Delia Owens Controversy: Although the term “literary sensation” isn’t used as often as it once was, Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing definitely qualify. The book, which was published in 2018 and is a murder mystery wrapped in a coming-of-age story, sold 4.5 million copies in its first 18 months. It was the adult fiction that sold the most copies in 2019. Even if Crawdads were not the debut book by a biologist and environmentalist who was then approaching her 70th birthday, this would be noteworthy.
The novel inevitably led to a “big movie.” This weekend, Reese Witherspoon’s damp southern gothic will feature Daisy Edgar-Jones and David Strathairn. The movie starring Olivia Newman has already had a successful opening weekend in the US, despite mixed reviews. For Owens, this is all wonderful news. But the renewed focus brings up uneasy memories of a still-contentious death that occurred in Africa 25 years ago. The knowledge has long been available.
2010 saw the publication of an 18,000-word essay by Jeffrey Goldberg in The New Yorker with the subtitle, “Did American environmentalists in Africa go too far?” The narrative describes Owens’ and her then-husband Mark Owens’ frequently laudable work in Botswana and Zambia. Goldberg describes the Owenses’ activities in North Luangwa National Park as “the Owenses furnished clinics, gave courses in Aids prevention, and taught traditional birth attendants.”
Their participation in the movement to stop
Their participation in the movement to stop the unjustified slaughter of endangered animals was more controversial. The Owenses, whose son Christopher was then also a member of the team, were the subject of a documentary feature on the US TV network ABC in 1995 that covered the accused poacher’s murder. There is no concrete proof provided to support the man’s alleged offenses. “Trespasser” is the term ABC chooses.
Goldberg mentioned that the authorities are still interested in the topic when she returned to it for this month’s Atlantic. He states that “authorities at the Criminal Investigation Department of the Zambian national police verified what officials at the country’s director of public prosecutions, Lillian Shawa-Siyuni, informed me.” “Mark, Delia, and Christopher Owens remain wanted for interrogation in connection with the killing of the suspected poacher as well as other potential criminal activity in North Luangwa.
Goldberg visited the national park after viewing the melodramatically named ABC documentary Deadly Game: The Mark and Delia Owens Story. The Owenses had already departed the nation at this time. The attorneys for the couple responded angrily to Goldberg’s list of concerning tales about a group of “scouts.”
According to Goldberg
According to Goldberg, “The Owenses’ counsel denied that Mark was in charge of the scouts, said he was not in charge of their deeds, and denied that anybody was tied to a stake or otherwise physically abused.” Additionally, Delia Owens vehemently denied any involvement in the suspected poacher’s death. She stated, “We don’t know anything about that. The only action Mark ever took was to launch firecrackers from his aircraft, but he only did it to frighten would-be poachers, not to harm anyone.
By the time of the ABC broadcast, Delia and Mark Owens were well known. In the middle of the 1980s, Cry of the Kalahari, which detailed their work with lions in Botswana, was a best-seller. Following were other nonfiction works like The Eye of the Elephant and Secrets of the Savanna. However, Where the Crawdads Sing’s phenomenal success has elevated Delia’s notoriety to new heights.
However, it’s not simply her increased notoriety that has journalists returning to the Zambian scandal. The narrative of the book contains some regrettable allusions to the unsolved death. In the North Carolina marshes, a little girl who was mistreated and ultimately abandoned by her father grows up as the stereotypical “wild kid.” When a young man’s body is discovered at the base of a fire tower, the narrative gets underway properly. Although there isn’t any solid proof against the main character—who is now friendly with the surrounding wildlife—a whispering campaign finally gets her in front of a court.
In order to protect anyone who still plans to read the book
In order to protect anyone who still plans to read the book (which I haven’t done) or watch the movie, I must here provide a spoiler alert (the scars have yet to heal). Despite some narrative deception, it turns out that the heroine really killed the man and has been successfully and apparently remorselessly concealing her identity for decades.
Readers of Goldberg’s then-9-year-old New Yorker article sent him a lot of perplexed emails after the book’s publication. In 2019, he said to Slate magazine, “I obtained a copy of Crawdads and I have to confess I found it unusual and unsettling to be reading the narrative of a Southern loner, a noble naturalist, who gets away with what is characterized as a righteously motivated murder in the lonely woods.”
None of which clears out a real-life situation that is still mired in mystery. Goldberg’s lengthy, exhaustively researched piece, which is still accessible online, raises more concerns than it would ever be possible to fully address. It’s interesting to note, though, that despite the seemingly constant outcry on social media, the scandal hasn’t had much of an impact on book sales or movie marketing. Few authors would accept such an improbable turn of events.