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Thursday, September 18th, 2008

Time Event
9:44p
Yet another odd one ...
I know, so many of these reviews begin by framing their subject books as "odd", but sometimes there's just no other way to get at them! This one's a doozy, but not so much for anything in the book (although it has its moments), but the way it's written.

Mystery of the Nile: The Epic Story of the First Descent of the World's Deadliest River is actually written by Richard Bangs, but is based on the notes and phone calls of Pasquale Scaturro. Now, Richard Bangs is a river tour guide, and obviously knows his stuff, but there's a certain disconnect in writing a travelogue of a journey that you've not been on! Why Pasquale Scaturro needed the "ghosting", I don't know, but the third-person narrative that crept in here kept making me think that "around the next bend" in the book, Pasquale was going to end up dead, and this was a posthumous telling of his fatal adventure. NOT SO! Scaturro completes his epic journey and I guess lives to have his buddy tell about it.

The purpose of the trip chronicled in this book was to follow the Blue Nile from it's rise in swamps upstream a bit from Lake Victoria (usually noted as "the source"), all the way down to the Mediterranean. Nobody had ever managed this before (and many had tried and died) ... indeed, much of the route was barely mapped, and certainly not to the extent that would be useful for this sort of operation. The expedition had been in the planning stages when it got folded in with a production that was being developed for IMAX theaters on the Nile, and so this became not just a journey down river, but a journey with a whole lot of gear and crew.

Now, "in my youth" I did a goodly amount of "adventure travel" (but of a more archaeological sort, nothing involving Class V rapids!), and some of the clique-forming, griping, complaining, fighting, and discomfort was quite familiar from my own travel journals. I have, of course, also read a bit of this sort of material, and I've seen the same dynamics in others' writings as well, but this was the first time I've seen it at one remove, not the traveler pissing on about what an ass so-and-so is, and how awful the biting flies are, and how badly the food sucks, but to have this coming from a non-involved party begins to sound bizarre after a while. While there are a few snippets of Scaturro's own journal, they barely would fill 2-4 pages. All the rest is Bangs' reconstruction of the journey.

This is not to say that the trip detailed in Mystery of the Nile isn't fascinating (although, frankly, there's not much "mystery" in here, but I'm guessing they felt a need to stick with the movie's title), but it reads more like fiction (ala something akin to The Lost World) where you know the author wasn't there, than a journey retold. Despite these weaknesses, it is an engaging read, and much of the second-hand description is quite evocative. As noted above, however, I was substantially perplexed when the expedition leader (and putative co-author) made it through the trip alive, as the tone fit more an "I'm writing this because my buddy can't" sort of story.

I'm apparently not the only one who didn't seem to fully connect with this book, as I found it at the dollar store, and "new" copies (it does seem to be out-of-print in this hardcover edition) can by had from the Amazon new/used guys for the magic 1¢ (plus $3.99 shipping) figure.

Again, this isn't a bad book if one's looking for a man-vs-the-elements (and adventurer-vs-assorted-bureaucracies) tale, it just seems to be a long exercise of "ignoring the elephant" in terms of why it ended up being written the way it was.


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