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'Angel-haired' aid worker memoir ridiculed

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image captionLouise Linton says she intended to express her admiration for the Zambian people

An actress, whose memoir about her student gap year trip doing aid work in Africa has provoked a large online backlash, says she is dismayed by the negative reaction to her book.

Louise Linton has been accused of exhibiting a "white saviour complex" in "In Congo's Shadow: One girl's perilous journey to the heart of Africa" which recounts her time in Zambia where she volunteered as an 18-year-old in 1999.

Billed as "The inspiring memoir of an intrepid teenager who abandoned her privileged life in Scotland to travel to Zambia as a gap year student where she found herself inadvertently caught up in the fringe of the Congolese War," the book has aroused a flood of online comments and reviews, which have accused the author of being patronising and inaccurate.

The hashtag #LintonLies has been used more than 14,000 since times since an extract was published in the Telegraph newspaper on Monday. Many of those commenting are angry Zambians who say they don't recognise the country that Linton depicts.

In the book, Linton writes about a night she spent in hiding from the threat of "armed rebels" in her village and describes herself as a "central character" in the events. "I tried not to think what the rebels would do to the 'skinny white Muzungu with long angel hair' if they found me." A sentence that has offended many users on twitter.

image copyrightTwitter/Zac_R
image copyrightTwitter/Msuwonkunda

Others fumed at the humbled tones in which Linton relates how her experiences with seemingly poor-but-happy Africans keep her grounded when she faces adversity in her career an actress and film producer in California.

"I try to remember a smiling gap-toothed child with HIV whose greatest joy was to sit on my lap and drink from a bottle of Coca-Cola," she writes. "Zimba taught me many beautiful words but the one I like the most is Nsansa. Happiness."

This sentence prompted a parody account in the name of Zimba, the six-year-old orphan who Linton spent time with in Zambia.

image copyrightTwitter/LittleZimba

Some have compared Linton's writing to a pre-existing parody account "Barbie Savior", which lampoons the attitudes of gap-year student volunteers in Africa.

image copyrightTwitter/Skip_toMyLu

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Many tweets have accused Linton of promoting harmful stereotypes about Africa. And as the #LintonLies hashtag began to trend, others spotted what they regarded as discrepancies in Linton's account. In the passage, in which Linton describes a night she spent in hiding. She writes: "As monsoon season came and went, the Hutu-Tutsi conflict in neighbouring Congo began to escalate and then spill over into Zambia with repercussions all along the lake." But some have questioned who Linton was hiding from.

image copyrightTwitter/jay-nyendwa

And the landscape she describes.

image copyrightTwitter/TwentyKwacha

Some joked that maybe it was all a matter of perception.

image copyrightTwitter/MaceWimbu

Others were less forgiving. In a private Facebook post that was widely quoted on Twitter, Gerard Zytkow, claimed to have known Linton during her time in Zambia. "Part of me feels sorry for this delusional young girl," he wrote. "But in fact I would like to wring her neck for writing so much rubbish."

Linton has since responded to the accusations on Twitter expressing her shock at the book's reception.

image copyrightTwitter/LouiseLinton

Acknowledging a couple of inaccuracies in her book, she also made clear that the much derided "angel hair" phrase was not her own but a name given to her by Zambian children.

image copyrightTwitter/LouiseLinton

BBC Trending has approached Louise Linton for comment.

Blog by Lucy Hancock

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