'Where the Crawdads Sing' May Be Connected to a Years-Old Murder in Africa

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Mar. 23 2022, Published 11:45 a.m. ET

Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for the book Where the Crawdads Sing.

When a book becomes a runaway bestseller, it's only a matter of time before a movie or TV show comes along. In this case, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens has been made into a movie that's set to hit theaters this summer, and the movie's first trailer was just released featuring a new song by Taylor Swift. Now, some are wondering whether there was a controversy around the 2019 book.

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What is the controversy around 'Where the Crawdads Sing'?

The controversy around Where the Crawdads Sing stems from its connection to Delia's life decades before the book was written. The novel tells the story of Kya, a reclusive girl living in North Carolina who raises herself in almost total isolation and prefers the company of animals to the company of people.

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Delia herself has many fairly obvious similarities to her protagonist. She grew up in Georgia, and she and her husband are conservationists who clearly enjoy the company of animals quite a bit. Kya is written as a gentle creature of nature who is beaten down by her father and the community who judges her. When a local football player is murdered, Kya is immediately suspected of committing the crime.

Delia Owens is wanted for questioning in Africa.

Here's where things get strange: Delia and her husband Mark are both wanted for questioning in connection to the murder of an unidentified victim. The murder was filmed and shown on national TV in the U.S. in 1995, and while Delia herself is not suspected of committing the crime, reporting in The New Yorker suggests that her son may have fired the first shots. Some reports also suggest that Mark attempted to cover up the crime by dropping the body, which has never been recovered, into a lake.

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Regardless of who committed the murder, reporting makes clear that Mark was a radical activist who believed that extraordinary measures could be taken to protect animals from poachers in Africa. The connection from that belief in moral superiority back to Where the Crawdads Sing is pretty direct, and it's been alarming to many people who are aware of Delia's past.

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Is 'Where the Crawdads Sing' a confession?

Obviously, the characters and setting in Where the Crawdads Sing are part of a fiction, but some people suspect that Delia was pulling from her own experiences in writing the novel. The twist at the end, which reveals that Kya actually did kill the football player, suggest that she did so because he attempted to assault her, ultimately providing her with moral justification for the act.

In that context, one in which a southern girl who grew up in the middle of the century and loves animals commits murder for reasons she believes to be justified, it's hard not to see the parallels to Delia's own life. Where the Crawdads Sing may not be an out and out confession, but it's connected to Delia's life in some strange ways.

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