(Issue 71, Summer 2015) Books that have caught our eye this season:
5 recommended African reads
Biologist, former tour leader and Africa enthusiast Erik van de Ven picks his favourite books
1 Solitaire, by Ton van der Lee
Dutch movie director van der Lee isn’t happy with his life so leaves everything and everyone behind to go to Africa. He finally ends up running a gas station and general store on the edge of the Namib Desert: this is Solitaire. He feels at peace here, but his Dutch entrepreneurial tendencies soon kick in. Together with the owners of Solitaire, Peter and his brother-in-law Moose, he begins to transform the place into an overnight stopover for travellers. When Lonely Planet features their business, the number of tourists increases, but so do the sizzling tensions. Nonetheless, Solitaire becomes an overlanders’ hotspot.
2 Africa Overland, by Lizzie Williams
Travel writer Williams has compiled an amazing, photograph-filled guide covering the most popular overland routes, towns, stops and excursions in Africa. This book will bring back memories for anyone who has been on a road trip through this vast continent. I can’t leaf through it without a huge smile on my face, as I think back to my own experiences of gorilla tracking, climbing Dune 45 at sunrise, jumping off the bridge at the Victoria Falls, and more.
3 Around Africa on my bicycle, by Riaan Manser
Capetonian Riaan Manser decides he wants to get away from it all, so he decides to cycle around the coastline of Africa. His journey is one big adventure into the unknown and he encounters many difficulties, ranging from visa problems to contracting malaria to being kidnapped by child soldiers in Liberia, but he still enjoys every second. I found this an inspirational and fascinating read.
4 Explorers of the Nile, by Tim Jeal
In this impressive book Jeal describes the search for the source of the Nile by the renowned Victorian explorers Livingstone, Stanley, Burton, Speke, Grant and Baker, with all their discoveries and difficulties, their triumphs and failures. It’s a very interesting volume that gives you an understanding of what it would have been like to explore Africa in the second half of the nineteenth century.
5 We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, by Philip Gourevitch
This is an overview of one of the world’s biggest tragedies: the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. A hundred days of nonstop killings… Why? Gourevitch tries to explain what happened, the causes and the events that followed. It’s a shocking, eye-opening book, filled not just with facts but with numerous eyewitness accounts. An excellent piece
of journalistic writing.
I often visit secondhand bookshops to browse the shelves for a hidden gem that will inspire my future African travels. On one occasion I almost overlooked what has come to be one of my favourite reads. The title gives little hint of the pioneering adventure to come, but Throw out two hands by Anthony Smith brilliantly describes the first hot air balloon flights over East Africa in 1962. These early attempts were nothing like the smooth, controlled flights of today, which allow travellers to float serenely over the savannah. The author, a novice balloon pilot, takes you with him on an exhilarating mission full of mishap and danger. I felt envy combined with a strong sense of relief that I was merely reading about his experiences. In fact, if you are considering taking a balloon ride in the near future, I suggest you read this book afterwards!
Recommended by Ian Vernon, Bath, UK
The Fortunes of Africa , by Martin Meredith
Don’t let the size of this hefty tome put you off. The word count may be high, but Meredith has taken on no mean task in his latest book: tracing the history of Africa over 5000 years. He does this with remarkable skill, expertly weaving together exploration, geography, the impact of colonialism and the relentless pursuit of gold and riches that has underpinned most of the continent’s struggles and development. His attention to detail is outstanding, and the pace is snappy enough to whisk you from cover to cover.
Wild Rwanda , by Ken Behrens, Christian Boi and Keith Barnes
This excellent guide to Rwandan wildlife is the work of three birding experts – and it shows. You will find meticulous attention to detail and top-notch photography. An earnest desire to see Rwanda recognised for her abundant natural beauty rather than shackled by her shadowy past dominates.
Desert God , by Wilbur Smith
Yet another scintillating page-turner from octogenarian Wilbur Smith recently hit the shelves. This historical novel follows freed slave Taita as he charges up the Nile through Arabia and Babylon, with Pharaoh’s beautiful sisters in tow. One for the beach.