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One Dry Season - A Book Review

Reviewed by Don Moore

I wrote the following review several years ago with the intention of sending it to the Listeners' Library column in NASWA. I never got around to it, so here it is. Still a very good book to read...


Alexander, Caroline. One Dry Season Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1990. 290p.

Few today remember the name of Mary Kingsley, but less than a century ago she was widely known and read on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1895, Miss Kingsley undertook a journal extraordinary for anyone of her day, let alone a single woman of Victorian England. By sailing ship she traveled to the coast of present day Gabon. Hence, accompanied only by native guides and bearers, she made her way by canoe and foot well into the interior, visiting isolated trading posts and missions along the way. She took detailed notes of what she saw and upon returning to England published a book, Travels in West Africa, which quickly became a best seller and put her in high demand on the lecture circuit, until her early death a few years later.

Miss Kingsley's book ends with the intriguing statement, "If you go there, you will find things just as I have said." When traveler Caroline Alexander read those words a few years ago, she wondered, just how much had things remained as Mary Kingsley had seen them nearly a century ago, so she set out to retrace Mary Kingsley's journey. One Dry Season is the account of this journey along Mary Kingsley's path and even further into Gabon. Alexander carefully maps out Kingsley's travels and along the way carefully compares her notes with Kingsley's. While some things have changed, it is amazing how much has remained the same. Along the route, Alexander meets and is helped by a fascinating variety of characters, including a Protestant minister from Gabon's cannabalistic Fang tribe, nuns from Argentina, and a Malian truck driver. Somehow, they seem must modern day versions of the hardy missionaries and traders that Kingsley met, as redescribed by Alexander.

Alexander paints a realistic and entertaining picture of life and traveling in the Third World. If only present day society were as internationally-curious as in Kingsley's era, I imagine this book would also be a best-seller, too. It's one of the best reads I found in a quite a while, and has intrigued me enough that I'm trying to locate a copy of Kingsley's original book.


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Association of North American Radio Clubs
DXer of the Year for 1995

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