The adventures of a family spanning more than a decade of scientific expeditions to Africa in search of some of the tiniest...


AN AFFAIR WITH AFRICA: Expeditions and Adventures Across a Continent

The adventures of a family spanning more than a decade of scientific expeditions to Africa in search of some of the tiniest of that continent's wildlife. Kistner, associate editor of the journal Sociobiology, is the gamely devoted wife of entomologist David Kistner, the world's foremost expert on myrmecophiles, beetles that live among ant colonies. Beginning in 1960, the young couple began an often harrowing but productive series of expeditions to Africa at a time when many Americans and Europeans were headed the other way to escape the instability of the end of the colonial era. In search of their small quarry, the Kistners, eventually with both of their young daughters in tow, spend long, dusty hours on all fours sucking up insects--sometimes thousands in one session--through an aspirator. But what readers will find more memorable in this unflaggingly cheery narrative are the family's frequent life-threatening encounters with both nature and man, from poisonous snakes and charging elephants (not to mention biting ants) to bandits and terrorists. They also experienced the last gasp of the European and especially British colonial period with its dinner parties, sumptuous houses, and colorful old Africa hands and colonial administrators. Then, too, the family by happenstance ran into some of the famous and infamous men who took their places, such as presidents Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, and in a brief but scary restaurant encounter, Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. Kistner tiptoes around the issue of apartheid in then Rhodesia and South Africa, only vaguely muttering her dissatisfaction with the policy and with white attitudes toward black Africans, but politics is only tangential to this account, which is really a rather remarkable family saga. While readers might get tired of stooping to examine ant nests with the Kistners, the portrait of Africa from nearly four decades back makes for an unusual tale.

Pub Date: July 1, 1998


Page Count: 224

Publisher: Shearwater/Island Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1998

Close Quickview