Book Review: The Man-eaters of Tsavo

theman-eatersoftsavoThe Man-eaters of Tsavo by Lt. ColonelFour stars J.H. Patterson, first published in 1907, steps the reader back in history to the 19th-to-20th turn of the century to an area at a time when place names reflected the non-Africans who arrived and set out to tame the continent. The initial chapters of the book tell of Patterson’s challenge to rid the area of two man-eating lions which were disrupting the construction of the railroad through Uganda. Many readers may already be familiar with the fictionalized film version of this story, The Ghost and the Darkness, which includes scenes directly from the pages of Patterson’s retelling. But Patterson’s book includes much more than the tale of dispatching the two troublesome lions.

Having recently read two modern memoirs about the same area, Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight and Scribbling the Cat, I particularly enjoyed reading this one to construct my own historical backdrop for them. The photographs, though of poor quality, help greatly in conjuring up mental images of the location. Just as in Fuller’s memoirs, some of the language used by the author may be harshly judged by today’s standards. But also as in the case of Fuller’s books, the author presents the stories in a near objective, journalistic tone without braggadocio, though not entirely without deprecating the Africans he meets along the way. He is a colonial, intent on taming the African wilderness for the benefit of Europe, and he takes every opportunity for adventure and to increase his collection of animal trophies along the way. Yet he shows a level of compassion I hadn’t expected when he describes why he chooses not to shoot an animal if there is a risk he will only injure it.

Don’t expect this book to follow the traditional arc of memoir. Patterson is as much a single Englishman taming the African continent at the end of the book as he is at the beginning. He does not confront any demons along the way–only potential trophies, most of which he succeeds in killing. The book is a report of his adventures, plain and simple. If there is a purpose other than telling his own story, it may be to build up excitement in the reader to inspire similar adventures. The appendix provides a complete list of what someone traveling to Africa should bring as well as a chart showing the likely cost for all the servants needed once in Africa.

My purpose for reading the book was to broaden my understanding of east Africa. I recommend the book for anyone who may similarly be interested in either the history or the geography of that area.

  • Print Length: 172 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1500161497
  • Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing; 1 edition (February 22, 2013)
  • Publication Date: February 22, 2013
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Genre: History, Travel

Book Review: Farewell to Manzanar

Four starsfarewelltomanzanarJeanne Wakatsuki Houston revisits the three years she and her family spent in Manzanar, one of ten internment camps run by the US War Department for relocated persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II. Her father had been taken away earlier, arrested for presumably supplying fuel to Japanese submarines from his fishing boat off the coast of Southern California two weeks after the bombing of ships at Pearl Harbor. She survives. Her parents and older siblings, less so. The Japanese-American way of life did not. Houston supposes the traditions would have died anyway, but internment accelerated it.

Houston tells of how camp life for a child was part adventure, unlike the burden it posed to the adults. She also tells of how camp life began the disintegration of Japanese family life as extended families were separated from one another, and even when they could remain together, there was insufficient space for family events, such as eating a meal together, to happen. Yet in spite of this, families did what they could to make the overcrowded and insufficiently insulated homes as much like homes as possible. Setting rocks among raked sand in gardens outside the entrance to bring a bit of beauty, a bit of familiarity in the midst of a hostile environment.

Houston told her story in 1973, more than forty years ago. But the lessons of the story are important today as well. Fear of those who look different, whose traditions are different, whose language is different, can lead to intolerable policy decisions, as was the case during World War II. We must learn from the mistakes of the past so that we do not repeat them.