Sep 17, 2009

No Room in the Ark

by Alan Moorehead

This book describes the author's various safaris to view wildlife in Africa during the 1950's. I really enjoyed reading his vivid descriptions of the weather, landscape and animals- especially incidents where he came into closer contact with the wildlife. One night a hyena snuck into his tent and ate his leather boots right from under his cot! Not so nice was reading his descriptions of the various native tribes- he only praised those that had tall, slender people, and spoke in really insulting and derogatory terms of others whose appearance did not please him, especially the pygmies. Some of the animals were also recipients of his prejudice- his party found wild dogs so distateful that they threw stones at them to drive them away. There is one chapter specifically about poaching operations- especially ivory- and another on how the Masai's needs for land to graze their cattle conflicted with wildlife. One of the most interesting sections of the books described a hike his party took into the foothills of Mount Muhavura in hopes of seeing moutain gorillas. He mentions some pioneering researchers- Carl Akeley and Jill Donisthorpe- whose names were new to me, as the fame of later scientists like George Schaller and Dian Fossey has eclipsed them. The final chapter is about his trip down the Nile, where I found a very interesting passage about which books are good to read while on vacation in Africa!
"In these circumstances one reads books in quite a different way. Not only do you make a re-appraisal of them, so that those which before seemed good now sometimes seem trivial; inevitably the actual experiences that happen to you on your journey get mixed up with the book you chance to have before you at the moment. And the results are often bizarre..."
He goes on to briefly discuss various genres and which make a good fit with the safari atmosphere. His final conclusion? "In the end Jane Austen may be the most rewarding." So all you Jane Austen fans, you must make the experiment of reading one of her novels next time you travel in Africa, and tell me if you agree with his assessment!

Rating: 3/5 ........ 227 pages, 1957


Eva said...

I often have that issue with books about Africa written in the first half of the twentieth century. There's beautiful nature writing directly alongside ugly racism.

Jeane said...

Yes; I have read several in a row and they all seem to have this to some degree or another.

Cath said...

I once gave up on a Victorian exploration book about south Africa because all the author could talk about was all the animals he'd killed. I realised that attitudes were different back then but in the end I just couldn't take any more. So I understand why some of the attitudes in this one made you uncomfortable.