Malaika by Van Heerling is a story about an American man trying to run away from the problems in his life by immersing himself in the so called ‘simpler’ life of tribal wilderness in the Serengeti of Africa. Unexpectedly he finds himself befriended by a wild lioness who seems to be running away from her pride for unknown reasons. As the two grow closer until it almost seems they can communicate, the man an the beast find that their problems are eerily similar. As the narrator tries to help the feline overcome her rejection by the other lions, he cannot help but think about his family whom he feels he cannot face.
Now of course, the man is not entirely alone. He lives near a group of people who do not appreciate his laid-back acceptance of a dangerous carnivore. His human companionship becomes limited to Absko, the young man he has agreed to teach English; Absko’s girlfriend, Sanura; and Absko’s father, Abasi. As the story unfolds, the narrator becomes involved in finding ways to help the young couple who learn they are expecting a child get set on a start to a good life.
It is a story about healing, of people learning to face their own reality. The more the narrator tries to help everybody else, the more he is forced to look back at everything he is running away from. Abasi tries to jolt the storyteller past his perceived problems with his wife in America by explaining how she still lives so she’s not lost, unlike Absko’s mother who has been taken by death.