Crossing the heart of Africa by Julian Smith, Harper Perennial 2010
This is the stuff that the adventure stories of the 1800s and early 1900s are made of. An intrepid young man wanting to prove himself to win the hand of a fair maiden sets off on an epic journey. In 1898, Ewart Grogan set out to cross the entire length of Africa – a feat that had not been accomplished before. A century later, travel writer Julian Smith attempts to retrace Grogan’s steps in , fighting against time to make it back home for his wedding.
I really enjoyed reading this book. The story is gripping and the constant shifting between the stories of Grogan and Smith quickens the pace making you want to hurry up and find out how it ends (even if you know it ends well, thanks to the wedding photos in the middle of the book). Smith’s travel writing experience shows in the telling – his descriptions of Africa, her people and his own emotional state as he mulls over his impending matrimony are masterful.
Grogan’s adventure is not to be replicated by the faint-hearted. Even with access to the internet, cellphones, aeroplanes and somewhat sturdy local transport, Smith didn’t have an easy time of it. The cannibals of Grogan’s trip are not around, but there is enough adventure to whet any travel junkie’s appetite.
I recommend Crossing the Heart of Africa for anyone who enjoys a good travel story and swashbuckling adventures of the great explorers. And at its heart, this is a tale of love – it is the two romances that keeps the story together over continents and centuries.
(Book Source: Publisher)