Published by Simon & Schuster, 2008.
The events behind the story
This novel is set in a lodge in Botswana’s Okavango Delta and was inspired by a number of events that happened locally.
When I first moved to Botswana in 1990, the tourism industry was just taking off and already luxury camps were dotted over the delta islands. One weekend I went to a safari camp in Moremi Game Reserve, a little bit of watery paradise in the middle of the bush. As evening fell I sat around the fire, drinking fine wine, eating fine food. The camp manager – an English man – told us all about the tourism industry, how it created jobs, how Moremi Game Reserve was the first wildlife park created by and for Africans.
But then one of the women at the camp invited me into her tent and told me a different story. The staff had no proper facilities, she said, even if they were sick they weren’t allowed to see a doctor. Their tents were shabby. They were afraid of lions and snakes when they went to the toilets at night. Baboons had been running riot through the camp. Even more worrying, hyenas had been stealing shoes and other possessions. They had even learned how to open tents, unzipping them with their mouths.
A few years later while working as a journalist, I got a call from a local doctor. He said he had a patient he thought I’d like to meet. I found a young man in the waiting room. He looked perfectly OK, except for a dirty white bandage wrapped around his head. He explained he’d been poling a canoe of tourists along one of the Delta channels when a hippo rose up out of the water and bit the canoe in half. Instead of running away, the young man had decided to fight the hippo and, in the process, saved the tourists’ lives.
When I asked him how he’d managed to do this, he said he’d used a Kung Fu knife which he’d bought mail order from China. The reason for the hippo attack was obvious, he said, the delta was now so full of tourists on speedboats that it was driving the hippos crazy. As speedboats were too fast for them to catch, they went after canoes instead.
A couple of years after this there was a horrific incident at one of the lodges in the Delta. A woman was on holiday with her young son. The camp management apparently said it was fine for the boy to sleep in his own tent. But that night a hyena entered the tent and killed the child.
Some people actually tried to blame the woman, to suggest it was her fault, that she shouldn’t have let the boy sleep on his own. And then the blame shifted to the boy, he must have come out of his tent when he’d been told not to. But I’d never forgotten what I heard on my first safari years before, that hyenas even back then had learned how to open tents.
I decided to write a novel about the safari industry and about two families. I chose two men, one a great white hunter, the other a Motswana man who try as he may cannot get a foothold in the tourism industry. But I wanted the book to be told by women, by daughters, mothers and sisters, and it became a saga, a saga of family and how people’s fortunes changed as a result of the creation of Moremi Game Reserve.
Reviews for Black Mulberries
“A sweeping, multi-generational, feuding family saga, covering some 60 turbulent years,’
– The Bookseller
‘The electrifying characteristic of BLACK MULBERRIES is its author’s depth of research and understanding of her subject, whether it is a remote village in the Okavanga Delta, the daily life of a castle in Scotland, the career of a top model in London, or the tribal mores of a village in northern Botswana. Caitlin Davies describes the lives of four disparate women and the story is told through their thoughts: it is uncompromising, unflinching, and at times very funny,”
“Davies lived in Botswana for twelve years and the landscape, culture and humour of its people obviously made a strong impression as they surface throughout the pages of this unusual and entertaining novel,”
– Image Magazine
“She writes with enormous vigour and an uncanny gift for getting inside the voices and minds of her four women characters,”
– Camden New Journal