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Category Archive for 'Exploration'

Moments of tenderness alternate with dramatic moments of violence in this semi-autobiographical novel of World War II by Tatamkhulu Afrika, a name assumed by the author late in life and meaning “Grandfather Africa.” As the novel begins, an elderly man is opening two letters which accompany a package. Telling the story from his own point of view, the old man learns in the first letter, from a law firm, that someone the speaker refers to only as “he,” someone he knew more than fifty years ago, has died after a long illness and that the speaker has received a legacy. The second letter is from “him,” a man who has been “lost” to the speaker for virtually all of his post-war life. The legacy and the letter clearly upset the speaker as he wonders “Am I permitting a phantom a power that belongs to me alone? What relevance do they still have – a war that time has tamed into the damp squib of every other war, [and] a love whose strangeness is best left buried where it lies?” Though he knows he should leave the past buried, he is unable to resist. What follows is the story of the four years the speaker survived when, during the long siege of Tobruk, he suddenly found himself a prisoner of war. This is an honest and controlled novel which focuses brilliantly on some of the well-known but less publicized aspects of prison camp life.

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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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