With richly evocative images and wonderfully entertaining anecdotes, Caroline Alexander transports you to the dense interior of equatorial Gabon. In One Dry Season, she chronicles her adventures as she makes her way alone through dangerously primitive territory.
When she first read of Victorian explorer Mary Kingsley’s travels in the French colony of Gabon, Alexander knew she had to experience the present-day nation for herself. Soon she is retracing Kingsley’s route - struggling through tangled vines in humid rain forests, chugging up the churning Ogooué River in a packed steamer, and fending off gigantic cockroaches. The country she discovers is a challenging mixture of Africa’s exotic past and its practical present.
A splendid storyteller, Caroline Alexander introduces you to the colorful new friends she made along the trail, including a shy mission nun, a half-mad French woman, and a village chief who treated her as an errant teenaged daughter. Lisette Lecat’s expert narration brings out all the excitement of today’s Africa.
I haven't read Kingsley's book, but admire Alexander's planning in following the literary trail she left behind. Still, if you're expecting historical footsteps as the primary focus here, it doesn't quite work that way. Roughly half of the book is a modern travel narrative, having little or nothing to do with Kingsley, which was fine by me, but that writer's fans may find the footsteps angle a bit thin. Also, Alexander spends a fair amount of time on a side story of a missionary physician whom Kingsley had met on her journey. Overall, a pleasant read, where not much really happens of note - no wildly challenging monkey wrenches typical of other African adventures: she goes places (some Kingsley-related, others not), meets people, reports what she finds, and moves on to the next location. Lecat's narration came across as a bit more ... patrician, and seems a bit more mature, than I'd expected of Alexander herself, giving the story the air of a Womens' Institute talk from local gentry; however, as there aren't really any truly dramatic moments, that wasn't such a bad fit.
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