Welcome to the Travel Africa Book Club, a valued resource for all readers with an interest in African wildlife, culture and travel.
We’ll let you know about new releases, dig out some interesting old favourites and invite guests to recommend and review titles. Most importantly, we call on you to share you own suggestions and reviews of books you’ve particularly enjoyed. We are developing this online and send out regular updates, so please sign up to our newsletter. Happy reading!
Featured book: The Sacred Combe, by Simon Barnes
(Bloomsbury, hardback, ISBN: 978-147291-40-40)
For 32 years Simon Barnes was chief sports writer for The Times but he’s better known as one of Britain’s finest natural history writers. His latest offering, published in January, is like no other nature book you will ever read. In it, he suggests that all of us have a sacred combe buried deep in our psyche, a secret place, real or imagined in which we are at one with the natural world. For Barnes, having visited Zambia’s Luangwa Valley many years ago, nothing would ever be the same.
In this eulogy to one of Africa’s finest wildlife strongholds he describes the unending loveliness of his Paradise Found. For him, this is not a Caribbean beach and a drink with an umbrella in it. Instead, in elegant prose fizzing with wonderful imagery, he takes you deep into the soul of Luangwa, to marvel at its ebony glades, its woodland kingfishers and nights made resonant by the bellowing of lions: “a crescendo that reaches a perfect intensity and then falls away.” If this doesn’t make you want to jump onto the first plane to Lusaka, then nothing will.
Reviewed by Brian Jackman
Reader suggestion: The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood
Journalist Helene Cooper grew up at Sugar Beach, a vast seaside mansion in Liberia on the west coast of Africa. Her childhood was privileged and happy. When she was eight her parents took in a foster child named Eunice. Then came the military coup of 1980 and her family came under attack. Helene, her mother and sisters left for the United States, leaving Eunice behind. Twenty years later Helene returns to find out what happened to her. It’s a well-written, honest memoir of tragedy and forgiveness, a search for a lost African childhood that gave me a glimpse into a country I knew very little about.
Recommended by Roxanne Reid, South Africa
5 Adventurous African Reads
Explorer and photographer Levison Wood picks his favourite books
1 Green Hills of Africa, by Ernest Hemingway
It may be dated and colonial, but the author’s style and charisma go a long way towards bringing to life the rawness of mid-20th century East Africa. It’s based on the heavy-drinking author’s own experiences in East Africa when he set out in search of adventure and ivory. Yes, there’s a focus on hunting, but Hemingway’s descriptions of the beauty and colours of the landscapes are superb. In the process, he exposes the flaws of the system and some interesting attitudes of the time.
2 King Solomon’s Mines, by H Rider Haggard
Even though this book is more than a hundred years old — it was first published in 1885 — this tale of a fictional hunter’s quest in search of King Solomon’s Mines is utterly timeless. Allan Quatermain, a veteran adventurer embarks on a mission at the behest of a chance encounter with a man whose brother is missing. The team finds itself in all sorts of mischief and ends up in a remote, isolated kingdom facing everything from warring tribes and terrible witches to being a prisoner inside the mythical diamond mines themselves. Proper Boys’ Own stuff, and makes you want to don your pith helmet and board a steamship
to the Cape.
3 Flashman on the March, by GM Fraser
This 1969 fictional account of the British advance on the Ethiopian fortress of Magdala in 1868, seen through the eyes of the Victorian anti-hero Harry Flashman VC, is a hilarious romp. This very un-PC yarn puts the reader right in the thick of it, delving into the rogue’s devious mind, as he jumps from one chance encounter to another, meeting far too many unsuspecting ladies along the way.
4 Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
This classic ‘tale of warning’, which defined a genre and was the inspiration for Apocalypse Now, is a story of when ‘going native’ goes wrong, set against a picturesque but hostile backdrop of turn-of-the-century Congo. It’s a story of the loss of hope, of futility and ultimately of the worst clichés of Africa brought to life in a dark river journey. This thought-provoking read forces us to revisit our views of colonialism and the ‘white man’s burden’.
5 Dark Star Safari, by Paul Theroux
The master of miserable travel, Theroux recounts his journey across the continent in his unique, sardonic style, with incredible and relentlessly lifelike descriptions. This is one of the great books about Africa and an absolute must-read for anyone attempting the overland route between Cairo and the Cape. Theroux makes no attempt to pacify the reader with what they want to hear. He tells it how he sees it and is brutally honest and candid in his assessment of the problems facing the continent in the modern age. He’s disparaging of aid and NGOs; he exposes corruption and laziness; and, in his own way, makes the reader want to go to Africa to see if things really are as bad as he makes out — which, luckily, they aren’t.
Birds of Botswana, by Peter Hancock & Ingrid Weiersbye
Written by a Botswana-based ornithologist, this field guide covers all 597 known species of bird. Illustrations are clear, concise and contain detailed descriptions, along with up-to-date information on the best ‘twitching’ in the country.
No Picnic on Mount Kenya, by Felice Benuzzi
First published in 1952, this hardback reprint tells the incredible story of three Italians’ escape from a prisoner-of-war camp in Nanyuki and their ascent of the perilous north face of Mount Kenya with improvised equipment — purely for the experience. It’s an awe-inspiring account of the importance of adventure, as well as a fascinating insight into life in prison. Beautifully, poetically written.
101 Kruger Tales, by Jeff Gordon
Spend any time around a campfire in the bush and, invariably, talk moves to wildlife-related encounters, most of which are hearsay. These remarkable tales recounted to author Jeff Gordon are the real-life stories of many visitors to South Africa’s Kruger National Park. From stampeding elephant to impala leaping into cars and tourists bathing with crocodiles, this book will certainly keep you entertained. Not highbrow, but fun.