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5 top Africa travel books shared by Kate Pirie

Kate Pirie By Kate Pirie
28 Nov 2017
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It is always good to do some background reading of a country or land you are about to travel to. There are many wonderful and inspirational books on Africa to consider and here are just a few of my favourite reads.

Jane Goodall and Daphne Sheldrick tales are inspiring and come from the heart, Henno Martins account of his time spent surviving in the desert moving.



The Sheltering Desert by Henno Martin

This is the true story of geologists Henno Martin and Hermann Korn who sought the ‘protection’ of one of the harshest deserts in the world – the Namib, during WWII.  As Germans they did not want to be interned and so lived, or rather existed, with tenacity in the desert, along with their dog Otto. This is an incredible story of how they learnt to survive, what they discovered about Namibia and the land, themselves and humanity. 

As I lived and worked and visited this specific region of Kuiseb Canyon, one realises the enormity of their undertaking and their story to be one of the most extraordinary I have read. I loved it and it is essential travel reading for all who visit this country.



West with the Night by Beryl Markham

An extraordinary complex woman living in a time of colonial Africa (1920-30’s) with colourful characters.  Beryl was the first woman to fly single handed from east to west across the Atlantic. She grew up in Kenya socialising at the time of Karen Blixen and Finch Hatton.

She was the first licenced female horse trainer in the country and there are stories of her growing up in a remote wilderness with her horse training father.  She was also the first female bush pilot and a great beauty.  Her beautifully and well written book shows her love of flying and horses and her love and respect of the tribal people she grew up with as friends and equals as a child. 



In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall 

One of the most respected and knowledgeable primatologists and adventurers in the world is Jane Goodall.  She is one of ‘Leakys Angels’ , along with Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas, This is one of her best books that tells the story of her life when living, observing and following chimpanzees in Gombe in Tanzania.

Her observations are touching and insightful of a species that we knew very little about and this story captivating.  She was not a scientist to start out with, so her observations come from storytelling rather than harsh facts, you meet her chimpanzees and learn about their characters and families, their daily lives and how their behaviour and link (sharing around 96% DNA) is so close to humans. 

When living amongst these great apes one can easily see how difficult it is to keep apart and not anthropomorphize, yet anyone who has spent years observing animals cannot help but notice the close similarities and individualities, passions feelings and bonds between humans and animals.



An African Love Story - Love, Life and Elephants by Daphne Sheldrick

This wonderful book is certainly all about the title – ‘life’ in Kenya, growing up in colonial Africa and then working beside and along with her late husband David Sheldrick in Tsavo National Park; ‘Love’ - for David, her family and the elephants and rhinos and other animals that they worked to protect; and the ‘Elephants’ – the animal that today brings out attention of the incredible work and dedication through life-long observation that Daphne and her team do now.  It is a frank book, with the ups and downs of a life lived, of determination, of purpose. 

‘The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’ continues to this day operating in Nairobi and Tsavo, where Daphne continues to live and rehabilitate, care for (with a milk formula she developed to raise elephant babies), She continues to fight poaching, and support, wildlife conservation.



Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

A novel set in Ethiopia and America, this is the story of conjoined twins born to an Indian Carmelite nun and a British surgeon. The story unfolds through the years spanning tragedy and betrayal, a twins (Marion and Shiva) bounding that though destroyed in honour, comes again to save Marion, the storytellers life. 

This is a journey of power and how the twins grow up to be doctors, with Marion finally returning to Ethiopia to build his own hospital. This is a story about healing others. Though this is a novel, one learns a lot about Ethiopia, a fascinating and diverse country.


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