We’ve been bad about posting book reviews lately (though we haven’t stopped reading all of the wonderful books about and set in Africa). We just finisWe’ve been bad about posting book reviews lately (though we haven’t stopped reading all of the wonderful books about and set in Africa). We just finished ‘Americanah‘ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and while it’s not focused on animals or safaris, or set in a country that we regularly visit, we were enchanted by the story and her writing just the same.
Adichie is a multiple award-winning author who grew up in Nigeria and now divides her time between her home country and the United States. Americanah is her fourth book and her work has been translated into 30 languages.
After enjoying a privileged upbringing and falling in love during secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze are separated when Ifemelu leaves Nigeria to study in the United States. The plan is for Obinze to follow shortly thereafter, but life intervenes and prevents him. We follow Ifemelu through her first challenging years in the US, where finding a job is difficult (especially as she’s not meant to be working), as well as the realization of race for the first time in her life.
In the meantime, Obinze ends up in London for a brief period, and the two are no longer in touch. We follow his struggles and successes as we do Ifemelu’s until the two are finally reunited back in Nigeria after they each return to a home that feels utterly different after their experiences abroad.
Americanah is not only Ifemelu and Obinze’s love story, it’s also a commentary on cultural differences, and the issue of race in the United States. Adichie creates rich and complex characters that were immediately engaging and had us thinking about them long after we finished the last page. Highly recommended....more
The wonderful true tale of how Ian Player and a small group of dedicated game wardens saved the white rhino from extinction during the 1960's. Set inThe wonderful true tale of how Ian Player and a small group of dedicated game wardens saved the white rhino from extinction during the 1960's. Set in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa, the book is engaging with stories of heartbreak and victory. No longer in print, but can be found through Inter-library loan, as well as used copies on Amazon. Highly recommended!...more
This book initially fatigued me when I started it. Author Rick Bass was making me think too much and his style was a bit much for my mood. He definiteThis book initially fatigued me when I started it. Author Rick Bass was making me think too much and his style was a bit much for my mood. He definitely errs on the side of being lyrical, which in this case sometimes clouds and obscures facts. I think I had been longing for something simple, and books about Africa rarely are. In Bass, I found someone that really gets nature in a way that few writers – heck, few people – ever do. I had just been to the area of Namibia he was describing, and once I finally embraced his writing style rather than let it distract me, he took me right back to my time there.
Namibia is one of the few places in Africa that has an endemic rhino population that is not constantly threatened or being decimated by poachers for its (proven to be ineffective for medicinal purposes) horn. The country is a leader in conservation – not just in Africa, but the world. Bass visits the Namibian desert and explores the relationship between humans and rhinos – as well as the whole of nature. He also meets some of the people responsible for the work of the Save the Rhino Trust. These ‘characters’ are passionate activists and scientists living in the furthest reaches of nature conducting research and working to preserve forgotten, fragile ecosystems. His descriptions of their efforts, combined with his own experiences makes a readers’ heart ache with the intensity and sometimes futility of their actions.
The story is set in a rather inhospitable environment, which adds a richness to his narrative that wouldn’t have existed in say, South Africa, where the rhino population is larger, easier to see, surrounded by many more settlements (and tourists), and presently in much greater danger of extermination.
The story is richly-woven and very interesting, at times sobering, and I highly recommend it. There are factual gaps and a bit more philosophizing than might strictly be necessary, but if you can get past those things, it is well worth your time. Bass captures the essence of Namibia and its rhinos in a way I've seen no other author do. Prepare to be transported, uplifted and a little bit heartbroken (not necessarily in that order).
He has a forthcoming book on Rwanda and his time teaching there – I am very much looking forward to reading it....more
While not strictly about African travel, this is a great read about Ken Budd living through something of a mid-life crisis after his father's death anWhile not strictly about African travel, this is a great read about Ken Budd living through something of a mid-life crisis after his father's death and the realization that he would not become a father himself. He deals with these crises through volunteer travel (not a bad outlet!). He visits six different countries and does a different type of project in each, though more than one is focused on caring for children. Ken visited New Orleans to help with post-hurricane clean up, taught English in Costa Rica, worked at a special-needs school in China, helped study the effects of climate change in Ecuador, visited the West Bank to assist refugees and finally worked in an orphanage in Kenya.
The reader can see the impact of each trip on Ken and how it helps him to work through his grief as well as towards becoming the kind of man his father was. It's a funny and touching read....more
Boyd Norton’s newest book is full of gorgeous photographs that take the reader on a stunning journey through the Serengeti ecosystem. This book absoluBoyd Norton’s newest book is full of gorgeous photographs that take the reader on a stunning journey through the Serengeti ecosystem. This book absolutely overflows with captivating images that place the reader directly on the plains to witness Africa’s stunning displays of nature.
Serengeti isn’t only photos, if you can tear your eyes away from them there is a great deal of text that accompanies them. It is full of stories of Norton’s visits, anecdotes about the wildlife and history and facts about the ecosystem and its inhabitants.
It is also a story about conservation and preservation. Boyd has been a tireless conservationist and not only documents wild places and their environmental issues, he follows up with action; he is the founder of the non-profit Serengeti Watch. Much of the proceeds from the sale of this book will go to the charity.
Journey to Serengeti for the first time through these pages or take a visit once again – this book brings the magic of one of Africa’s most famous landscapes alive. Highly recommended....more
Tim Butcher's second travel book offering takes the reader on our journey through west Africa in the footsteps of Graham Greene. He and his travelingTim Butcher's second travel book offering takes the reader on our journey through west Africa in the footsteps of Graham Greene. He and his traveling companion travel through Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia by road, foot and boat, recreating a journey made by Graham Greene and his cousin Barbara in 1935 which eventually led to Greene writing 'Journey Without Maps'. As with his previous book Blood River, Butcher takes on considerable risk by choosing to make this journey in an area of Africa not well known for its political stability.
Liberia is more well known for blood diamonds and child soldiers than for travel, and Butcher delves into its history as he traverses the land and meets local people. He introduces the reader to local culture such as the 'devils' mentioned in the title; sorcerers with magical powers that still play a very prevalent role in today's society. He also draws obvious parallels between his journey and Greene's, with particular witness to the fact that many of the villages he visits in remote jungles are much the same and no better off than they were 77 years ago.
It is a journey very different from that in Blood River, but a bold and fascinating one nonetheless. Let's hope Butcher continues his adventures so we may continue to enjoy his work....more
This would be the first not-about-Africa book we've reviewed here, but it has ties to Africa. For those that have enjoyed Peter Allison's books (WhateThis would be the first not-about-Africa book we've reviewed here, but it has ties to Africa. For those that have enjoyed Peter Allison's books (Whatever You Do, Don't Run! and Don't Look Behind You), How to Walk a Puma: And Other Things I Learned While Stumbling through South America is a natural segue. When he was nineteen, Peter flipped a coin to decide between going to South America and Africa; Africa won. After many (entertaining) years as a safari guide in Africa, he longed to explore the other continent that was part of his contest, so he headed to South America. This book shares his adventures there.
Mr. Allison does in fact walk a puma during his time in South America - over and over again - while trying not to get bitten in the knee too many times. He also rafts piranha- infested rivers, swims in snake infested waters and gets taken down by a wicked empanada. As with his other books, they don't go too deep, but he can craft a story that will keep you entertained throughout. He manages some good cultural observations and makes the reader wish for some of his adventures but certainly not all. A fun read that doesn't require much thinking. ...more
This was a fantastic read of a remarkable journey into Africa’s ‘broken heart’ – the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The author was brave and idealiThis was a fantastic read of a remarkable journey into Africa’s ‘broken heart’ – the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The author was brave and idealistic at best to attempt the journey, and at worst he was self indulgent and stupid. That said, his journey makes for spectacular armchair travel.
Tim Butcher became interested in following in Henry Morton Stanley’s footsteps in charting the Congo River during a trip to Africa in 2000. He spent months and years planning and finally set off with a backpack and a few thousand in cash stuffed in his shoes. During his journey, he uses motorbikes, dugout canoes, a riverboat and his own two feet to travel thousands of kilometres through lands that are essentially off limits to most of the western world.
He meets a fascinating cast of characters along the way, some of whom help him immeasurably and with great risk to themselves, and some who are unsavory and bordering on the dangerous. Butcher weaves in history along the way, giving context to this modern day Congo; from colonial times to the free-for-all mineral based scramble for wealth that takes place today. It all makes for a gripping story that leaves you wondering if he will make it out alive (or at least intact).
This was a brief but entertaining read. The author buys a used Mercedes to drive from Europe to West Africa...don't forget that the Sahara desert is sThis was a brief but entertaining read. The author buys a used Mercedes to drive from Europe to West Africa...don't forget that the Sahara desert is smack in the middle of that journey!
Van Bergeijk is not the first to take this type of trip nor will he be the last; his account is engaging though not ground-breaking as he weaves in history of others' journeys, the provinence of his particular used car and tales of his missteps along the way.
We'd rather be an armchair traveler on this kind of adventure; we're happy to enjoy this account from the comfort of our couch. A fun read that would be something you could start and easily finish on the plane ride to Africa. ...more
The 12th book in Alexander McCall Smith’s ‘No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ series is perhaps my favorite. Endearing as all of the others but especiallThe 12th book in Alexander McCall Smith’s ‘No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ series is perhaps my favorite. Endearing as all of the others but especially poignant, it has the usual mystery, life lessons and charming conversations found in the rest of the series.
This story finds Mma Ramotswe investigating a crime against cattle; an especially egregious thing in Botswana where cattle are valued above all else. Clues lead to unexpected places and she meets many interesting characters along the way. Additionally, there is drama in Mr. J.L.B.Matekoni’s garage when one of his apprentices is presumed responsible for getting a girl pregnant. Mma Ramotswe has to help sort things out there as well.
Best of all, this book leads up to and eventually celebrates the wedding of Mma Makutsi and Phuti Radiphuti. The preparations of course involve the very careful selection of wedding shoes, shoes being a particular passion of Grace Makutsi.
These details are only a few of the stories interwoven in The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party. If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll especially like this book. They are formulaic, but that formula has made them incredibly successful. Definitely a feel-good read. ...more
Book four in the Jade del Cameron series finds Jade back ‘home’ in Nairobi, Kenya. In addition to her unconventional work as a reporter and photojournBook four in the Jade del Cameron series finds Jade back ‘home’ in Nairobi, Kenya. In addition to her unconventional work as a reporter and photojournalist, she takes on the job of helping a zoological company collect wild animals for zoos in the United States. The work has obvious dangers, but Jade skirts them with aplomb and gains the grudging respect of the men ‘in charge’.
Mystery and intrigue find Jade quickly when her friends find the body of a local shopkeeper on their plantation. The cause of death is murder and the prime suspect is Jade’s sweetheart, Sam. Jade launches her efforts to clear Sam’s name and finds danger and adventure at every turn.
Author Suzanne Arruda again paints a picture of the old British East Africa that brings the era to life for the reader. The story is never dull and the action doesn’t stop; Jade del Cameron lives up to her full potential as a quirky heroine. ...more
Desertion is a novel that weaves a tale tied together through generations. It starts in 1899 in Mombasa, Kenya with a local Muslim man coming across aDesertion is a novel that weaves a tale tied together through generations. It starts in 1899 in Mombasa, Kenya with a local Muslim man coming across an Englishman in need of medical assistance. Their chance meeting eventually leads to a romance between the Muslim man's sister and the Englishman, which sets the stage for the fine threads that tie the remaining stories together and form the echoes of repercussions of the affair many decades later.
Gurnah is a wonderful, award-winning writer and his lyrical words bring the reader fully into the stories he creates. He paints an accurate, historical backdrop that sets the stage for the characters we can't help but be fascinated by. Culture and religion are weighty companions in these tales, and moral questions repeatedly appear throughout the work. The start is slow, but the further you get, the more intrigued you will be. Strongly recommended. ...more
Book three of the Jade del Cameron mystery series is as fun and intriguing as the first two. In The Serpent's Daughter, Jade finds herself in 1920's MBook three of the Jade del Cameron mystery series is as fun and intriguing as the first two. In The Serpent's Daughter, Jade finds herself in 1920's Morocco, and true to style, she can't go anywhere without ending up neck-deep in adventure. She's there to meet her mother to try and mend their relationship, but not soon after her arrival, her mother is kidnapped. She traverses Morocco to rescue her mother and deals with multi-talented criminals and challenges all along the way.
Jade is tough as ever in this novel. I've heard her called 'the female Indiana Jones' - it's an appropriate moniker. Jade proudly takes care of herself and only reluctantly accepts help at her most dire moments. The storyline is a little bit formulaic at this point, but it doesn't make it any less enjoyable. Action packed from page one; it's a rollicking ride to the end. ...more
Rick Ridgeway’s ‘The Shadow of Kilimanjaro’ isn’t just a journey through Kenya, it’s a journey through time. The book begins with Rick and his traveliRick Ridgeway’s ‘The Shadow of Kilimanjaro’ isn’t just a journey through Kenya, it’s a journey through time. The book begins with Rick and his traveling companions climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. It is the beginning of a walking safari that will take them all the way to the Kenyan coast. He is accompanied by seasoned guides and trackers as well as rangers from the Kenya Wildlife Service.
Filled with the incredible adventures of meeting and observing animals while on foot, as well as descriptions of the stark beauty of Kenya’s magical parks, the Shadow of Kilimanjaro is a riveting read. Ridgeway deftly augments the stories of his adventure with stories of Kenya’s cast of memorable characters; the Sheldricks, Tsavo warden Bill Woodley, KWS founder Richard Leakey (yes – of those Leakeys!), and more. He tackles the oft-times controversial history of game management and poaching in Kenya, as well as the philosophical side of big game hunting.
The Shadow of Kilimanjaro is an armchair adventure that you won’t want to put down. It’s a must read for anyone planning a visit to Kenya and for those with a passion for Africa’s flora and fauna. ...more