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Page Turners for a Traveler

Africa Alexandra Fuller Barbara Kingsolver books bookworm Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfullness Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight Half of a Yellow Sun I Married Adventure Isak Dinesen Karen Blixen Lifestyle must read Osa Johnson Out of Africa Peter Goodwin reading reading list The Poisonwood Bible travel When a Crocodile Eats the Sun

I have long been a lover of books that take me away to places I have never been to, set me on an adventure, allow me to live in a different place and time for a while. My favorites are the ones where I find myself reading to the point when my eyes close against my will and I wake up to find the book lying next to me where I forfeited to sleep. I have many favorite titles and “must read” suggestions, but in light of leaving for Africa one week from today I thought I’d share three of my favorite nonfiction titles that take place there as well as a few others on my reading list:

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller


“A classic is born in this tender, intensely moving and even delightful journey through a white African girl’s childhood. Born in England and now living in Wyoming, Fuller was conceived and bred on African soil during the Rhodesian civil war (1971-1979), a world where children over five “learn[ed] how to load an FN rifle magazine, strip and clean all the guns in the house, and ultimately, shoot-to-kill.” With a unique and subtle sensitivity to racial issues, Fuller describes her parents’ racism and the wartime relationships between blacks and whites through a child’s watchful eyes. Curfews and war, mosquitoes, land mines, ambushes and “an abundance of leopards” are the stuff of this childhood. “Dad has to go out into the bush… and find terrorists and fight them”; Mum saves the family from an Egyptian spitting cobra; they both fight “to keep one country in Africa white-run.” The “A” schools (“with the best teachers and facilities”) are for white children; “B” schools serve “children who are neither black nor white”; and “C” schools are for black children. Fuller’s world is marked by sudden, drastic changes: the farm is taken away for “land redistribution”; one term at school, five white students are “left in the boarding house… among two hundred African students”; three of her four siblings die in infancy; the family constantly sets up house in hostile, desolate environments as they move from Rhodesia to Zambia to Malawi and back to Zambia. But Fuller’s remarkable affection for her parents (who are racists) and her homeland (brutal under white and black rule) shines through. This affection, in spite of its subjects’ prominent flaws, reveals their humanity and allows the reader direct entry into her world.” 

When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa by Peter Goodwin


“Hailed by reviewers as “powerful,” “haunting” and “a tour de force of personal journalism,” When A Crocodile Eats the Sun is the unforgettable story of one man’s struggle to discover his past and come to terms with his present. Award winning author and journalist Peter Godwin writes with pathos and intimacy about Zimbabwe’s spiral into chaos and, along with it, his family’s steady collapse. This dramatic memoir is a searing portrait of unspeakable tragedy and exile, but it is also vivid proof of the profound strength of the human spirit and the enduring power of love.”  

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller


“A story of survival and war, love and madness, loyalty and forgiveness, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness is an intimate exploration of Fuller’s parents and of the price of being possessed by Africa’s uncompromising, fertile, death-dealing land. We follow Tim and Nicola Fuller hopscotching the continent, restlessly trying to establish a home. War, hardship, and tragedy follow the family even as Nicola fights to hold on to her children, her land, her sanity. But just when it seems that Nicola has been broken by the continent she loves, it is the African earth that revives and nurtures her. Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness is Fuller at her very best.” 

I’m well aware that there won’t be much downtime while in Botswana or South Africa, but the flights to and from the U.S. are roughly 17 hours so some solidly entertaining reading to pass the time is a must. I’ve whittled my list down to four well known titles that take place on the African continent, but due to the weight limit restrictions on the bush planes I’m bringing only two. I’m going with one classic and one more recent title, but deciding which ones is proving to be more of a conundrum than anticipated. Who wants to be stuck on a 17 hour flight wishing they had brought “the other” book? (Now having just re-read that sentence I realize how nerdy my taking this situation so seriously is, but I know some will understand). I suppose it’s a win-win. All of these titles have received notable mentions, awards or accolades of sorts so this dorky little bookworm shouldn’t have any reader’s remorse.

Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen)

Selected by the Modern Library as one of the best 100 nonfiction books of all time: “In this book, the author of Seven Gothic Tales gives a true account of her life on her plantation in Kenya. She tells with classic simplicity of the ways of the country and the natives: of the beauty of the Ngong Hills and coffee trees in blossom: of her guests, from the Prince of Wales to Knudsen, the old charcoal burner, who visited her: of primitive festivals: of big game that were her near neighbors–lions, rhinos, elephants, zebras, buffaloes–and of Lulu, the little gazelle who came to live with her, unbelievably ladylike and beautiful.” 

I Married Adventure by Osa Johnson


“Before Joy Adamson went to Africa, before Margaret Mead sailed to Samoa, before Dian Fossey was even born, a Kansas teenager named Osa Leighty married Martin Johnson, a pioneering photographer just back from a ’round-the-world cruise with Jack London. Together the Johnsons flew and sailed to Borneo, to Kenya, and to the Congo, filming Simba and other popular nature movies with Martin behind the camera and Osa holding her rifle at the ready in case the scene’s big game star should turn hostile. This bestselling memoir retraces their careers in rich detail, with precisely observed descriptions and often heart-stopping anecdotes. Illustrated with scores of the dramatic photos that made the Johnsons famous, it’s a book sure to delight every lover of true adventure.” 


Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


“With effortless grace, celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie illuminates a seminal moment in modern African history: Biafra’s impassioned struggle to establish an independent republic in southeastern Nigeria during the late 1960s. We experience this tumultuous decade alongside five unforgettable characters: Ugwu, a thirteen-year-old houseboy who works for Odenigbo, a university professor full of revolutionary zeal; Olanna, the professor’s beautiful young mistress who has abandoned her life in Lagos for a dusty town and her lover’s charm; and Richard, a shy young Englishman infatuated with Olanna’s willful twin sister Kainene. Half of a Yellow Sun is a tremendously evocative novel of the promise, hope, and disappointment of the Biafran war.”

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver


“The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it—from garden seeds to Scripture—is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.”

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