Across Africa by Verney Lovett Cameron RippingYarns.com, hb, pp508, 25.95 [pounds sterling]
Adventure is its own destination. Deprived of the opportunity to rescue Dr Livingstone--and thus publicise efforts to end slavery--by Stanley's having found him first, in 1875, Verney Lovett Cameron set off across Africa anyway, together with two British companions, numerous bearers and a donkey named Jenny Lind.
Cameron's east-west journey is a catalogue of horrors; he'd barely begun before fever reduced him to a near-skeleton, half blind and unable to walk. Bearers deserted at regular intervals, his companions died, yet throughout, he maintained an imperturbable sang-froid, whether describing how he was in so much pain that he was unable to feel hunger ("and this was rather fortunate, for there was nothing to eat"), or any of the other calamities that befell him ("I confess I rather thought I was shot"). "I am thought 'Unlucky'" we're warned by one of his chapter headings, and it's hard not to agree with the bearers who labelled him thus. Except, of course, that he survived.
For all the gulf between his time and ours ("I never contemplated writing a book of travel, but merely undertook the journey," he says on the opening page--the inverse, it sometimes seems, of the way things are done today), it's impossible not to warm to the man, who was driven by the most admirable of motives and never let go of the dream of an Africa that might be "free and happy". Mick Herron