hard to remember how I’d ended up there, 6,000 miles from home," Linton dramatically recalls in the piece's opening paragraphs. "An 18-year-old Scot and former pupil of the prestigious Fettes College, I had come to Africa with hopes of helping some of the world’s poorest people. But my gap year had become a living nightmare when I inadvertently found myself caught up in the fringes of the Congolese War."
Almost immediately after the book passage's publishing, a number of readers—many of them from Zambia—found Linton's story difficult to believe, tweeting in disbelief. What begins as a relatively straightforward tale about cultural tourism through (and teaching in) Africa quickly becomes a harrowing tale of a frightened white woman who finds herself trapped in a war zone besieged by bloodthirsty rebels.
"As the night ticked interminably by, I tried not to think what the rebels would do to the 'skinny white muzungu with long angel hair’ if they found me," Linton recalls in one passage. "Clenching my jaw to stop my teeth chattering, I squeezed my eyes shut and reminded myself how I’d come to be a central character in this horror story."
In addition to invoking the specter of wartime rape, Linton's story also tells of the deep relationship that developed between her and an orphaned, HIV-positive girl named Zimba, her close encounters she had with lions and elephants, and how she allegedly contracted malaria during her stay. One day, she writes, as her host village is overtaken by armed rebels, Linton describes deciding whether she should stay and continue to protect Zimba or flee on a plane to safety. Courageously, she opts to stay, only to find the village attacked again days later.
"This time, I had no choice but to flee alone in a desperate attempt to stay alive," Linton wrote. "For hours on end, I remained on the jungle floor with no idea if I would make it or if any of the people I had come to love would survive."
Of all the critiques that have been leveled against Linton's writing, the most damning came from Gerard Zytkow, a man who organizes trips for foreigners visiting Zambia. Zytkow says he owns the Ndole Bay Lodge where Linton claims to have spent some time. He claims that Linton not only embellished surviving raids by Congolese rebels, but was also nowhere near the site, and was instead in Kasaba Bay, about 35 miles away.
"Part of me feels sorry for this delusional girl, but, in fact, I would like to wring her neck for writing so much rubbish," Zytkow wrote in a Facebook post. "Louise was not at Ndole. She was safely at Kasaba. Relatively far away from all this. I know all this because I was there. We have owned Ndole since 1984 and still operate in 'this dangerous spider and crocodile infested' piece of paradise."
According to Zytkow, a group of banyamulenga, or Tutsi Congolese, were fleeing from conflict in the northern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (in Zambian waters) and radioed local authorities in Zambia of their impending arrival. These refugees made it clear that the had not come to fight, Zytkow said, but were merely seeking to avoid more violence. When the banyamulenge eventually arrived in Zambia, they gave themselves over to the local police, Zytkow said.
By the time Congolese soldiers came in pursuit of the banyamulenge, they too were no longer interested in fighting, but rather stopped at Ndole for food and water.
In response to the accusations that her memoir was fabricated, Linton took to her Twitter to explain the reason she decided to write the book in the first place. She has since deleted the tweets.
"I wrote with the hope of conveying my deep humility, respect, and appreciation for the people of Zambia as an 18yr old in 1999," she tweeted. "I wrote about the country’s incredible beauty and my immense gratitude for the experiences I had there."
Linton also disputed Zytkow's claims that she stayed with him in 2002, saying that her trip took place in 1999. Linton insists that she was 18 in 1999, but multiple interviews where her age is given don't quite gel with that timeline. In a 2015 interview with Scotland Now, Linton's age is quoted as being 28 at the time. Similarly, a 2011 interview with The Scotsman, Linton was said to have been 25-years-old, meaning that she would have to have been somewhere between 12 and 13 in 1999 when she says she was in Zambia.
We've reached out to Linton for comment and clarification and will update if we hear back. Twitter, on the other hand, has been more than willing to share its opinions on Linton's story.
Whether Linton is telling the truth or not, her book's already been published—reviews are less than glowing.
"After calming down I decided to buy the book and realized it has been written by a deluded naïve girl from a privileged background who has embellished a short stay in Africa and has felt she has to make her story fit a stereotyped idea the west has of Africa," Amazon user Kabulonga lamented. "Her real crime is she has tarnished the image of a very friendly people and a country that has a record of looking after refugees from most of its neighbours right from the time of Independence."