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Category Archive for 'Exploration'

There is nothing small-scale about Lily King’s new novel, Euphoria. Here she creates a novel on the grandest scale in terms of themes and ideas, at the same time that she also dramatically changes the time frame and setting from the US in the present to areas of New Guinea so remote that they have never been explored by “outsiders.” American anthropologist Nell Stone and her Australian husband Schuyler Fenwick have been in New Guinea studying previously unknown tribes since 1931, and now, almost two years later, Nell is more than ready for change. For the past six months they have been studying the warlike and cannibalistic Mumbanyo tribe, though most of that study has been done by Fen. Now, however, Nell is weary and frightened of the fearsome Mumbanyos with their bloodlust and their penchant for discarding babies in the river. A meeting with Andrew Bankson, a British anthropologist, gives them a chance to study yet another group, more peaceful, and the three scientists begin to share more than just their research. Based, in part, on the life of anthropologists Margaret Mead, her husband Reo Fortune, and Gregory Bateson in 1933.

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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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