Home' Travel News : April 2013 Contents 50 travel news April 2013
April 2013 travel news 51
Speak Swahili, Dammit!
by James Penhaligon
Allegedly we all have a book inside us
struggling to get out. Penhaligon's book
'got out' and has an original spontaneity, as
if one day he decided to write it, sat down,
and swept up by his own story, didn't stop
until he’d fnished. It is a ‘one-off’, and if
he writes again, will he ever achieve such
His father, a war hero, falls on hard times.
Geita is a small, remote mining town in
colonial Tanganyika, where with his family
he fnds work. There James grows up,
speaking Swahili rather than English, and
living with his African friends rather than
European children. What is he? He is not
sure. 'A black person in the skin of a white',
as one African friend suggests?
James' father dies and it is left to his mother
to bring up the children. This appears
beyond her: she seems unaware of Africa's
hazards, although being widowed, she
must have been hard-pressed to look after
children, keep body and soul together and
earn a living. She loved James and Becky
dearly but, allowing for the fact that James
was - using his description of another
child - 'a pocket-sized manic accident', she
must have been out of touch with reality,
otherwise James would not have sought
the comfort and love he needed from the
African staff, who fortunately gave it to him.
How could she allow her small boy to 'earn
his living' as he felt he must, by trying to
load logs onto a timber lorry?
Result, after one day he collapsed with
sunstroke. James ran wild, enjoying a
childhood that any boy would covet,
surviving Africa's countless hazards, but
more by the grace of God, whom once he
tried to shoot, than by maternal supervision.
The entire tale describes the many perils
of childhood with humour and pathos. The
end is heart-rending and we long to know
what happened next. But could another
instalment ever excel this one, since
Penhaligon felt, undoubtedly correctly, that
after Tanzania, nothing could ever be the
The Swahili spelling is atrocious. Why do
authors so often do this? It must be easy
to check even if you don't have a Swahili
dictionary. Additionally, a glossary would
have been helpful for the uninitiated. James
is currently a consultant psychiatrist in UK.
I bet he's a good one - dammit.
Sophie, Dog Overboard
by Emma Pearse
Subtitled 'The Incredible Adventures of a
Castaway Dog', this is an amazing story.
Unfortunately it is embarrassingly badly
written, rather like a schoolgirl's essay in
need of correction. Why bother to review
it? First, because it is so remarkable, and
second, it might help booklovers decide
whether or not they want to read it.
Sophie is a blue cattle dog, bought as a
puppy by a loving family. At three years,
she began to accompany them on boat
trips, which was how she managed to fall
overboard, although no one actually saw
it happen. Presumed drowned, Sophie
succeeded in swimming about fve nautical
miles to an island, which meant she was
probably in the sea for about 12 hours.
There she survived on very little food
and water, and later moved on to another
island, only about 500 meters away but
a hard swim nonetheless. Here food and
drink were more available. During the
fve months she was missing, people
sighted and tried to catch her. It was only
through strange coincidence that she was
eventually linked with her owners, known
to have lost a dog at sea.
Anyone who has lost a dog under tragic
circumstances knows the horror and
sadness of the experience, but the 'grief'
descriptions here continue ad nauseam
when a few carefully chosen words would
have meant much more than an emotional
'wallow', embarrassing in its intensity. The
entire narrative is far too wordy. It takes 90
pages of doggy talk before the accident
even occurs: 'bitch' is described as 'girl
dog', while natural functions become dog
'toilet and bathroom matters'. Sophie is
described as 'sulking' when left behind
by her owners, the reason they eventually
included her on their boating weekends.
Cattle and sheep dogs do not sulk: their
loyalty causes them distress when parted
from their owners, and this is how they
show their grief. To accuse them of sulking
is an anthropomorphic insult to the breed.
The reunion is a joyful one, but again
descriptions go wild, with no detail omitted,
however repetitive. Sophie is indeed an
outstanding animal and, characteristic of
her breed, her devotion to her owners is
poignant, but the entire story could have
been told in half the space without loss
to the narrative. Good that Pearse has
recorded it: if only she had found a more
Links Archive March 2013 May 2013 Navigation Previous Page Next Page