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A quick plea for help

January 5, 2012

I’m finishing a last-minute assignment due today at noon, so I shouldn’t even be typing this. However, without being too coy (all shall be revealed in the fullness of time), I need your advice, because I’m going somewhere.  Somewhere really good, really far away, for a bit over two weeks. Okay, it’s Tanzania. My stepfather was going to go with my mom, but he suddenly can’t, so I’m going in his stead (the safari would have gone to waste otherwise). I’m beside myself with excitement, and I am horribly nervous that I will bring the wrong BOOKS.

I might have already read everything there is to read about Africa, specifically East Africa, because I’ve wanted to go since I was about fourteen.  But please, lay any recommendations on me. Ideally I’d like a mesmerizing doorstopper, and no, I’m NOT going to take A Suitable Boy this time, because I simply can’t justify carrying it across another set of time zones and not reading it. (Okay, I’ll probably end up taking it. But what else?)

I have access to a Kindle, but somehow it doesn’t fit with my mental image of reading by candlelight in a tent, under mosquito netting. I need actual books. They don’t HAVE to be about Africa, of course.

What’s the best book to read in Tanzania?  I’ll probably need at least six or seven options, and I’ll probably end up bringing them all….

49 Comments leave one →
  1. yammeringon permalink
    January 5, 2012 8:38 am

    have you read Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight and/or Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness? Both personal histories (same author) of growing up in Zimbabwe during the revolution and will make you appreciate A. your surroundings if things get a bit rough ever though if you’re with a tour they probably won’t and B. your relationship with your mother if things get tense. Plus, they’re funny. Another not bad duo to take would be Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder alongside Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

    If you have a lot of plane time, though, you could easily tear through all four in a couple of days.

  2. irretrievablybroken permalink*
    January 5, 2012 8:47 am

    I’ve read both the Alexandra Fuller ones–I know I’d whip through the Patchett, and it’s only out in hardcover! Oooh, rereading Conrad might not be a bad idea at all, though. I have an old copy somewhere, and I can ditch it when I’m finished. I LOVED Don’t lets go to the dogs tonight…

  3. Nellig permalink
    January 5, 2012 8:56 am

    Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrel would be good if you’re into massively long, well-written, rich, slow psuedo-Victoriana. Gillespie and I, ditto. Real Victoriana (Dickens, Trollope, Gaskell) would also offer fantastic value for money when you have lots of cognitive capacity going spare, and nothing much else to do.

    Funnily enough William Gibson works best in this scenario too. Plus the contrast between his universe and your external reality would be extra piquant. He’s also good when you need your brain kept busy but your emotions left well alone.

  4. January 5, 2012 8:58 am

    I’m tempted to not help you because I am so ENVIOUS but I do try not to be shallow and weak. Have you read Egan’s Goon Squad? A few chapters take place on safari and the whole thing is very wonderful. How about Deep Survival? Nonfiction, but the best kind of nonfiction, about who survives disaster and why. Great to read while traveling. I’ve been on a literary crime novel kick and am devouring Ian Rankin and Jo Nesbo, who would be completely incongruous to read in Tanzania but might keep your mind off mosquitoes. And thanks to you I’m reading The Family Fang and subsequently neglecting my children because it’s so fabulous – thank you.

  5. Nellig permalink
    January 5, 2012 9:08 am

    The Crimson Petal and the White! So horribly good! So incredibly long!

  6. irretrievablybroken permalink*
    January 5, 2012 9:13 am

    Oh god, this is terrible. I’ve READ the Goon Squad (and all of Egan), and the Crimson Petal, and Jonathan Strange, and Cutting for Stone. Not Deep Survival, though, which sounds promising. And yes, some Dickens/Trollope might not be a bad idea….

  7. helena permalink
    January 5, 2012 9:21 am

    Have been dying to read 1Q84 by a Japanese writer whose name I’m too lazy to Google at the moment; it’s supposed to be mind-blowing. Also adored American Gods, which is nice and portable but engrossing and wonderful. If you do have room for a doorstopper you might also want to check out Steven King’s newest, sounds like the perfect halfway-around-the-world-plane-trip novel. And you’re going on safari in Africa…, wow, WOW!

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 5, 2012 12:18 pm

      I can’t handle Marukami–I’m too stupid for him. American Gods? What’s that?

  8. Anna permalink
    January 5, 2012 9:30 am

    Ach, I’m typing from my phone while putting the baby to nap & can’t check the name – but The Shadow of the Sun (?) by Ryzard Kapinski (?), The Zanzibar Chest by Adrian Hartley, My Traitor’s Heart by Rian Malan, & Mukiwa by Peter Godwin are my favourites on Africa. I also like the young Nigerian writer whose name I can’t remember – Ngozi I think…?

    Doorsteppers – I was recently enthralled by Wolf Hall, & I remember reading The Moonstone by Collins on a bus in Zambia back in the day.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 5, 2012 12:20 pm

      OH! I’ve been looking for that Kapuscinski book forever without knowing it–wasn’t it excerpted in the New Yorker, and he was under the truck and saying he was going to die either tomorrow, unless the radiator was empty, in which case he’d die today? I just ordered it. Also Zanzibar Chest. I read Wolf Hall, and loved it. Just thinking of being on a bus in Zambia back in the day thrills me to the core. Have you read A Primate’s Memoir?

  9. kath permalink
    January 5, 2012 9:36 am

    as i’m blinded by jealousy, i’ve got nothin’…seriously tho, have an amazing trip – really looking forward to hearing all about it! xo

  10. January 5, 2012 10:20 am

    Have you read the new Eugenides? That’s at the top of my list. Real life becomes a major nuisance when I read him, Africa would be the perfect setting to get nice and absorbed. For stupid, pseudo-intellectual fun A Discovery of Witches (romance, but she’s an academic so it doesn’t feel so Harlequin). Three Junes is easy and lovely and a bit about travel. Any of Tana French’s stuff to get good and creeped out. Up In the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell, if you love NYC. Nothing to do with Africa, unfortunately.

    And A Suitable Boy sits on my shelf unread as well.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 5, 2012 12:22 pm

      I started the Eugenides, but it’s a little too familiar (same college, same time period, roughly) and besides, I’ll read it too fast. Read and loved Three Junes, read and loved all of Tana French, will never read A Suitable Boy, probably….unless we make a contest out of it or something.

      • January 5, 2012 1:40 pm

        I returned ASB to the bookshelf in abject shame. Just… too much No.

        • Tripta permalink
          January 11, 2012 4:19 pm

          Why is it that no one can finish ASB? I’m Indian, the details/scenes are familiar to me, and yet…I just couldn’t. I tried for months and then I finally gave up and moved on.
          Lucky you, really! It sounds like a fabulous trip. Have fun.

  11. January 5, 2012 11:16 am

    I hope you’re going to bring a paperback copy of Out of Africa because reading that by candlelight in a tent is too perfect an image not to act out.

    Other than that I’d recommend any of the Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett. They have the right feel and they’re good and thoughty and dense while still being swashbuckling. Perfect for safari, I think.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 5, 2012 12:22 pm

      Yes, and West With the NIght, too. Right? Lymond Chronicles sound great. I should also bring a Flashman or two, probably.

    • January 5, 2012 1:16 pm

      Lymond! Lymond! Lymond! (Ummm… hello, Kizz! Slight… err… Dunnett maniac here! *vaguely embarrassed post-outburst cough*) Definitely Game of Kings – Lymond the first. There is nothing quite like the Lymond Chronicles, nothing at all.

      • January 5, 2012 1:28 pm

        I think that you’re either a maniac or you don’t like the books. There is no middle ground.

        I didn’t rec a particular one in the set because I couldn’t decide. On the one hand my Capricorn soul wants her to begin at the beginning (even though I didn’t) but on the other hand I want her to read either about the Russian or the Eastern travels because she’s also traveling and I want there to be that synergy. It’s win win, it’s Lymond!

        • January 5, 2012 1:44 pm

          *nods in fervent agreement* You are either an Initiate, an Initiate-In-Waiting, or a complete Knowlessman! I am (*more spluttery coughing* *looks around cautiously* *lowers voice*) a member of the DD society…

          • January 5, 2012 1:47 pm

            But of course, the danger that safari would be cruelly neglected in favour of the book…. I just think it’s too high. I lost an entire Christmas to the Lymond Chronicles, reading day and All. Through. The Night, and a fortnight’s bedrest to Niccolo!

  12. January 5, 2012 11:19 am

    Since everyone else is suggesting fiction/memoir, may I suggest a few of the other persuasion? Collapse, by Jared Diamond, clocks in at 592 chewy if SLIIIIIGHTLY repetitive pages, and seems potentially apropos when traveling in a country where people live closer to the edge. It’s a followup to his Guns, Germs & Steel (which I’d also recommend if you haven’t read it, though that one helps to have an atlas nearby). Then there’s Emma’s War, about an idealistic young aid worker who married a guerilla leader. That’s almost memoir, of the car crash variety. Ooh! And then? Speaking of memoirs? There’s Helene Cooper’s The House at Sugar Beach, about growing up as part of the founding elite in Liberia. My only caveat about that one is that it’s almost better in audiobook, because she reads it herself and I STILL can’t get her beautiful Liberian English out of my head.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 5, 2012 6:44 pm

      I’ve read the Diamond books, but not Emma’s War, and I read part of The House at Sugar Beach–why did I stop? Can’t remember.

      • January 6, 2012 1:46 pm

        It’s because you weren’t listening to the audiobook, I assume.

  13. January 5, 2012 11:24 am

    I went on a safari to Tanzania! Let me know if you would like to hear about it.

    Africa books…I know you’ve read Mating, right? It’s African and awesome. What about a re-read of The Poisonwood Bible? Have you read House on Sugar Beach? What about Into the Heart of Darkness by Redmond O’Hanlon? Some of those Graham Greene novels are set in African I think…

    Right now I’m reading The Last Werewolf and I love it…it’s tremendously well-written and not genre-bound at all. Very existential.

    You really NEED State of Wonder. NEED.

    I also recently enjoyed Nightwoods by Charles Frazier and The Great Night by Chris Adrian.

    I liked the latest Eugenides, but did not love it.

    Have fun!!!

  14. January 5, 2012 12:20 pm

    What about Doris Lessing’s work? Some of her works are stories about growing up in Zimbabwe. For random non-African examples, I like Samurai’s Garden by Tsukiyama and The Room by Emma Donoghue. I second the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie recommendation.

  15. January 5, 2012 1:19 pm

    How ’bout Alexander McCall Smith’s No1 Ladies Detective Agency series? Lovely, delicate, gentle novels. Ok, they’re set in Botswana, not Tanzania, but country, smountry: they’re delectable little pieces of African warmth!

    Or Lymond, of course. But honestly, I think Dunnett deserves a week’s holiday especially to give her the concentration she deserves; I wouldn’t have said the series was holiday literature. Too opaque, and requiring of Brain.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 5, 2012 6:48 pm

      I’ve read the McCall Smith books (not ALL of them, I don’t think, but nearly all) and I have to confess that I had to read the Golden Notebook at an early age and it bored me senseless. Room freaked me out so badly I had to put it in another part of the house after I finished it, though it was amazingly well written. I just wish I’d never read it. I just read the Redmond O’Hanlon one–shudder.
      Others are being duly noted. Thank you!

  16. CWF permalink
    January 5, 2012 3:43 pm

    Forget the books, they’re too heavy and take up too much space. Write. Write something for us each and every day. Ready to post immediately upon return. I want to hear of every detail of each day, the animals you see, people you meet, the weather, the jeeps, the tents, the sounds, the smells, the food, the great big sky, etc. You can read any time. Just a thought, a selfish thought so I can glean vicarious pleasure through your travel.

  17. irretrievablybroken permalink*
    January 5, 2012 6:27 pm

    Way to harsh my comment buzz, consoling-windows friend.

  18. January 5, 2012 7:37 pm

    I have no recommendations, because I am terribly behind and deficient in my own reading. BUT. I am so jealous! I have always wanted to visit Africa, and I hope that you have the most amazing trip.

  19. Schooner permalink
    January 5, 2012 9:05 pm

    I know this is terrible, but I am going to suggest to you nonfiction that I have not read, but these are the books that I would read if I were going to Tanzania:

    War in Uganda by Tony Avirgan and M. Honey


    Africa’s Stalled Development: International Causes and Cures by David K. Leonard

    And worse, I think they are both out of print.


    All of the authors moved to Tanzania in the 1970s to be part of the socialist experiment there.

    Tony and Martha marched across Uganda with the Tanzanian army (and I believe were the only press/scholars allowed to do so), and this is their book about the fall of Idi Amin. I have always meant to read this book. I also recommend Tony’s documentary “Taxi to Timbuktu”, but that is the wrong side of the continent and not a book.

    I pick Prof Leonard because he is smart and was at some point sympathetic to socialism. I would expect interesting insights into post-colonialism from him. I’m not a socialist–I just dislike overly critical analysis of what was a generous and optimistic movement in some parts of the world, and particularly in Tanzania.

    Also, if you are not familiar with the article that analyzes the colonial roots of the genocide in Rwanda, you might consider reading it–unless that is common knowledge now?

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      January 5, 2012 9:59 pm

      I read the Gourevitch book about Rwanda–“We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families”–is that the one you mean? I read King Leopold’s Ghost, but I haven’t read your two–I’ll try to snag them from the college library tomorrow, look before I go.

  20. January 5, 2012 9:40 pm

    Wow! Enjoy your trip! It’s one of my dreams to do that! I’m totally with CWF – just write! So I can live vicariously through your experiences! I started reading Barry Eisler books (spy/murder) after hearing his interview on NPR. You’ll go through those books within a few hours, but if you do read them, read them in order as they the stories tie through sequentially. I’m the type of person who does not skip a paragraph in case I miss something so I could never read these books out of order.
    Have a fabulous trip!

  21. Lisa G permalink
    January 5, 2012 9:46 pm

    I’m an Africa junkie too! Here are a few books that I would consider taking with me on safari:

    The Bolter by Frances Osborne (“[A] rumbustious and harrowing biography that takes us from London to Newport to Kenya. . . . A feast for the Anglophile.” —The New York Times Book Review)

    The Flame Trees of Thika: Memories of an African Childhood, Elspeth Huxley

    Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller, Judith Thurman (“This, like the best biographies, is a book in which the reader can live.”–Margaret Drabble, The New York Times Book Review)

    Can’t wait to read about your trip!

    • Lisa G permalink
      January 5, 2012 10:01 pm

      Oh, and also Green Hills of Africa, Ernest Hemingway!

  22. Alison permalink
    January 6, 2012 5:14 am

    I’m an African.

    Flames Trees of Thika.

    Or what about some John Coetzee? Right continent, Different country, but incredible stuff. I’m kindof partial to Boyhood, but his stuff is great.

  23. irretrievablybroken permalink*
    January 6, 2012 7:57 am

    Oh, I HAVE The Flame Trees of Thika somewhere, bought at a used booksale. Coetzee is great–Michael K. is my favorite. Where are you from?

    • Alison permalink
      January 8, 2012 7:09 pm

      South Africa. But I live in Savannah now.

  24. Susan permalink
    January 6, 2012 8:52 am

    Anything by Dinesen, and do read Beryl Markham’s West With the Night. There’s also a pretty fabulous biography of Markham – things weren’t exactly the way she describes them in her book, but she did live a truly outrageous life. I second the recommendation of the Thurman bio of Dinesen: she was an amazing woman.

    And do write for yourself! What does Africa smell like? Taste like? What colors is it?

    Have a wonderful time!

  25. jen permalink
    January 6, 2012 5:13 pm

    someone said Mating already, right? Also Whites, Rush’s short stories. I didn’t like the followup to Mating (can’t remember the name) as much. Not about Africa, but I liked Charlotte Mendelson’s novels semi-recently. They’re quick, though. Oh! John Le Carré’s Kenya book, The Constant Gardener, is excellent.

  26. Celeste permalink
    January 6, 2012 8:52 pm

    I can’t remember the title of the lone book I’ve read about Africa (it featured a white woman married to a Liberian man and having children with him before having to flee due to civil war) and I didn’t love it anyhow. But somebody upstream jogged my memory of my favorite Ann Patchett story, The Patron Saint of Liars. I think it would be nice in transit because it’s about a woman who is her most essential self when she is driving/in travel status. Have a grand time! If your blog doesn’t have to remain photo-free, we’d love to see what you see.

  27. Elsie permalink
    January 7, 2012 10:34 am

    Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux; Brazzaville Beach by William Boyd; Rules of the Wild by Francesca Marciano; towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay; Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron; the Lymond books (sweet francis)
    I read A suitable Boy while breastfeeding, and became permanently lopsided since I my left hand lacked the strength to hold it and I could never switch sides.

  28. mcr permalink
    January 7, 2012 7:57 pm

    I’m late to the game but:
    Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria by Noo Saro-Wiwa
    Weep Not, Child by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
    Hilda Bernstein, The World that was Ours
    Something by Achebe? Things Fall Apart?

  29. February 4, 2012 12:48 am

    MICATZ, a non-profit organization based in Tanzania, places volunteers from across the world willing to assist in various welfare projects in schools, hospitals, orphanages, monasteries, community/government organizations etc. with an aim to educate and help influence the life of the deprived people throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America.

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