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Category Archive for 'Exploration'

If the title of this book doesn’t pique your curiosity from the outset, the photo of the author in Eskimo dress probably will. The astounding ironies – the contrasts between what we are seeing in the author photo vs. what we expect when we see someone wearing traditional Eskimo (Inuit) dress – are only the first of many such ironies as Tete-Michel Kpomassie, a young man from Togo in West Africa makes a journey of discovery to Greenland. For the first sixty pages, the author describes life in Togo in lively detail, setting the scene for his lengthy journey from Togo to Copenhagen to get a visa for Greenland, an autonomous country within the kingdom of Denmark. As he travels over the next ten years through Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Senegal, and Mauritania, before arriving in Marseille, Paris, Bonn, and eventually Copenhagen, he clearly establishes his background and experiences and the mindset and cultural background he will be bringing with him when he finally gets to Greenland. With a wonderful eye for the telling detail, Kpomassie becomes real, a stand-in for the reader who will enjoy living through his journey vicariously. The people he meets not only represent their culture but emerge as individuals through their interactions with him. Despite language differences, he is able to communicate and share their lives, and because of his honesty and his curiosity about their culture, he makes many friends in Greenland – and with the reader who shares his enthusiasm for discovery.

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Winner of Australia’s highest literary award, The Miles Franklin Award, this dramatic novel is set on the plains of Queensland, Australia. On one level it tells of the long, epic struggle of white farmers to tame a land which has a life of its own—and which sometimes costs farmers their own lives. On another, it is an historical record of the genocide of the native aborigine population by colonizers who do not recognize or care about the aborigines’ centuries-long relationship with the land or any claims they might have to it. On still other levels, it is a mystery story, full of murder and deceit, and the Gothic study of a man who lets his obsession with a particular piece of land and a particular, now-decaying mansion control every aspect of his life. And it is also the coming-of-age story of a young boy who may one day represent a fresh, new spirit—one of respect for the earth, its history, and all the people who have walked it. A Reading Group Guide is available. See note at end of photo credits.

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In Dark Star Safari (2002), author Paul Theroux travels along Africa’s east coast from Egypt to South Africa, through Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and other countries. Though he begins his trip full of hope, he discovers that life on Africa’s east coast, as seen here in 2002, is not what he remembered from his Peace Corps days. Then he had been a volunteer in Malawi and a teacher in Uganda, leaving the country just as Idi Amin came to power. Despite the political upheavals of the 1960′s, his memories of Africa during that time are good ones. In 2002, approaching his sixtieth birthday, he is determined to travel from Cairo to Cape Town, believing that the continent “contain[s] many untold tales and some hope and comedy and sweetness, too,” and that there is “more to Africa than misery and terror,” something he aims to discover as he “wander[s] the antique hinterland.”

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When the son of Paul Hackett, an American, hears that he is the heir and currrent Byzantine emperor in exile, he is stunned, unable to imagine how these circumstances have evolved. He has lived with his mother’s family in Turkey ever since his parents divorced when he was two, and he has shared the name of his Turkish grandfather, ever since. Telling his own story, the speaker is now a successful businessman in his early thirties. An economist schooled at Columbia in New York and at the London School of Economics, he loves research and writing, and he is intrigued by the prospect of investigating the baffling announcement that he is truly the latest emperor-in-exile. Long fascinated by the history of the Byzantine Empire, which lasted for over eleven hundred years before being finally defeated by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the speaker is anxious to investigate further. This unusual novel defies genre. The story as described above, resembles a fantasy, providing a framework for this novel, but it represents only a small part of the actual text. It is also a “quest story.” The speaker’s travels, typical of a quest, do not involve hardship, financial or otherwise, and this is not a travel narrative in which a main character faces dangerous obstacles as he travels to exotic places around the globe. Detailed information about the order of the emperors and how they ascended to their thrones, the people they killed (and often blinded), and how they themselves died sometimes make the novel sound like a complex history book, however. The term “Byzantine intrigue” takes on new meaning as the stories of the emperors unfold.

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Through flashbacks, an aging surfer, Brucie Pike (“Pikelet”), relives his coming-of-age on the west coast of Australia in the 1960s and 1970s. A lonely boy leading a solitary life, he finds a companion, if not friend, in Ivan Loon (“Loonie”), with whom he shares his love of extreme surfing. “How strange it was,” Pikelet remarks, “to see men do something beautiful. Something pointless and elegant, as though nobody saw and cared.” But the beauty of surfing quickly yields in importance to its excitement and its increasingly dangerous thrills. “There was never any doubt about the primary thrill of surfing, the huge body-rush we got flying down the line with the wind in our ears. We didn’t know what endorphins were, but we quickly understood how narcotic the feeling was, and how addictive it became; from day one I was stoned from just watching,” Pikelet declares. Eventually, however, Pikelet begins to question the relationship between excitement, thrills, risk, and death and what maturity really means. In spare prose which uses some of the most vivid action verbs ever included in a novel, Winton tells an exciting story which makes the seductive thrills of surfing comprehensible to the non-surfer, while showing how his characters discover what makes men humans and ultimately what makes life worth living.

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