Thursday, December 22, 2011

Crazy River: Exploration and Folly in East Africa, Richard Grant

Crazy River: Exploration and Folly in East Africa, Richard Grant.  New York: Free Press, 2011.  paperback, 336 pps., incl. index.

     I first encountered Richard Grant through an earlier book of his called God's Middle Finger which narrated his trip through the Sierra Madres.  I was delighted to find Crazy River on the shelves of my local bookstore.  Although different in tone from his earlier work, Crazy River immediately drew me in.  I haven't been to Africa (yet) but this book transported me to a very different world.

     The Malagarasi River, dotted with small fishing villages between the wild places, is full of pissed off hippos and crocodiles and bandits.  Grant skillfully interweaves the stories that the river has for him into the histories of other adventurers, politicians, and the East African peoples.  The crew that Grant hires in Tanzania is composed of men who each have their own story to tell.  Crazy River carried me away from my reading chair to a place I had never been.  I was there as Grant made his way through checkpoints and red tape, as prostitutes tried to pick him up, as children demanded money.  I was also there on the river itself with the tsetse flies and passages of choking weeds.  And there as Grant actually got to view the source of  the Nile itself. 

     By the end of Crazy River, I had a visceral sense of the horror of genocide and specifically the genocide that took place in Rwanda.  Grant tells the story of some two thousand people that took refuge in a Catholic Church in Nyange.  The priest there, one "Reverend" Athanase Seromba, was more than compliant in the slaughter of those seeking sanctuary in his church building.  He arranged to have his church building bulldozed.  He let the drunken militia in with their grenades.  He then pointed out any survivors who were then killed off with bayonets.  The priest did this because the folks hiding in his church building were the wrong tribe.  The priest himself belonged to the other tribe. 

     Crazy River is a most excellent book eluding a real sense of place.  This book is a definite keeper and the finest example of the modern travel essay.

sapphoq reviews says: Highly Recommended.